Converting Jupyter Notebooks to PDFs: Debugging pdflatex Errors

Jupyter Notebooks provide an interactive computing environment for a wide variety of languages, including Python, R, Julia, and Scala. They are widely used in scientific computing, data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence for experimenting, visualizing data, and documenting findings.

Often, you may find it necessary to convert a Jupyter notebook into a PDF format, which is universally accessible. However, you might run into errors involving pdflatex, a version of TeX, a typesetting system designed for high-quality composition of material that contains mathematical and scientific notation.

In this article, we will focus on debugging pdflatex errors when converting Jupyter Notebooks to PDFs.

Understanding pdflatex

Pdflatex is a computer program in the TeX typesetting system that produces a PDF output. In a nutshell, it takes a LaTeX source file and converts it to PDF, ready for viewing.

The conversion of Jupyter notebooks to PDFs is facilitated by the ‘nbconvert’ tool, which can convert notebooks into various file formats like HTML, LaTeX, PDF, Markdown, reStructuredText, and others. ‘Nbconvert’ uses pandoc to convert between various markup languages and LaTeX for PDF generation.

Common pdflatex Errors and How to Fix Them

Here are some common issues that arise during the conversion of Jupyter notebooks to PDFs and how to solve them.

1. Missing Packages

In LaTeX, features like additional fonts, layouts, and macro commands are provided in separate packages. If your document uses a package that isn’t installed on your system, you’ll get an error message. If the missing package is non-essential, you can comment it out. If the package is essential, you need to install it.

You can use the tlmgr (TeX Live package manager) to install any missing LaTeX packages. Run the following command:

tlmgr install <missing-package-name>

2. Incorrect LaTeX directives or Syntax

If your Jupyter Notebook includes LaTeX directives, make sure that they are correctly written and you’ve included all the necessary packages for them.

3. Large Images

Another common issue is when the notebook contains images that are too large to fit into the document. To solve this, you can either resize the images or adjust the LaTeX commands to automatically resize the image to fit the page.

4. Code Blocks That Run Off the Page

LaTeX often struggles to correctly break lines in code blocks, which can lead to lines running off the edge of the page. One solution for this is to add line breaks in your code manually.

5. Incompatible Unicode Characters

LaTeX might not be able to handle certain Unicode characters. If your notebook includes any such characters, they may need to be removed or replaced with LaTeX-compatible equivalents.

Debugging pdflatex Errors

When debugging pdflatex errors, it’s often useful to run the pdflatex command separately to get a detailed error log. You can do this by first using nbconvert to convert the .ipynb file to a .tex file:

jupyter nbconvert –to latex notebook.ipynb

Then, run pdflatex on the .tex file:

pdflatex notebook.tex

Now, instead of a generic error message, you’ll see the exact details of the error in the pdflatex output. You can use these details to help diagnose and solve the problem.


Converting Jupyter notebooks to PDFs can sometimes be a daunting task due to pdflatex errors. However, understanding common issues and how to solve them can help streamline the process. Remember, pdflatex errors often come down to missing packages, incorrect LaTeX directives, and formatting issues with your notebook’s content. By addressing these problems, you can create high-quality PDFs from your Jupyter notebooks with ease.