How To Combine PDF Files in Mac OSX Using Automator To Make A Service

How To Combine PDF Files in Mac OSX Using Automator To Make A Service

A close friend of mine is currently doing a year long round-the-world trip. Being the sucker nice guy that I am, I have agreed to receive her mail and keep her important documents for her.

Sometimes I have situations where I need to scan stuff for her and send them electronically. Usually my trusty ScanSnap S1300 does the job, but there is the occasional situation where I have to use my flatbed.

However, what happens when I have multiple PDFs that really should go in one document? I needed a way to combine the PDFs together.

There are a million ways to do this, including some I have talked about before like using Preview.app to drag and drop pages, and there are lots of applications that one can use to combine PDFs, but I wanted to do something that would be:

  • Already built into the OS and not require any additional software
  • Easy to use
  • Repeatable so I only have to set it up once and can use it again and again

I came across this great tutorial by George Harito that runs through how to use Automator to create a Service in Snow Leopard to combine PDFs for you. If you don’t know what the heck that means, don’t worry about it. I’ll take you through step by step.

(In case you’re wondering why I don’t just point to George’s tutorial and be done with it, it’s because there are some extra unneeded steps in there that might confuse some people, so I decided to recreate it here. The inspiration comes from George though and he deserves all the credit).

Create The Service

We’re going to be using an application called Automator to set this up. It looks a bit scary but don’t worry, what we’ll be doing is very easy.

Start Automator

  • In Finder, go to Applications and then start Automator, the cool little robot icon

Choose Service

  • In the window that pops up, highlight Service and then hit Choose

Choose Service

Set Up The PDF Action

  • At the top in the middle, you will see a line that says Service receives selected and then a dropdown. Choose PDF files

  • In the Library section on the left, you’ll see a line for PDF. Choose that
  • In the next column over, there is an option for Combine PDF Pages. Click that and drag it into the the section on the right

Now we want to be able to give our new PDF a name.

  • Go to the Library section and choose Files & Folders and drag Rename Finder Items to the canvas under your Combine PDF Pages
  • It is going to ask you this: This action will change the names of the Finder items passed into it. Would you like to add a Copy Finder Items action so that the copies are changed and your originals are preserved?. You almost certainly want to hit Don’t Add because you want it to rename the file, not make a copy.
  • We want to totally rename the file, so choose Name Single Item
  • At the bottom, click on Options and then check Show this action when the workflow runs. It will then prompt you for a name for your new PDF when you run it.

So now we’ve told it to combine the PDFs and give it a name, but now we need to tell it where to put the new file.

  • In the Library, still in Files & Folders, drag Move Finder Items to the canvas under your previous action
  • You can leave the default location if you want, but click on Options and then check Show this action when the workflow runs. That way, it will ask you where you want to save your new PDF.

Here is the whole rule. Click to embiggen.

Awesome! You’re done. Now go File | Save As and give it a name like Combine PDF Files.

Using the Service

So why did we go through all this trouble to set it up as a Service?

Now any time I ever want to combine a bunch of PDFs, I just need to go to Finder, right click them, and check out the new option that I have:

When I choose Combine PDFs, I get a popup where I give it a name.

Then, another popup appears where I choose where it save it.

Et voila, I have my combined PDF with the 3 files that I had selected in the Finder.

From now on it will be super easy to combine any PDFs.

How about you?

What tricks/processes do you have for combining PDFs on the Mac? Leave a note in the comments or on the Facebook page.

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 88 comments

Cindy - May 21, 2015 Reply

Worked great! Thanks!

Gabor - April 6, 2015 Reply

Hi! Great idea! I am doing this right now! The problem I seem to have run into, is that it only works up to 1000 items. I am trying to merge a 1166 page book, that was scanned one page per pdf. Any ideas to increase the 1000 file merge limit? Thanks in advance!

    Ray - April 6, 2015 Reply

    Do two separate combinations of under 1000 pages (e.g., two 583 page combos), then merge your two new PDFs.

      JKJ - April 6, 2015 Reply

      I realised this solution after I submitted the comment :-). I was just surprised by the limit.

Summer - March 20, 2015 Reply

This is possibly the most helpful thing I’ve seen all week. SO MUCH TIME SAVED, YET SO EASY. I also had no idea about the Automator tool at all, so this was a really cool introduction to it. Thanks so much for this tutorial!

Joel - December 12, 2014 Reply

Doesn’t work for me in Yosemite.
No “save as”…. Rename saves to Icloud.
Selection of multip,e files in Finder shows no option for Combining PDF’s

    Joel - December 12, 2014 Reply

    I must be really tired….tried it again and it works!
    I ignored the “save as” and hit “save”. How anal am I? Just following directions

      Joel - December 12, 2014 Reply

      Many thanks. Now that nasty PC laptop can go away. I only kept it on my desk to deal with PDF’s

RF - December 7, 2014 Reply

Thanks a million!

One of the things I have been really missing since leaving Windows was a set of utilities called PDFill FREE PDF Tools, which I used mainly to merge PDFs. I knew you can do this using Preview, but, let’s face it, that’s kind of a pain. I teach, so I have to combine PDFs all the time. This was a great tip, and more importantly, I have learned a world of possible actions I can create using the amazing Automator, which I have used before, but I am much more familiar with now through your tutorial.

Many thanks to both you and George Harito.

Olivia - November 5, 2014 Reply

When I go to Finder, right click my documents, I have two combine PDF files options. They both are under different names. How do I delete one of them? Thanks.

Nick - October 7, 2014 Reply

Hey thanks this was a great solution.
Just a quick one (Didn’t seem to see this in thread…)

I am interleaving Simplex scanned pages with a second set of pages odds then evens.

To get correct interleaved of odd then even pages – I found that when I select the two original files the odd number file (I.e. the first page, third page 5th pages to-be) had to be the top file when selecting the two files in the finder. (This is when running the automator script)

I.e. just the top file as the files are displayed in the finer window. Even just reversing the alphabetical display of the files in as they are listed in the finder works if you happen to have named the one you want as the 1,3,5 pages with a alphabetical character later than the 2,4,6 file (Like Odd Filename : Even Filename)

Cleoni Crawford - August 30, 2014 Reply

You are a LIFE SAVER! I had spent hours trying to figure this out. Thank you for posting this. Virtual hug!

Rory Geraghty - April 23, 2014 Reply

Thanks a mil!!!

I had been going a ludicrously frustrating way about doing this before I found your article

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - April 23, 2014 Reply

    Great Rory, glad it helped!

      Vikki W - April 16, 2015 Reply

      I got it to combine the pdfs. The only problem is I lose the color and grayscale. Is there a way to fix this?

Wendy - March 25, 2014 Reply

Wow, this was so easy and it worked like a dream. Really saved me hours! Thank you for taking the time to post.

And, now I am intrigued by Automator – any other ideas for other things to automate?

Ana - March 12, 2014 Reply

AWESOME!!! THANKS A LOOOOT!! IT DEFINITELY WORKS! 😀

Daphne - March 1, 2014 Reply

It worked!!!!! Nothing I do ever works, so I am a happy bunny… Yeah!

Thank you sooooo much.

If you know how to re-size the Pages my life will be complete…

Jeff Claassen - February 11, 2014 Reply

I just want to say thank you so much for posting this tutorial! It’s been a huge help for me. Thank you!

JMC - December 11, 2013 Reply

This just changed my life! I have never even heard of automator, and I just created a PDF Splitter & a service to combine PDFs. Thanks for the super easy-to-follow steps!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - December 11, 2013 Reply

    Awesome JMC! There's definitely a lot of power on the Mac when it comes to automating stuff. Glad you're started down the path.

that one dude - October 15, 2013 Reply

This worked great. I can make any service i want now. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Karen - July 27, 2013 Reply

Too easy – I just love it! thank you so much :-)

Daniel - July 14, 2013 Reply

Thanks so so much! Any tips for how integrating this into Alfred?

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - July 14, 2013 Reply

    Ohhh that would be tempting to figure out. I'll see what I can do someday. 

Joseph - July 12, 2013 Reply

Thank you! you saved my Friday!

Lisa H - May 16, 2013 Reply

This is a PERFECT walk-through to combine PDF files on my mac. Wow. Thank you x10000000!!!!

SpokaneDude - May 3, 2013 Reply

Fantastic! I didn't know such a thing (create Services with Automator) existed!

Thank you so much!

Greg - March 28, 2013 Reply

Fantastic tip!! Thank You!!

jay - March 19, 2013 Reply

It worked perfectly!!! Thanks a lot!!!!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - March 19, 2013 Reply

    Awesome thanks for the report jay!

Mariyah - February 28, 2013 Reply

this helped me a lot.big thanks!

songssavelives - January 4, 2013 Reply

Thank you so much for this very helpful tutorial! I TA for a professor who doesn't understand technology and gives me 50 pages documents in individual .pdfs. This was a lifesaver.

Thomas - November 27, 2012 Reply

BIG UP!! Thank you very much for the help

JR3 - October 13, 2012 Reply

Worked great, thanks for the post!

Luca - October 6, 2012 Reply

I can't say how this help me a lot, thank you!!! : )
Luca

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - October 6, 2012 Reply

    Great thanks Luca!

LehsyaR - September 17, 2012 Reply

this only worked for me after where it says "Choose a template for your workflow" i chose APPLICATION instead of SERVICE, then i followed the rest of the steps as is.

Richard Bowen - August 13, 2012 Reply

If you also want to be given the option to automatically delete the original files have a look at this thread:
https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3120370?star

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 13, 2012 Reply

    Very cool, thanks Richard!

isatiila - August 1, 2012 Reply

Thanks for this, very clear and very helpful!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 1, 2012 Reply

    No problem, thanks for your note!

Ben - July 19, 2012 Reply

This made my life so much easier. Thanks a lot!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - July 19, 2012 Reply

    Awesome Ben, glad it helped!

A.Z - July 9, 2012 Reply

Thanks , useful .

Donato - June 21, 2012 Reply

Fantastic!! This is just awesome!

Kristi - June 13, 2012 Reply

I have been looking for a way to combine PDF's for over a week. And I just needed it for one 3 page file. Thanks so much for this tutorial! Only thing I found that works so far!!

-KNA

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - June 13, 2012 Reply

    Yay Kristi, thanks for letting me know! <p style=”color: #A0A0A8;”>

DAVIDSDIEGO - June 2, 2012 Reply

This worked amazingly well, thanks!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - June 2, 2012 Reply

    Glad it helped!<p style=”color: #A0A0A8;”>

Lori - May 18, 2012 Reply

This is awesome, thanks! Makes my life much easier. :)

Nish - November 30, 2011 Reply

thank you thank you thank you…….

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - November 30, 2011 Reply

    Glad it helped Nish! Thanks for letting me know.

Summer - October 11, 2011 Reply

Hey brooks great post! I'm trying to create a very similar automator script using the Folder Actions option, so that every time I add a new PDF (1page) to a certain folder it automatically combines with a certain PDF (2 page) doc, to make a 3 page PDF which I can then rename etc as above. The issue I'm having is it puts my 1 page doc in the middle of the other 2 pages, so its out of order. Any tips on setting this right?

David - October 11, 2011 Reply

great suggestion!

hubbub - September 9, 2011 Reply

I just discovered automator and solved my problem, thank you!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - September 9, 2011 Reply

    Yay hubbub, thanks for letting me know!

technoed - July 17, 2011 Reply

Wow, thank you very much, exactly what I needed and did not have to pay Adobe for the privilege.

Harper - July 6, 2011 Reply

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - July 6, 2011 Reply

    Now that's the kind of comment I like. No problem Harper, glad it helped.

Scottie - June 30, 2011 Reply

That is awesome thankyou very much. Not being able to right-click and combine PDFs was one shortfall I have found with Apple. Now fixed, thanks.

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - June 30, 2011 Reply

    Great Scottie, so glad it helped!

Aubrey - May 24, 2011 Reply

Thank you very much for the very useful instructions! Saved so much time and effort. Thank you.

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - May 24, 2011 Reply

    Great thanks Aubrey glad it helped!

J Epstein - May 14, 2011 Reply

Embiggen is a perfectly cromulent word, and this is a superbly cromulent tutorial! Thanks for helping me try Automator, it's kinda cool. And my PDF files go into my new document in the correct order! All I had to do is sort by Date Modified! Oh happy day!

Thanks!

-j

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - May 14, 2011 Reply

    I was waiting for someone to make a Simpsons reference! Glad it helped. :)

Batch PDF Merger - April 8, 2011 Reply

Like many Windows users, they have to resort to the 500 lb gorilla Adobe Acrobat. Luckily Mac users have this available to them if they are using Snow Leopard. Great post.

Brian - March 23, 2011 Reply

awesome. thanks!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - March 30, 2011 Reply

    No problem Brian, glad it helped!

G.E. - December 24, 2010 Reply

Thank you so much. Very clearly explained and helpful.

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - December 24, 2010 Reply

    Thanks G.E.! Happy holidays!

Greg - December 6, 2010 Reply

Just want to say thanks, helped a lot, and learned a few things. Thanks for the post

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - December 6, 2010 Reply

    Thanks so much for your feedback Greg!

Merge PDF mac - December 3, 2010 Reply

This won't work on Tiger. I had to combine over 60 pdf files and I used Batch PDF Merger to do the trick. SImple, easy and best of all, I was able to arrange the files in any order…nice!

Hannah - November 9, 2010 Reply

This post is awesome and saved me about 2 hours of dragging and dropping… thank you!!

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - November 9, 2010 Reply

    Wow thanks so much Hannah. Glad it helped!

georgeharito - October 28, 2010 Reply

Hi Brooks,

Thanks for the link to my blog post about combining PDF documents. I must admit, at the time of writing it, I hadn't sorted out all the little issues with my workflow, so I can see how it may be confusing to read through and "play at home" so to speak for those who aren't confident with using Automator.

I'm glad my post inspired you, and it's great that you have taken the initiative to make things a little clearer.

Best,
George

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - October 28, 2010 Reply

    No worries George, it was a great post and thanks again.

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