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How to Get Equations from Microsoft Word into InDesign

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Here’s how to get equations, formulae, or scientific notation created with Word’s equation editor into your InDesign layout.

Both the macOS and Windows versions of Microsoft Word contain an equation editor that authors can use to create equations, formulas or other scientific notation.

The problem is, if you copy and paste text with equations from Word, or choose File > Place to place the Word file into InDesign, these equations don’t appear correctly in InDesign.

MathTools is a nice solution for building equations in InDesign as live, editable text. You can read a full review of MathTools in Issue #74 of InDesign Magazine.

MathTools is a great solution if you want to author or re-create equations in InDesign with complete control over the equation appearance. You can even convert Word Equations into editable MathTools equations, giving you a head start on equation formatting.

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However, if you are in a workflow where you depend completely on the author of the Word file to create the equations, they vouch for their accuracy, and you don’t need to change the equation appearance at all, here’s a method that allows you to bring Word equations into InDesign untouched, exactly as they appear in Word.

Step 1: Create a PDF of the Word file

There are several ways to export a PDF from Word. In my tests, it doesn’t seem to make a difference how the PDF is created. In macOS, I choose File > Print, and then choose Save as PDF (Figure 1).

Choosing File > Print, and the Save as PDF is an easy way to create a PDF in Word on macOS.

Step 2: Convert fonts to outlines in Acrobat

Word uses the Cambria Math font when composing equations. This font is included with Windows and Office 365. However, in macOS the font is embedded in the application package, so it’s only visible in Office applications, and not available to other applications. So on macOS converting the fonts to outlines in Acrobat is necessary. You could probably skip these steps on Windows or if you purchase Cambria Math for macOS.

  1. Open the PDF you created from Word in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Choose Edit > Preflight (Command+Shift+X (macOS), Ctrl+Shift+X (Windows)).
  3. Type “outline” into the search bar.
  4. Select the Convert fonts to outlines fixup.
  5. Click the Analyze and Fix button (Figure 2).

Adobe Acrobat provides a quick way to convert all the text in a PDF to outlines.

  1. You’ll be prompted for a filename for the outlined PDF. Provide a filename and click Save.

Step 3: Use Illustrator to export each equation as SVG

You probably know how to open a PDF in Illustrator and export a single equation. But assuming that the Word file contains lots of equations, here’s a super-efficient way to export each equation, one after the other.

  1. Open the PDF in Illustrator. Be sure to choose All pages, and don’t import the PDF as links (Figure 3). This will ensure that each PDF page opens in Illustrator as a separate artboard, and is completely editable.

If you import all pages of a PDF, not as links, each PDF page will arrive in Illustrator on its own artboard, and be completely editable.

  1. Choose Window > Asset Export to display the Asset Export panel on the screen.
  2. Locate the first equation you want to export, and use the Direct Selection (white arrow) tool or Lasso tool to select it.
  3. Click the + icon in the Asset Export panel to add the formula to the list of things to export.
  4. Repeat steps 3–4 for each formula in the Illustrator file (Figure 4).

Select an equation on the Illustrator page, then click the plus icon to add all the pieces of the equation as a single asset to be exported.

  1. Select each of the assets in the Asset Export panel.
  2. Choose SVG for the export format.
  3. Click Export (Figure 5).

Select all the assets in the top of the panel, make sure SVG is selected as the export format, and click the Export button.

  1. Select an export location and click Choose.

Step 4: Place each SVG file in InDesign.

That’s it. Now you have a bunch of SVG graphics ready to place into your InDesign layout. I like to place all the SVG files at once on the pasteboard, and then apply an object style to them all.

Then, to place each equation as an inline graphic, just hold the Shift key while dragging the blue adornment (Figure 6) into the desired location in your text. (The Shift key causes the image to be placed as an inline graphic, not a custom anchored graphic.)

Hold down the Shift key while dragging the blue rectangle into the desired location in your text to make the equation an inline object.

A few workflow notes

There are other ways to get equations from Word into InDesign, including the use of MathType, but the method described in this article has the following advantages:

  • Each equation is a precise replica of how it appeared in Word, so you can be sure that nothing shifted or changed on the way into InDesign. This is especially important when you don’t understand the math itself, and thus wouldn’t recognize how a subtle change might make an equation incorrect.
  • Each equation is in vector format, so it will display and print at high-resolution, regardless of how it is scaled in InDesign.
  • The placed SVG files can be edited in Illustrator later if needed. Just select an equation, right-click, choose Edit With, and choose Illustrator as the application.
  • Each equation is exported with precise cropping. The bounding box will fit the equation precisely, without chopping off any parts of the equation or including any extra white space. This trimming can become important if the content needs to be exported to EPUB or HTML.
  • Microsoft seems to frequently change the way the equation editor operates. This method should work no matter what changes Microsoft makes to the equation editor.
Keith Gilbert is a design consultant, developer, educator, speaker, and author. His work has taken him throughout North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. During his 35+ year career his clients have included Adobe, Apple, Target, Oracle, and the United Nations. He is the author of several popular titles for LinkedIn Learning, Adobe Press, and CreativePro. Find him at and on Twitter @gilbertconsult
  • Jamie McKee says:

    One question I don’t know the legality of… do you technically already own the font Cambria Math, seen as it comes as part of Microsoft Word? Because you could skip Step 2 by right-clicking on Microsoft Word in macOS and selecting “Show Package Contents” and navigate to Contents > Resources > DFonts to add Cambria.ttc (which contains Cambria Math) to your system…

  • Qing Youguo says:

    In-TeX/LaTeX is good tool for building equations in InDesign as live as well, if you are good at LaTeX, it is very simple, and it can runs both windows and Mac OS.

    For more:


  • Steve Laskevitch Steve Laskevitch says:

    I just write the equations by hand and take a picture with my phone. Just kidding! Nice workflow, Keith!

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