Currently I am using PSTricks. From this forum, I see many people using TikZ. I have done a little exploration that TikZ can produce vector images in PDF format only in one step using pdftex.

To produce the same vector images in PDF, PSTrick must be compiled in 3 steps, i.e., latex -> dvips -> ps2pdf.

According to The current state of the PSTrick project:

TeX as a typesetting machine cannot make full use of the possibilities of PostScript. There cannot be a direct interaction between TeX and PostScript; it is more of a one way communication from TeX to PostScript. The interface between these two systems is the DVI converter dvips which converts the DVI output of TeX into the PostScript format. Here we use DVI output only as an intermediate format; it is not really of interest. On the TeX side the user has to reserve some space (a box) which is filled on the PostScript side with a graphic or some text. If this space is not reserved the everything will be printed over the text, depending on the current point before the PostScript-related code. This PostScript code must be transferred from TeX via the DVI output with the macro \special. Its contents are ignored by TeX and passed to PostScript where it will be executed by a PostScript interpreter such as GhostScript or Distiller.

From the quote, PSTricks need an intermediate phase,i.e., using DVI output. Shortly speaking, this intermediate output forces PSTrick to be compiled using 3 steps.

If Tikz using the same internal mechanism as PSTrick does, why TikZ can be compiled in 1 step?

  • 1
    Btw. why did you delete your TikZ node question? That one could have been answered by "yes" together with an example.
    – Stefan Kottwitz
    Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 13:47
  • Because I have got the answer from the TikZ manual. Thank you @Stefan. Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 13:49
  • 2
    Generally, if you were able to find the answer by yourself, it would be great if you post that answer. So everybody could learn something and the solution is archived for further use. If a question has just been deleted because it's been solved, nobody else would benefit.
    – Stefan Kottwitz
    Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 13:54
  • OK @Stefan, I will follow your suggestion for the next one. Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


Just a short answer: PSTricks only uses PostScript \specials, whereas TikZ can use both PostScript and PDF \specials, depending on the desired output format (when latex together with dvips or dvipdfm is used). For direct compilation to PDF with pdflatex, the pdfTeX primitive \pdfliteral is used.

  • Thanks Hendrik. I need pdf output only. So TikZ is more appropriate for me? Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 14:03
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    @xport TikZ is also better supported by authors at the moment and you will find more packages to use. With pdf you can also add interactivity via JavaScript.
    – yannisl
    Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 15:44
  • I was under the impression that (a) a different mechanism than \special was needed for graphics in PDF mode and (b) that in DVI mode, you would use the same PostScript specials whether your intended final form was PostScript or PDF. Is this not so?
    – SamB
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 6:21
  • @SamB: see my updated answer. Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 10:45
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    @Hendrik: Ah, dvipdfm, of course. I admit I had begun to wonder about that before I actually posted my previous comment... It looks like you've unbalanced your parentheses now, though, and the language doesn't seem quite ideal... I would suggest: "[...] TikZ can use PostScript (for dvips and many previewers) or PDF (for dvipdfm) \special s when outputting to DVI, and \pdfliteral when used under pdfTeX with \pdfoutput=1."
    – SamB
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 15:41
  • PSTricks generates only PostScript, not PDF.

  • TikZ uses PGF which is capable of directly producing PDF output.

So, if your goal is to produce PDF output, you have to do some conversion if you use PSTricks which generates only an intermediate format which isn't required by TikZ.

  • @Thanks Stefan. I am also reading the TikZ manual now for the details. I think Tikz has better structured and syntax than PSTricks. :-) Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 13:47
  • with xelatex PSTricks can be used directly inside the code
    – user2478
    Commented Dec 17, 2010 at 18:35
  • @Herbert: why there is no intermediate step with xelatex and one with pdflatex?
    – pluton
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 15:33
  • @Pluton: xelatex does it itself in the background, as soon as a \special command appears.
    – user2478
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 15:45
  • @Herbert: and pdflatex cannot? it would require a new version?
    – pluton
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 15:56

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