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.

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76 Responses to “How To Combine PDF Files in Mac OSX Using Automator To Make A Service”

  1. georgeharito October 28, 2010 at 3:19 am #

    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

    • BrooksD October 28, 2010 at 5:39 am #

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

  2. Hannah November 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

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

    • BrooksD November 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

      Wow thanks so much Hannah. Glad it helped!

  3. Merge PDF mac December 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    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!

  4. Greg December 6, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

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

    • BrooksD December 6, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

      Thanks so much for your feedback Greg!

  5. G.E. December 24, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you so much. Very clearly explained and helpful.

    • BrooksD December 24, 2010 at 9:21 am #

      Thanks G.E.! Happy holidays!

  6. Brian March 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    awesome. thanks!

    • BrooksD March 30, 2011 at 9:09 am #

      No problem Brian, glad it helped!

  7. Batch PDF Merger April 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    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.

  8. J Epstein May 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    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

    • BrooksD May 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

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

  9. Aubrey May 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

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

    • BrooksD May 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

      Great thanks Aubrey glad it helped!

  10. Scottie June 30, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    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.

    • BrooksD June 30, 2011 at 7:53 am #

      Great Scottie, so glad it helped!

  11. Harper July 6, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

    • BrooksD July 6, 2011 at 8:58 am #

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

  12. technoed July 17, 2011 at 11:28 am #

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

  13. hubbub September 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

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

    • BrooksD September 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Yay hubbub, thanks for letting me know!

  14. David October 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    great suggestion!

  15. Summer October 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    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?

  16. Nish November 30, 2011 at 1:40 am #

    thank you thank you thank you…….

    • BrooksD November 30, 2011 at 6:27 am #

      Glad it helped Nish! Thanks for letting me know.

  17. Lori May 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

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

  18. DAVIDSDIEGO June 2, 2012 at 1:16 am #

    This worked amazingly well, thanks!

    • BrooksD June 2, 2012 at 8:22 am #

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

  19. Kristi June 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    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

    • BrooksD June 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

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

  20. Donato June 21, 2012 at 5:19 am #

    Fantastic!! This is just awesome!

  21. A.Z July 9, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Thanks , useful .

  22. Ben July 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

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

    • BrooksD July 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Awesome Ben, glad it helped!

  23. isatiila August 1, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    Thanks for this, very clear and very helpful!

    • BrooksD August 1, 2012 at 7:56 am #

      No problem, thanks for your note!

  24. Richard Bowen August 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    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

    • BrooksD August 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      Very cool, thanks Richard!

  25. LehsyaR September 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    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.

  26. Luca October 6, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

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

    • BrooksD October 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

      Great thanks Luca!

  27. JR3 October 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Worked great, thanks for the post!

  28. Thomas November 27, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    BIG UP!! Thank you very much for the help

  29. songssavelives January 4, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    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.

  30. Mariyah February 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    this helped me a lot.big thanks!

  31. jay March 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

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

    • BrooksD March 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Awesome thanks for the report jay!

  32. Greg March 28, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Fantastic tip!! Thank You!!

  33. SpokaneDude May 3, 2013 at 9:31 am #

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

    Thank you so much!

  34. Lisa H May 16, 2013 at 10:51 am #

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

  35. Joseph July 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    Thank you! you saved my Friday!

  36. Daniel July 14, 2013 at 7:48 am #

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

    • BrooksD July 14, 2013 at 9:43 am #

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

  37. Karen July 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

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

  38. that one dude October 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

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

  39. JMC December 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    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!

    • BrooksD December 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

      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.

  40. Jeff Claassen February 11, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

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

  41. Daphne March 1, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    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…

  42. Ana March 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    AWESOME!!! THANKS A LOOOOT!! IT DEFINITELY WORKS! :D

  43. Wendy March 25, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    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?

  44. Rory Geraghty April 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Thanks a mil!!!

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

  45. Cleoni Crawford August 30, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

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

  46. Nick October 7, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    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)

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