The same sizes show up using pure Latex.

```
\documentclass[11pt]{article}
\begin{document}
\Huge
\[
\sqrt{\phantom{a^2}b}
\]
\[
\sqrt{a^2b}
\]
\end{document}
```

Gives (compiled with pdflatex)

And this is inside Mathematica:

I do not see any difference. But I think your question is really about Latex itself and not Matex, which just compiles using Latex.

You could see this how-do-i-create-an-invisible-character on Tex Exchange where it says

\phantom inserts an empty box with the same dimensions (horizontal as
well as vertical) as the argument

But if you think it is not doing what it should, I would suggest asking at https://tex.stackexchange.com

**Update**

What you want is `\hphantom`

and not `\phantom`

```
m1=Inset[MaTeX["\\sqrt{\\hphantom{a^2}b}",Magnification->5],{0,0}]
m2=Inset[MaTeX["\\sqrt{a^2b}",Magnification->5],{0,0}]
```

```
Graphics[{m1,m2}]
```

Please use code blocks for code, not quote blocks, otherwise some of the code might be destroyed (as it was here). – Szabolcs – 2017-12-03T09:24:11.743

That's a very strange position for one of the b's! – Michael E2 – 2017-12-04T00:27:41.043