Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to use LaTeX Equation Editor

This is a post aimed at anyone who has a reason to type math symbols.  It is about the LaTeX equation editor, which is an online math utility.  I'm sure that many people know of this already, but it was only recently shared with me, and so I would like to share with anyone else who will find this valuable.  In particular, those who I feel this will benefit are: teachers and education professionals; students doing math homework; graduate students preparing thesis material.  Of course, anyone having to put any kind of math equations into a document will appreciate this.

The LaTex math symbol code generator can be found online at  It's a little intimidating at first glance, but after a little bit of experimentation, you should be able to generate any math equations that you can write down on paper.

In the upper control panel, you can select the functions that you wish to include.  For example, if you click the a/b button (left side of the panel), this is the generator for a fraction expression.  You can put any level of detail into the equations, and nest them within each other as necessary.  When you select the function, you will see a code for that function appear in the large main rectangle directly underneath the control panel.  When you become a LaTeX professional, you can just type your function codes directly into this box.  Once you click the function buttons to generate code, you will also find sets of brackets {}, in which you can type numbers, letters, or insert additional function codes.  Beneath the box, you can find some formatting options, below which you will see your math expression, rendered as an image .gif file.  You can copy this image, and then paste it into your document.

For example, if I want to generate an image for y=mx+b, rendered in a nice, textbook-like font, here is how you would do it.  This is a very simple example.  All you would do is type this in the box, and then observe the rendered image below.  This one doesn't require specific selection of functions from the control panel.  Here is what it looks like:

Note how much more professional it looks, compared to regular in-line text.

Another example will demonstrate the function abilities.  Let's try to write y=x2 + 2x + 1.  First, I would type "y=x" and then click the xa function button, which denotes exponents.  This would make your code look like "y=x^{}".  Into the brackets, you click and type a 2, and then you can move the cursor to the end and just finish typing the remainder of the equation.  The final expression looks like this: y=x^{2}+2x+1, and here is the image file:

To make a slightly more complicated functions, let's try to write y = x2/3/4.  You have to build complex equations from the outside-in.  So type "y=" to start, and then we need to select the fraction button, the a / b button.  That displays the code "y=\frac{}{}".  In this case, you type the numerator in the first brackets, the denominator in the second brackets.  However, the numerator has a fraction in it.  So, you click within the first brackets, and then type x and then add the new function, the exponent one again.  Into the additional brackets that appear, you can type 2/3, and then in the final set of brackets, type the 4 for the denominator.  Here is what the code looks like for this one:  y=\frac{x^{2/3}}{4}, and here is the image:

The best part about this code generator is that it updates the .gif file in real-time, so you don't have to type out a huge, complicated expression, and then hope you get it right.  If you make a mistake, you will see it right away, and then you can modify as necessary until you get what you want.  When you have it correct, you can right-click and save the equation image as an individual file, and then immediately erase your code and start over again with a new equation.

I find the LaTex equation editor to be extremely helpful, especially here on my blog when I want to show more complex expressions.  It does require having to go to a separate website, typing your code, and then coming back to your original document and inserting a file.  So, for ease, I often will just type straight text into my documents.  However, for that extra professional appearance, you cannot argue that the generated codes look fantastic!  If you have never used this before, I highly recommend that you give it a try!  If this is new to you, as it was to me recently, and you find value in this, then please click the +1 button below to share this!

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