Making a PDF of Hieroglyph slides

I build slides for my presentations with Hieroglyph, which makes beautiful HTML presentations out of raw ReStructuredText. However, HTML slides with my speaker notes in a JavaScript console are not ideal for redistribution.

Try Building via LaTeX


Skip down to the rst2pdf part if you want an easy and effective solution to this problem. I’m only writing up the LaTeX stuff in case it’s useful to people Googling the errors that I hit.

According to the Sphinx tutorial, the recommended way to build PDFs of Sphinx documentation is through the LaTeX builder. According to the docs, this should enable me to simply use make latexpdf.

I had installed texlive-core to do basic PDF rendering, but it did not include certain required packages such as titlesec.sty. At the Arch Wiki’s suggestion, I installed texlive-most. The fonts took a long time to download, but it will prevent further problems with missing packages.

With texlive-most installed, it finds the required styles but has a problem with an errant Unicode character in the input file:

! Package inputenc Error: Unicode char \u8:­ not set up for use with LaTeX.

A thread on StackExchange theorizes that the \u8 represents a “no-break space” character, so I think it’s safe to strip it out entirely. A rather heavy-handed fix from elsewhere is to forcibly convert the whole file from UTF-8 to ASCII:

iconv -c -f utf-8 -t ascii index.rst > temp && mv temp index.rst


I previously had that command as iconv -c -f utf-8 -t ascii index.rst > index.rst which actually deletes the entire contents of index.rst. No wonder the pdf wouldn’t build :)

After violently taking away its unicode, the file builds a pdf in _build/latex/. But there are a bunch of gratuitous chapter titles, some pages are arbitrarily left blank, and the images’ sizes seem totally random – some take up a full page; others are tiny.

Rather than digging further into the LaTeX rabbit hole, I decided to see if there wasn’t a more direct way to generate a pdf.

Build Directly to PDF

According to the Sphinx docs, there exists a builder which converts rst directly into pdf.

To set it up, add the builder in by adding this line to the end:

extensions += ['rst2pdf.pdfbuilder']

Also add the pdf target to the Makefile:

    @echo "Build finished. The PDF is in $(BUILDDIR)/pdf."

Remember that Makefiles need hard tabs; a tab expanded into spaces will not be recognized by Make. You can set this behavior up automatically with Vim’s filetype plugin, or just type :set noexpandtab when editing Makefiles.

Now make pdf throws the error:

WARNING: "pdf_documents" config value references unknown document contents

This means that rst2pdf wants some extra configuration information. The manual doesn’t discuss Sphinx-specific configuration, but a Sphinx issue explains that you need one more line in

pdf_documents = [('index', u'sample', u'Sample rst2pdf doc', u'Your Name'),]

After adding the pdf_documents configuration, make pdf generates an oddly styled but entirely legible pdf copy of the presentation’s content.