Equations have become non-editable pictures in Microsoft Word

TechNote 103
The information on this page applies to:
  • MathType for Windows
  • MathType for Mac
All supported versions of Word for Windows and Mac

After opening a previously saved Word file containing MathType equations, you discover all or some of the MathType objects have become non-editable "pictures." This is associated with the Auto-recovery function in Word. We know this is a Word bug because the issue is not limited to MathType, and happens with other "embedded objects", such as Excel charts. Further, there is normally no way to return the equations to editable condition.

  1. Attempting to edit an equation by double-clicking it will bring up the Picture Format tab instead of opening MathType.
    Double-clicking an equation that has turned into a picture will show the Picture Format tab in Word rather than open the equation in MathType.
  2. Copying and pasting the equation into a MathType window results in the error "The Clipboard contains no equation data".
    Copying an equation that has turned into a picture and pasting it into MathType will show an error dialog saying the clipboard has no equation data.
  3. The 8 resizing handles around the equation have a different appearance:
Picture equation on Windows

Equation has become a picture, Windows.

Equation is not a picture, Windows.

Equation has not become a picture, Windows.

Picture equation on Mac

Equation has become a picture, Mac.

Equation is not a picture, Mac.

Equation has not become a picture, Mac.

Microsoft recommends turning off Auto-recovery in Word. Note, however, this is a prevention step and will not repair equations that have already become non-editable pictures. The steps to disable Auto-recovery are different for each version of Word whether on the Macintosh or on the Windows platforms. Simply look for the "Save" preferences for your version of Word and remove the check mark from "Save Auto-recovery data every x minutes."

In many cases, the equations will display and print correctly. If you don't need to edit the equations, it is possible to simply leave them as they are. If you only need to edit a small number of equations, it may be more expedient to delete those equations and recreate them in MathType.

It's rare, but in some cases it may be possible to recover the equations by running the Convert Equations command within Word:

  1. Open the document in Word and save it as an RTF (Rich text format) document.
  2. From the MathType menu (or Tab), choose Convert Equations.
  3. Choose the following settings in the Convert Equations dialog: under "Equation Types to Convert", select (as a minimum) "MathType or Equation Editor Equations" and "Microsoft Word EQ Fields". Set the Range to "Whole Document".
  4. Under "Convert equations to" select "MathType equations (OLE objects)".
  5. Click the "Convert" button to start the conversion process.
  6. When the conversion is complete, a dialog will appear confirming the number of equations converted.
  7. Save the document from Word as either a .doc or .docx file. (As it pertains to this issue, .doc seems to be more stable than .docx.)
  8. The document and hopefully all equations might be editable now using any version of Word along with MathType. Note sometimes this conversion method cannot recover all equations in a document. If this is the case, equations will have to be re-created and there is nothing MathType can do to auto-recover them.

MathType's "Convert Equations" dialog

Getting This Problem Addressed by Microsoft

It's important for Microsoft's customers to report their experience of this problem so Microsoft can appreciate how widespread it is and appreciate the need to devote their programming resources toward resolving it. We've reported the details of this issue, including sample documents to Microsoft, and we encourage all users who experience this problem to do the same.

You can report this to Microsoft by...


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We hope this has been helpful. As always, please let us know if you have questions about this, or if you have additional techniques that work. We'd love to hear from you.