Hope me design a poster ...
February 12, 2016 7:18 AM   Subscribe

The poster will in essence be a giant electrical engineering cheat sheet ...

The poster will have text. The poster will have equations. The poster will have diagrams with shapes, arrows, basic electronic schematic symbols, etc. The poster will not have any fancy graphic design.

The poster will ultimately be rendered as (min.) 24 x 36 in. and A1-size PDFs and offered for free on my personal website.

So here's the question: Given the above requirements, what are the best, most future-proof Win7+ tools and file types to use to create the text, equation and diagram source files and assemble them into something that can be PRECISELY rendered (ie. no spatial translations or other distortions) to PDFs that others can use and print with no fuss?
posted by ZenMasterThis to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
LaTeX seems like the obvious candidate, if you're comfortable dealing with it.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:20 AM on February 12, 2016

My first thought would be Adobe Illustrator.

If laying out equations turns out to be overly slow or awkward in the Illustrator UI, you should be able to create the equations etc. in software you're already comfortable with, then export/print to PDF, then open the PDFs in Illustrator and place them where you wish.
posted by amtho at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2016

Yeah; clearly vector graphics are the way to go here.

I agree with Itaxpica that LaTeX is the clear answer for the text/equations side of things. Illustrator would be a fine/good way to do the diagrams, although I'm cheap so I'd probably use something like xfig if I were doing it on Linux or MacOS. xfig doesn't run easily under windows (if you're masochistic, try the Cygwin install or, if you want to pay a little money, Winfig looks promising). Although I know nothing about it, Inkscape is free and looks promising.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:55 AM on February 12, 2016

Also, here's an umm exhaustive list of vector graphics programs from Wikipedia: Comparison of Vector Graphics Editors.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:13 AM on February 12, 2016

This is good stuff so far; thanks!

So it looks like the .svg image format is the way to go with my diagrams.

I'm a novice at this, but it looks like a possible workflow would have me creating .svg files in, eg., LibreOffice Draw or WinFIG, then importing them into a LaTeX file using, eg. LyX. Thoughts?

Regarding equations, any opinions on the relative merits of setting them up separately as MathML files, rendering them as .svg files and importing into a LaTeX file vs. creating them natively in LaTeX? I ask because I may also want to use the equations in, say, HTML 5 pages in the future. Would another possibility be exporting the equations from LyX to MathML files? (Please be gentle with me. As I said, I'm a novice!)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:29 AM on February 12, 2016

For the purposes of this specific project, I think that vector graphics in general is more important that the exact vector graphics format (eps vs. pdf vs. svg) you use. From my very limited knowledge of web stuff, svg is probably your best option for down-the-road flexibility (although, in principle, it should be trivial to convert any vector graphics file into another vector graphics format).

The workflow you've suggested could work, but if you were not using LaTeX for the equation typesetting stuff (and/or you aren't modestly familiar with LaTeX already), you may just want to skip it altogether and spend all your time working in a program like Illustrator or Inkscape. I say this because, despite how much I love LaTeX, tweaking exactly where 50 different objects are located on a page is not something LaTeX is great at.

If you're starting from scratch with this, I would probably want to create a bunch of "objects" - drawings, equations, etc. - in whatever piece of software was comfortable for me (LaTeX, LyX, WinFIG, Illustrator, LibreOffice Draw, Inkscape, etc), save them as svg/eps/pdf, and lay them out in something like Inkscape or Illustrator. As long as you're careful that all of your objects are vector graphics (and they stay vector graphics through the process), it shouldn't matter where they are created; they should all scale up just fine and look the same as when you created them.

Upon reflection, I think you're going to drive yourself crazy if you try to do the final layout in some form of LaTeX. I think you're much better off doing it in a piece of software like Xfig/WinFIG, Illustrator, or Inkscape.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2016

I was nodding along with your requirements until I got to "Win7+", at which point - sad trombone as far as my expertise goes.

But if I was going to do this, at my desk (Mac OS X, full Unix suite of tools), here's what I would do:

1. For equations, nothing beats LaTeX. I like this tool called LaTeXiT, which takes away all the overhead and just lets me typeset individual equations and save them as images. Along with various bitmap formats, it supports PDF and SVG - I'd choose one of those vector formats.

2. For diagrams, I prefer OmniGraffle to Illustrator, but any number of other tools (yes, even XFig) could do the job. OmniGraffle comes with stencils which would be perfect for EE circuits.

3. For the final assembly, I'd put all these components together in OmniGraffle. But again, a tool like XFig could get the job done; Illustrator is better.

As above, just make sure you don't export to a bitmap at any stage - or if you do, make sure it is never re-sized after that. Or at least, never enlarged.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2016

I've done LaTeX-on-Windows work with Lyx; it has a bit of a learning curve but it'll get the job done.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:28 PM on February 12, 2016

I use scribus for large posters . You can use Inkscape and whatever else to create the vector graphics and import into scribus for the page layout. It also has a renderframe element that uses latex formatting so that you can include the equations that you need. Here is one example of an equation rendered and another
posted by stuartmm at 12:28 AM on February 13, 2016

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