Make Multi-Page PDF Files in Mac OS X

Have you ever had a bunch of PDFs you wanted to assemble into one unified document?  Most people will tell you need Adobe Acrobat.  But in fact, OS X already has you covered with a nifty little program called Automator.  Automator is an ingenious and easy to use tool that lets you build sequences of system tasks like moving, converting or renaming files.  In this tutorial, we’re going to use Automator to create a multi-page PDF from a folder of single page documents.

1. Open a new Finder window and navigate to your Applications folder. Find Automator in the list of programs.  See the cheery looking robot? Double click him to launch the program!

2.  You’ll now be presented with Automator’s various service templates.  For this tutorial, we’ll be creating an Application, so select it from the menu. Next, before we add steps to our workflow, let’s save it.  Once saved, you can Drag and Drop files on Automator workflows to have them run without even opening Automator. But more on that later.

3.  Now that our Automator application has been saved, let’s add the files we want to work with.  Notice the large gray space with ‘Drag Actions or files here to build your workflow’. Open the folder where your source PDFs are located and drag them into Automator.

IMPORTANT: To ensure that Automator combines the files in the correct order, you should name your files to reflect the pagination that you want.  In this case, I named them Page 1, Page 2 etc.

4. Now that we’ve told Automator which files we’re going work with, we need to tell it what to do with them.  Down the left side of the Automator window you’ll notice a drop down menu called Library.  Below it, you’ll see different types operations that can be applied. Since we’re working with PDFs, select it from the list.

Just to the right of the Library, you’ll now get a second list of all the things Automator can do with PDF files.  Three items down from the top is what we’re looking for: Combine PDF Pages.  Double click it to add it to the workflow.  Since our source docs are single page, select Append Pages to add them sequentially based on the names we gave them.  This is what you should have so far:

4. Next, we’re going to add an operation to copy our multi-page PDF to the Desktop. Since Automator is a robot, he likes to save files in weird folders deep in the system. But don’t worry – we’ll get him to save us a copy right on the Desktop for easy retrieval.   In the Library menu, select Files & Folders from the list and then Copy Finder Items. The default location is Desktop, but you can choose another from the menu if you wish:

5. Did I mention that Automator is a robot?  He also likes to name files strangely, so we’re going to add an operation to give our PDF a more descriptive name.  Again in the Library menu, select Files & Folders but this time choose Rename Finder Items.  From the list choose the last option Name Single Item. Make sure to leave the second menu set to Basename only. This will ensure that our PDF has correct file extension (.pdf, duh!)

6. Here’s what your fancy new Automator workflow should look like:

7. Ready?  It’s time to pull the trigger – Hit the Run button on the right.   But wait – you just got error!  Don’t worry this is normal. Hit Okay to have the workflow run and create your PDF, then read on to see what happened.

Here’s the explanation of the alert: Remember at the beginning when we saved the Automator Application?  Saving an Automator application creates an icon you can drag files on to at a later date to perform the same operation without having to set it all up again.

This warning is Automator reminding you that the application won’t run as a Drag and Drop because the first operation in the workflow was to add our single PDFs, which effectively cancels the Drag & Drop.  If, after completing this tutorial, you wish to have Drag & Drop functionality for future PDF creation, simply delete that first operation where we added our single PDFs from the workflow by clicking on the X in the top right corner and hit Save.  Just remember that the final step in the workflow we set up was to rename the file, so you might want to change that too.

7. Okay, having Run the workflow, you should now have your renamed, multi-page PDF sitting on your Desktop.  Let’s pop it open to have a look. Double click the icon to open it in Preview.

8. Success!  You have just created a multi-page PDF from a handful of singles using the power of our little robot friend Automator.

Comments [54]

  1. You can also do this in Preview.

    1. Use Preview to open any of the PDF files that you want to combine.

    2. Click View/Sidebar

    3. Drag the next file into the sidebar. You can place the file before or after any page already in the sidebar by watching the red line.

    4. File/Save As an new file name so you don't destroy your original file.

    1. This seems even easier, but when I click View/Sidebar it shows me two options: collapse all or expand all, but both are disable, maybe because is a single page document?

  2. Thanks so much for posting these instructions. I was able to put 62 .pdf pages into one .pdf file on my Mac!

  3. "You’ll now be presented with Automator’s various service templates. For this tutorial, we’ll be creating an Application, so select it from the menu."

    I would if Automator included an "Application" template, but mine doesn't. My version of Automator (2.0.4) offers only 5 templetes, and I can find no way to update it. What version of Automator are you using?

  4. Steve,
    I had the same thing, but just chose 'custom' and follow the steps, it works the very same.

  5. brilliant-simple+perfect [as long as you know how] thnx MUCH Aseem!

  6. When I dragged/dropped the files into Automator they showed up in a different order than they should be and then the combined pdf was in the messed up order as well. Sorting the files by name in the Automator box didn't help either. How do I fix this?

  7. I just began using a MAC for my business. The learning curve hasn't been too bad. But wow!! I am still so amazed at all the fantastic things I can now do. Thank you for this page, and your site as well. I will now be a daily reader. Thank you, thank you! Thank you!!

  8. you can do the whole thing simply in preview, right click on pdf, open with preview and then just simply click view side bar and drag all other pdfs into the side bar where you want them then all you have to do is save it as a new document name, remember in the side bar you can add delete and drag and drop pages to different locations in the document, so sweet and so simple, no weird automator required. created a pdf from 20 docs in less than a minute.

  9. The Preview method explained by Jon is much faster and easier. You could also copy and paste them into a Word document, select Print, then PDF and have it save as a ODF file. I like the Preview method best, though.

  10. Hi

    I have the same version automator as Steve. In rename the finder item process I only have limited control over the time and date, from various drop down boxes, but no option of renaming the actual file (that I can see anyway). What am I not seeing or doing right?


  11. This is one of the most useful tutorials I have come across on the Web.Thank you a lot.

  12. thank you so much! this is so much easier + saving time and money rather than paying $9 a month to combine multiple pages at pdf online. find it a lot easier with preview than automator though! x.

  13. Another way:

    1) Select images to be combined in finder, and right click > open with Preview.

    2) Arrange images in Preview sidebar in order and select the ones you want to combine.

    3) File > Print selected images…

    4) Hit "PDF" button on print pop-up (bottom left corner) > Save as PDF…

    5) Save

    Job done.

  14. Am I doing something wrong here? I'm on Mac Snow Leopard, and I've tried ALL of your methods, but not one of them created a single page. Automator didn't create anything for me, just gave me a bunch of warnings, and all the other methods created single pages.

    Stupid question: does it matter if all the pages are the same size? When it comes to doing things through preview I don't see how it would matter, but is that what's messing me up?

  15. Best. Tutorial. Ever. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this!

  16. thank you so much … it was quick and easy … i learned something new about my mac!!!!

  17. WOW! Thanks! Excellent, easy to follow instructions. Cool idea from Rick, too.

  18. very helpful! thank you! and thank you Rick for another simple way to do it in Preview.

  19. Thank you so much! You just empowered me to do more than what I thought I was able to do on Mac. 🙂



  20. When I drag a pdf into the sidebar of another pdf, it doesn't drop in. What am i doing wrong?!

  21. this is very very amazingly helpful. thank you!

  22. This is one of the best tutorials ever! You explain it so well and use excellent graphics. I am so glad that I finally learned how to use Automator to help with tedious, time-consuming tasks. Thanks so much!

  23. WOW ! thank you for helping feel a bit more iSmarter than yesterday 🙂

  24. Thanks Rick, your method works best for me.

    Couldn't get Jon's version to work on Lion. There is no "save as" option. Using the "Export" option exports each image to it's own pdf.

  25. This was AWESOME!!! Have been wondering how to do this for the longest time. Didn't even know what our Robot Friend was for. Even asked someone, but they didn't have a clue either. This has opened up "A Whole New World…(da da da da)" for me. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!!!

  26. Aidan, how do you delete individual pages in a pdf doucument? i have been trying to figure this out forever! I have alot of magazines in pdf format and want to just keep certain articles/pages…any help is appreciated…thanks

  27. That was so easy and I never would have done it without this tutorial. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge is such concise terms.

    Be well,

  28. Thanks for the help, it’s a learning curve for me. The 2 things I had trouble with was at least one of the pages was corrupted or blank after running automator a few times trying to see if it worked properly. I did rename the PDF files to page 1,2,3 etc but I still had to manually move them into the right order in automator as the first attempt the pages were all muddled up.

    I had success with using the finder to put the PDF files in order and then saving it as one other person had suggested an alternative to the automator, I can still go to the PDF file on the desktop and change the corrupted or blank file with a good one in the right order and then save it to get around any problems with automator. It’s good to know the different options.

  29. Thank you! I needed to compile my credit report from 13 different pages into one PDF file to be able to send it over to landlords to rent and apartment and this did the trick! Again, thank you!

  30. Nightmarish.

    My Adobe Acrobat Professional worked just fine until Mac decided to make it obsolete with its latest large cat.

    Merging files in Preview is doable, though it’s annoying to have to learn a new system that’s redundant with and not as flexible as Acrobat. I’ve about lost track of the time I’ve wasted in trying to figure out what ought to be a simple process. Automator…what? It may be simple to use, but the instructions above are a) interminable and b) ridiculously complicated. And it makes me mad as a cat — a BIG cat — that I can’t paginate the large course packet I finally managed to put together for my students.

    What part of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” don’t the Mac folks understand?

  31. When I try the preview method I keep ending up with one single page instead of multiple pages???

  32. Same here, I keep ending up with one page after I save as. I’ve tried selecting all the pages, or not, still one page. Also save as PDF.

  33. Does anyone know how to break up a PDF into multiple documents? There is a keyword in the document where I want to page break. Let’s say I want to page break at “Total For Office” and then the words after Total for Office (next 3 letters) will need to be the filename. For example, 100 page document:

    page 1 = 033
    page 2-3 = 034
    page 4 = 035
    page 5,6,7,8 = 009
    page 9 = 010

  34. Wow! This is amazing. Thank you SO much. I love the level of detail in your instructions. I had no idea that anything like this even existed, and it looks like it will be great for so many different things! Best wishes. 😀

  35. Thankyou. It has taken me weeks of trying other methods but I have finally done it due to your help.

  36. Thank you for this tutorial. You’ve given me a way to put everything together the way my client wants to see it. All in one document.

  37. thank you, rick. your’s is the easy fast way. actually none of the other forms worked for me, but nevertheless i’m glad i got to know the possibilities of automator.

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