How To Split PDF Documents Into Single Pages Using Mac OS X

You have a multi-page PDF that you’d like to split into individual pages. Maybe you scanned a stack of paper intending to make it one PDF per sheet, but instead it went into one big PDF. Maybe you have some other reason.

You can buy software to do this, but there are options to split a PDF using the built-in tools of Mac OS X. You can think of this as a companion piece to How To Combine PDFs Using Mac OS X Automator.

Option 1: Use Preview To Split Pages

Preview.app (the application you use to view PDFs and images) has some document management tools under the hood.

To split a file into pages using Preview:

Open the file in Preview

If you don’t see a list of pages on the right-hand side, click the View Menu button on the left of the toolbar and choose Thumbnails.

Open Thumbnails in Preview
Open Thumbnails in Preview

You can click and drag each page to your desktop or to a Finder window. It will then copy that page to its own PDF.

If that doesn’t work for you, try this option to split in Preview using the clipboard.

Option 2: Use Automator To Split Pages

Much like combining PDF files to make one big one, you can split a PDF into separate pages using Automator.

There are a number of ways to do this of course, but in this example I will be making a Service. If you want to skip all this setup, I have attached my Service to the end of this post. It will hopefully work for you.

Ready? Here we go.

Start Automator

In Finder, go to Applications and then start Automator.

Choose Service

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

Automator Choose Service
Automator Choose Service

Set The Variable For The Original PDF(s)

At the top of the window at the right, change the Service receives selected dropdown to PDF files. I set the in dropdown to Finder.app. I haven’t tested it in other applications.

Now in the Library section on the left, click on Utilities and then find Set Value of Variable. Drag it to the main window on the right.

Drag Automator

In the Variable dropdown, choose New variable… and call it originalPDFs.

Here’s what the first rule looks like so far.

Automator Get Variable

Set The Variable For The Path Of The PDF

We are doing this step because of a weird way Automator works. It doesn’t make it easy to save the resulting PDF to the same folder as the original.

I could prompt the user to choose a path, but I wanted to make it automatic so we have to get a bit geeky.

Note: if you’re an Automator expert and know a better way to do this, please leave a comment!

Still in the Utilities section of the Library on the left, find Run AppleScript. Drag it to the main window under our last step.

In the Run AppleScript window, paste in this code:


on run {input, parameters}
set pathList to {}
repeat with itemNum from 1 to count of input
tell application “System Events”
copy POSIX path of (container of (item itemNum of input)) to end of pathList
end tell
end repeat
return pathList
end run

(Basically that is going through the PDFs that you are splitting and copying the folders that they are stored in.)

Now in the Utilities section of the Library, find our old friend Set Value of Variable and (you guessed it) drag it into the main window under our last step.

In the Variable dropdown, choose New Variable… and give your new variable a name of containerPath.

Here’s what these steps look like:

Automator Get Path

Split The PDFs

Now it’s time to do the splitting!

First, we want to get the list of PDFs that we had saved back in the first step.

In Library -> Utilities, drag Get Value of Variable to the main window under our last step.

In the Variable dropdown, choose originalPDFs.

Right under the Variable dropdown there is an Options button. Hit that and check Ignore this action’s input.

Now in Library on the right, choose PDFs. Find Split PDF and drag it under the last step.

In the Variable window at the bottom of your screen, find your containerPath variable. Drag it up on top of the Save Output dropdown.

I prefer to leave Output File Name as Same as Input Name, but it’s up to you.

Here’s what the last steps look like:

Automator Split PDF

Save The Service

Alright! You’re done! Here’s the entire rule:

Automator Entire Split Rule
Automator Entire Split Rule

Go to File > Save and give your new service a name. I’ll call mine PDF Split.

Use The PDF Split Service

You have just created a Service. This means that if you right-click a PDF in the Finder, you can split it right from there. Let’s try it.

Find a PDF on your Mac and right-click it. Choose the Services menu near the bottom. If all went well, you should see Split PDF (or whatever you called your Service) in the list. Choose it.

Automator Split Service
Automator Split Service

Once I chose mine, you can see that it automatically kicked out one PDF for each page, with “-pagex” appended to the name for each page.

Automator Split Results

Downloading The Service

As mentioned, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of setting this all up, you are welcome to use mine.

To use it, download the file to your computer and double-click it to Unzip it.

You want to move the file to the ~/Library/Services folder. It’s probably hidden for you, so the easiest way to get there is:

  • Go to a Finder window
  • Choose the Go menu and then Go to Folder…
  • Type or paste in ~/Library/Services

Once that window opens up, drag the SplitPDF.workflow file there.

Click Here To Download SplitPDF10.zip

This article was originally written in November 2010. It was updated in July 2015 for OS X Yosemite and to use a Service instead of a Droplet.

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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