How-To: Using Automator to Combine PDFs

OS X (s aapl) includes a great tool called Automator that makes it really easy to take the sting out of repetitive tasks. When I don’t forget it’s there waiting to help me, I put it to work so I don’t have to, which is what I did when I ran into the problem of how to take multiple PDFs (s amzn) and turn them into a single file.

I realize you can open a PDF, drag another PDF into the Preview window, and combine in that fashion, but in my experience, there’ve been issues with cross-platform compatibility when using this method. I turned to Automator, and within a few minutes, had a pretty simple and effective way to solve the problem.

  1. I decided to create a Service rather than a standalone application or workflow, so it would be accessible from anywhere I may end up in the Finder, at any time.
  2. Since PDFs were my focus, I set the service to target them while browsing from the Finder. You can obviously play around with these settings to do different things, depending on your needs.
  3. The first action to drag into the editor is the heavy lifter here, and is very clearly named: “Combine PDF Pages.” I’d prefer they append to one another rather than shuffle them together.
  4. At this point, I thought I was done, but when I would run the Service against a couple of PDF files, I had no idea where the resulting file ended up. For some reason, it wasn’t in the clipboard, but rather, was in some non-accessible directory of OS X. So added the “Move Finder Items” command into the editor, and the result was just what I wanted.
  5. Finally, select the files in the Finder, right click, and choose your newly-created Service from the Services submenu. The resulting PDF shows up as some gibberish file name, right on the desktop.

Automator is a flexible tool, and can be made to do so many of the random tasks that we find need for on a daily basis. Hopefully, this simple solution will kickstart the process of creating your own custom workflows, as well.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):