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.

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