Best Practices For Importing Custom Latex Symbols

Defining Custom LaTeX Symbols

Why Create Custom Symbols?

Creating custom LaTeX symbols allows authors to include specialized notations not available in the default LaTeX distribution. Reasons you may need custom symbols include:

  • Representing concepts, variables, or terminology unique to your field
  • Using symbols from unpublished works not publicly available
  • Ensuring consistency with symbols used in previous publications
  • Adding visual elements not present in standard LaTeX symbols

By defining custom symbol commands, you can greatly extend the typographic capabilities of LaTeX for niche use cases.

Best Practices for Naming and Defining Symbols

When creating custom symbol macros in LaTeX, follow these best practices:

  • Use descriptive macro names indicating the symbol's meaning
  • Prefix macro names to avoid collisions with existing commands
  • Place custom symbol definitions in dedicated .sty files
  • Include detailed comments documenting the macro's purpose
  • Use argument syntax for macros needing user customization

These practices will ensure your custom symbols integrate smoothly into the LaTeX typesetting system.

Importing Symbol Packages

Finding Quality Symbol Packages

Many collections of custom LaTeX symbols are available on sites like CTAN and GitHub. When locating additional symbols relevant to your work, look for packages that:

  • Are actively maintained and updated
  • Feature modular design allowing use of only needed symbols
  • Use best practices for naming macros and defining commands
  • Include documentation on the provided symbols
  • Have been tested for compatibility issues

Leveraging robust, well-documented packages ensures a smooth experience importing custom symbols.

Downloading and Installing Packages

To utilize a custom symbol package, first download the relevant .sty and associated font files. Save these to an appropriate local texmf tree to enable LaTeX to locate them. Then update your TeX distribution's filename database so it can resolve the package name.

In the preamble of any document needing the symbols, use \usepackage{packagename} to load the macros and fonts. If other fonts are also required, order the \usepackage commands appropriately to prevent font conflicts.

Troubleshooting Package Errors

Some common errors when loading custom symbol packages include:

  • Package not found - verify texmf location and refresh filename database
  • Font errors - confirm associated fonts were installed properly
  • Class conflicts - reorder class and package imports as needed
  • Missing macros - rerun LaTeX multiple times as new macros resolve

Investigating and resolving these issues ensures you can utilize the full capabilities of imported symbol packages.

Using Custom Symbols in Documents

Basic Usage and Syntax

To use a custom symbol inside a LaTeX document, invoke the associated macro command. For example, if a new command \newcommand{\testsym}{\ensuremath{\mathcal{T}}} was defined, insert \testsym{} to add that symbol to the output PDF.

The syntax works identically for imported package macros - use \packagenamesymbol{}. Some packages may require passing optional arguments to modify the appearance further.

Positioning Symbols Properly

Carefully consider the positioning of custom symbols with respect to adjacent document elements. Placing symbols:

  • Inside math environments when part of mathematical expressions
  • Inside text environments when intended as inline semantic notation
  • On their own line when used as section signifiers

Use sizing commands like \small or spacing adjustments through \vspace{} to separate out custom symbols when needed.

Ensuring Consistent Styling

Just as with normal text, aim for consistency in custom symbol formatting and presentation. Techniques include:

  • Defining symbol macros with fixed size arguments
  • Using the same color scheme for recurrent symbols
  • Setting distinct relative sizes for symbol hierarchy

Consistent use of custom symbols helps strengthen reader comprehension and association with underlying concepts.

Customizing Existing Symbols

Changing Size, Color, Rotation, etc.

Most symbol packages provide options to customize the appearance of macros. For example, pass the graphicx sizing options to adjust dimensions:


Likewise, use color package commands like \color{red} or \textcolor{blue}{...} to modify the color scheme. And apply \rotatebox{30}{...} for angled variants.

Making Variants of Existing Symbols

In some cases, you may wish to make modified versions of imported symbols more tailored to your use case. For example:

  • Removing ornamental elements to simplify for small font sizes
  • Recoloring to create higher contrast from background
  • Combining components from separate but related symbols

Derive new variant macros from the existing packages following LaTeX best practices for naming and definitions.

Creating New Symbols from Scratch

Tools for Drawing New Symbols

If no existing package has the required custom symbol, consider creating brand new images as needed. Vector graphics tools like Adobe Illustrator provide significant control for developing symbols such as:

  • Multi-component and layered images
  • Smooth curves, complex shapes, and precise geometry
  • Flexible, scalable output files
  • Professional quality illustration capabilities

Dedicated LaTeX drawing packages also exist for authoring custom symbols designed specifically for typesetting usage.

Converting Images to LaTeX Code

Once complete, export custom drawn images to PDF, EPS, or SVG files for inclusion in LaTeX documents. Use the \includegraphics command or macros like:


This encapsulates handling image files and renders using native LaTeX drawing capabilities for best results.

Defining Macros for New Symbols

To complete the custom symbol creation, define LaTeX macros to insert and format usage of these new images appropriately. Follow the best practices outlined earlier regarding naming, arguments, documentation etc. to integrate smoothly into the LaTeX typesetting system.

Exporting Documents with Custom Symbols

Handling Missing Package Errors

When sharing documents using custom symbols with collaborators, the reviewer may encounter issues if they lack the required packages. To avoid missing symbol errors:

  • Include the full packages directly with your LaTeX source files
  • Provide installation guidance for any font dependencies
  • Comment usage calls indicating source of external symbols

Proactively managing package needs helps ensure authors can compile your LaTeX documents as intended.

Distributing to Co-Authors

For multi-author documents and institutional repositories relying on custom symbols, consider creating dedicated LaTeX classes or packages encapsulating all symbol definitions to share with contributors. This allows co-authors to easily utilize the full breadth of semantic notation without needing to independently source additional symbol libraries.

Preparing Manuscripts for Publication

When authoring manuscripts making extensive usage of highly specialized custom symbols, provide detailed guidance to editors before submission. In particular, offer production advice for:

  • Font handling and image inclusion
  • Recommending best practices for macro definitions
  • Potential conflicts with journal style files

Thorough documentation will facilitate efficient transition through the publication workflow.

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