I regularly create exam papers in Photoshop with two types of pages: left and right.

We create the questions in Word and then add them into Photoshop. However, this process takes a lot of time and the resulting PDF is quite large and non-vector.

What is the best software we can use to create vector PDF outputs but still be able to use our design?

  • 1
    I would use some typesetting program such as Scribus.
    – xenoid
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 12:43
  • 10
    If you write the questions in Word, why do you need to get them into any other program? Can't you just make the layout in Word and then export to PDF directly? Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 13:27
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    Why are you using Photoshop at all??? As Janus points out.. why can't you just use Word?
    – Scott
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 14:30
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    @Metis the problem could be the lack of support or knowhow with laying out the formulas and the rows they have below. OP could use Cambria and Cambria Math for equations and creating 1cm high tables with inside horizontal ruled rows. If push comes to shove OP could hire a typesetter to do the job if learning to do it themselves is too labour intensive. Also depending on OP's ability TeX or LaTeX could be the ultimate solution. Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 15:46
  • 4
    Are you aware of softwarerecs.stackexchange.com ?
    – Mawg
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 11:42

6 Answers 6


LaTeX is meant exactly for stuff like this. LaTeX is a programming language of sorts, designed with the explicit purpose of typesetting documents... like, say, an essay template. It spits out nice, vectorized PDFs across Windows, OSX, and Linux, and it's also possible to define your own custom formats and commands.

There's a wealth of documentation available online, which enables even complete beginners to get up and running pretty quickly. Services like ShareLaTeX allow collaboration and versioning, as well as including features that users of word processors take for granted (e.g. a spell checker).

And, just as a fun example, the output from a bit of LaTeX "code". The snippet $\frac{1}{z} = \frac{z^*}{x^2 + y^2}$ yields this:

enter image description here

Which you might recognize as the equation in the example exam page. Oh, and when rendered as a PDF, even the math stuff comes out as copy-able text (though, depending on where you're copying to, results may vary).

There's also a TeX/LaTeX StackExchange site for your more advanced questions. Like, say, how to typeset an exam paper. (Thanks @Gallifreyan!)

  • 1
    Don't forget the variety of packages for typesetting exams specifically.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 8:27
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    LaTex yes yes yes, thousand times yes for this. It might seem daunting at first but it gets easier and easier. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 10:31
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    And dont forget that once you get the design, you can use macros and all the work to be done is to write down the questions. All the other - apge layout, barcodes (QRcodes) will be generated automatically using macros...
    – Crowley
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 11:13
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    '$' for maths mode is deprecated. tex.stackexchange.com/questions/510/…
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 13:26
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    @TheoreticalPerson No, it's not deprecated. $$...$$ is deprecated in Latex, but $...$ is perfectly acceptable and used by most. Nowhere does the page you link to say otherwise. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 18:59

Photoshop is probably the last choice for this type of work.

InDesign could work better as it can natively create a 'facing pages' document, meaning left & right page templates and yes with the proper formatting everything can be vector in your template which will result in minimal file size.

Since you appear to also need to typeset math into your documents that means installing a third party plugin, of which several are available, just google 'indesign math plugin' and see which one works for you.

Scribus or LaTeX are other free alternatives as others have explained already in more detail.

  • Great. If you feel this answers your question try clicking the check icon and the up arrow next to my answer above. Thanks!
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 13:19
  • Sorry, but InDesign is far from ideal.
    – yo'
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 9:01
  • I agree with that, so just edited my answer.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 9:25

As some people mentioned before, it would be great and highly recommended to use Adobe InDesign to create something like that. The result will be much lighter than Adobe Photoshop (for the PDF file size). But, you can do it more easy by using your Microsoft Word to export as PDF. You can do it by click File - Save As - and then choose PDF format.

In case if you don't see the option, you need to install any PDF software. From my own experience, I love to use Foxit PhantomPDF rather than Adobe Acrobat. But, it's up to you.

  • Word 2010 and newer have have built-in PDF export, so it had to be a really old version of Word to need external PDF software.
    – Dubu
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 9:09
  • I agree with you. I said that just in case someone using an old version of Microsoft Word. I am using Microsoft Word 2016 right now.
    – user96303
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 20:51
  • In fact, Word 2007 had the PDF export capability available as an add-in from the get-go and it became a built-in feature in one of the service packs. Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 23:49

I would do that in Word itself.

  1. Left and right pages (Checked)

  2. Template for the background (your design) (Checked)

  3. Math formulas (Checked)

In case you need a really complex one that you can not write inside Word you could write somewhere else and copy paste inside Word.

  1. Print as PDF. You simply print a file to Mircosoft to PDF virtual printer. If you do not have it, you can use a free one like PDF creator on Windows.

And you can simply prepare some preformatted styles for some types of equations, so you assign font and size with one click.

  • 2
    Or save it as PDF - not all computers have a virtual PDF printer.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 20:52
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    @wizzwizz4: Some recent versions of Word have, in my experience, developed a bad habit of horrifically mangling PDF output. It's visually readable, but copy/pasting, for instance, yields garbage because the PDF wasn't created properly. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 11:01
  • @SebastianLenartowicz That's just because your PDF viewer doesn't read non-standard Word metadata. Definitely the fault of the viewer. :-D
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 17:19
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    @wizzwizz4: I'd call that an indictment of Word more than anything. Standards exist for a reason. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 17:20

I created lined paper using a script (Perl in my case) to write SVG+css. This is then merged with other elements to put on the page (personal logo, special text, etc.) in Inkscape (free software) and then output to a very small PDF.

My notes on making nice lines, more details, and the script is on the linked page.

You can, more generally, hand-craft a single SVG object for one stave and produce a more optimal (small!) PDF file. But creating it in Inkscape is easy and good enough for most people. Then use that object (cloned for each answer blank) and text typed in Inkscape for your page.


Use InDesign and use illustrator if you wish to draw complicated illustrations in the paper. InDesign will give you complete control over the output pdf. You can control everything about the output pdf. and you can also have left and right pages side by side.

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