LaTeX and PowerPoint presentations

I use LaTeX for math documents and PowerPoint for presentations. When I need to make a math presentation, I can’t have everything I want in one environment. I usually go with PowerPoint.

Yesterday I tried the LaTeX Beamer package based on a friend’s recommendation. I believe I’ll switch to using this package as my default for math presentations. Here are my notes on my experience with Beamer.


Beamer is available from SourceForge. The installation instructions begin by saying “Put all files somewhere where TeX can find them.” This made me think Beamer would be another undocumented software package, but just a few words later the instructions point to a 224-page PDF manual with plenty of detail. However, I would recommend a couple minor corrections to the documentation.

  1. The manual says that if you want to install Beamer under MiKTeX, use the update wizard. But the update wizard will only update packages already installed. To install new packages with MiKTeX, use the Package Manager. (Command line mpm.exe or GUI mpm_mfc.exe.)
  2. The manual says to install latex-beamer, pgf, and xcolor. The Package Manager shows no latex-beamer package, but does show a beamer package.

The installation went smoothly overall. However, the MiKTeX Package Manager doesn’t let you know when packages have finished installing. You just have to assume when it quits giving new messages that it must be finished. At least that was my experience using the graphical version.

Using Beamer

I found Bruce Byfield’s introduction to Beamer helpful. The Beamer package is simple to use and well documented.

It’s nice to use real math typography rather than using PowerPoint hacks or pasting in LaTeX output as images. I also like animating bullet points simply by adding pause to the end of an enumerated item.

Inserting images

The biggest advantage that PowerPoint has over LaTeX is working with images. With PowerPoint you can:

  1. Paste images directly into your presentations.
  2. Edit files in place.
  3. Carry around your entire presentation as a single file.
  4. Include multiple image formats in a consistent way.

The last point may not seem like much until you’ve tried to figure out how to include images in LaTeX.

15 thoughts on “LaTeX and PowerPoint presentations

  1. I tried Beamer for a presentation and it was great. I then tried it for another, much larger presentation with lots of pictures and pdflatex failed to produce the output PDF. Breaking it into three presentations fixed the problem. It looks like there is a size limit that people should know about. Other than that it’s a great package.

  2. I’ve actually used another package in LaTeX for presentations. It’s called powerdot, and is an improvement on another package called prosper. I’ve actually liked it a little more than Beamer, in terms of its coding. Just a personal preference, since both produce fine mathematical presentations. I’ve been using it and its predecessors for about 3 years, and haven’t really used PowerPoint in a while for my presentations.

  3. I almost always use beamer, and even take it a step of (leaky) abstraction further and use org mode. Org model allows me to write it as an outline first with a little more structure than slides, and fill in details as I go.

    Oh yeah, about that leaky abstraction: including images …

  4. Of course, if you have TeXLive then installing beamer is as simple as “tlmgr install beamer” (or it is installed by default if you have gone with the “full” installation). This also installs all dependencies, so you don’t have to worry about xcolor or pgf explicitly.

    Beamer is nice as far as it goes, but my main issue with it is the byzantine construction for making themes. I have yet to succeed in editing one of the pre-installed themes to make a new one without breaking something important. As a result, almost everyone uses one of the pre-installed themes and all beamer presentations end up looking the same.

  5. human mathematics

    I’m with Hofstadter on this one. The hammer swings the man when he uses a tool like Beamer. The best slides are full of images and transparencies are much better for that than computer (unless you have a tablet with a stylus).

    If I don’t have either of those available, best toolset is Keynote with Equation Service.

  6. I’ve used beamer for several years for class notes. The advantage for me is being able to use the same LaTeX file to produce both slides and notes. For slides I use a header file with the beamer document class; for class notes I use a header file with the article document class and the beamerarticle package along with a wide right margin for the student to take additional notes.

    The beamer class allows you to specify things as just belonging to the presentation version or just to the article version; that’s something I can’t do with PowerPoint.

  7. I love Beamer. I am often forced to use PP, and I hate it. My latest automated workflow uses R to read inputs from client Excel files, run an analysis that is far beyond what Excel could do, knitr to autogenerate Beamer slides from Rtex markup files drawing on the R code, then knitr again to generate tufte-handout explanatory text with the slides embedded as figures. I love it!

  8. I use Keynote… There is a menu item to insert a Formula. The very last version allows to write the formula in LaTeX… Awesome!!!

  9. Hi,
    I have been using Ipe for several years now. It gives you the best of both worlds. Intuitive user interface, slides and overlays, all pdf output, LaTeX integration (with support for all packages). It’s fantastic!! Have a look

  10. Beamer is great, I’ve been using it since my Ph.D. days. However, in business environments people often expect PowerPoint format so they can edit slides you make, and if you consult for a large corporation they may want you to use their corporate branded templates.

    People always point out the time it takes to make LaTeX slides, and there may be a little overhead for decks heavy on visuals, but the clarity of the output (in particular for equations but also typesetting of text) speaks for itself.

  11. Do you still prefer Beamer to Powerpoint for mathematics?
    I write a lot of mathematics in word using the equation editor (I mean hundreds of pages). I never understood why one would use some LaTex editor, for as in word I have the option to write mathematics with LaTex syntax and have the agility of the gui of word.

    Nowadays I’m about to produce a lot of presentations for mathematics courses, and I’m contemplating what is the best option for that.

  12. I don’t often make presentations these days, fortunately. :)

    I guess it depends how import things like image placement and formatting are. That’s much easier in PowerPoint. Otherwise, I like keeping content in text files: small, easy to diff, etc.

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