How to Create Multi-Page PDF Files in MAC OS X with Automator

Guest post: Isaac Philbrook, a long-time groovyReader turned contributor who loves to find solutions for annoying problems!  groovyPost has always had a big fat hole in our archives when it comes to groovyPosts for the MAC so I hope we will see more from Isaac in the future!


Recently, I ran into trouble when I realized that my HP all-in-one printer/scanner/fax would not cooperate and make multi-paged .PDFs. This was a tragedy. Every time I scanned a new page it would just create a new .PDF file. Well, after years of being a Mac user, I finally broke into one of the handiest tools ever: the Automator! I’ve never used the Automator before–I guess I never really had a reason. What I’m about to discuss was my introduction to the world of the Automator and just a taste of it’s glory.

I had a need to scan multiple documents into a single .PDF file. Ideally, I’d like the scanner to do this automatically as I scan them. But after some research, I realized that wasn’t gonna happen. What I did discover, however, was that the Automator has an immensely useful function (aside from having the coolest looking icon ever). With the help of the Automator, I was able to scan files to .PDF individually then create a work flow that would turn that group of .PDFs into a single .PDF file.  Ahh…  Tragedy solved!

Rather than keep this groovyTip to myself, I decided to quickly document the steps and share it with all of you!  Enjoy!

Creating an Automator Workflow to Combine PDFs into a Single Document

Step One

First, launch Finder, Click Applications look for Automator. He’s tough to miss–he’s the cool looking robot with a cannon or pen or something.

Combine PDFs using Automator using Mac OS X

Step 2

Launch Automator. Automator will prompt you to choose a template for your workflow. Select Application and hit Choose.

Combine PDFs using Automator using Mac OS X

Step Three

Expand Library on the left-hand side. Select Files and Folders (it has the same icon as Finder). Next, Select Get Selected Finder Items in the next column. Drag and drop Get Selected Finder items into the right-hand window, where it reads “Drag actions or files here to build your workflow.”

Combine PDFs using Automator using Mac OS X


Step Four

Go back to the Library on the left-hand side and look for PDFs. Select it and look for Combine PDF Pages.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Five

Drag and drop Combine PDF Pages into the right-hand pane, beneath “Get Selected Finder Items.”

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Six

Select Appending pages.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Seven

Go back to the Library on the left-hand side. Click Files and Folders and Drag and dropName Single Item in Finder Item Names” into your workflow.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Note: If you don’t see “Name Single Item in Finder Item Names,” look for Rename Finder Items. After you drag it and drop it, Click the drop-down menu and choose “Name Single Item.”

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Eight

In the drop-down menu next to “Name,” choose Full Name. Leave the “To:” field blank.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Nine

Click Options and Check Show action when the workflow runs. This will allow you to choose a new file name when you combine .PDFs.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Ten

Let’s head back to the Library on the left-hand side. Highlight Files and Folders again. Now, Drag and drop New Folder into your workflow.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Eleven

Click Options and Check Show this action when the workflow runs.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

This will let us create a new folder at the end of our work flow. Personally I like everything separated in it’s own little place. This just makes it easy for us to keep track of where our new documents are going. I added the folder name “test2” just for the sake of showing you what it would look like.

Step Twelve

Click File > Save as… and name your new multi-page .PDF creating application!

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Running Your Multi-Page .PDF Creator Workflow

Step One

To use your new multi-page .PDF application, scan several documents using a logical naming convention. I usually scan docs as 001, 002, 003 and so on.

Step Two

Once you have all your individually scanned .PDFs, highlight them and Right-click (or CTRL-click) the group of documents. Choose Open With > Other

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Three

Browse to where you have your ninja multi-.PDF application stored.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Step Four

The work flow will run and you will be prompted for the new file name and folder name.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X

Give your file and folder a name and Click Continue.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X


Step Five

Enjoy your combined .PDF.

Combine PDFs using Automator in Mac OS X



Now that I know about the Automator and the magic it brings, I am always messing around in there trying to figure out new ninja-like ways to perform simple tasks. Automator is pretty slick and easy to use, so get on in there, Mac people, and make some magic!



  1. Tim

    March 8, 2011 at 1:48 am

    HI and many thanks for this great, well written and easily understandable introduction to “automator” – what a great tool. THANKS a million. >Tim, Berlin, Germany

    • MrGroove

      March 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Tim – Hello from Seattle!

      Welcome to groovyPost. Thanks for the feedback and hope to see you around the blog.

  2. andrea

    March 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    This saved my life!

    One problem—I did this over and over to make sure I didn’t make a mistake, and I don’t think I did….but each time the program created two images of each page…I finally figured out how to delete the extra pages, but wonder why this happened?

    • Roger

      December 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

      This also created duplicates of the pdf’s but I haven’t been able yet to delete the extras. How did you? And why is this doing this?

      • kish

        February 27, 2012 at 3:30 am

        I had the duplicate problem too. I haven’t figured out how to stop the duplicates but you can delete them by selecting the the 2nd viewing option located in the upper right corner of the window. This should produce a secondary display menu on the left hand side of the pdf, displaying the all the pages in the pdf. You can delete unwanted pages from there.

        Oh and btw this article is really really really helpful! awesome work bro!

        • Van

          June 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

          I’m having the same problem, but please clarify where in the process you are when you write “you can delete them by selecting the the 2nd viewing option located in the upper right corner of the window.” I’ve tried everything and can’t find where you’re talking about. thanks!

    • Van

      June 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      I’m asking several of you how you’re deleting the duplicate images in hopes that I get an answer from someone. How did you delete the duplicates? Thanks

      • BERNARD

        February 11, 2014 at 8:40 am

        What I did to get around the two problems that everyone seems to have.
        First to delete the duplicates I just drag them to the trash.
        Second to keep from making duplicates in the first place, STOP after you do step 3 in running the work flow. The PDF file is already done.
        I put everything on the desktop so I saw when the PDF file pops up.

        • BERNARD

          February 11, 2014 at 8:56 am

          One more thing to delete pages in the same document hold down the option key, select the duplicate pages in the side bar, then select delete.
          What I was referring to in the other post was making two complete copies of the files.
          When you stop at step 3, the computer will put it’s own file name on the file it just created.

    • Mac Newbie

      November 26, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      Mine does this too, so IDK if this is right but this is that I did and seems to work: After Combine PDF Pages, I just have it Open Finder Item (as my 7th and last step). This way it opens the combined PDF with the repeated pages, I delete the repeated pages, and then save it with the name I want where I want. It tells me it’s creating a copy b/c the original cannot be modified, but it does not seem to be saving the original with the repeated pages.

  3. Wayne Rosa

    April 9, 2011 at 5:51 am

    This Introduction to Automator is just fantastic thanks heaps

  4. George

    December 28, 2011 at 2:33 am

    Wow, thanks very much! After having Automator for six years I’m finally using it!

    • Steve Krause

      December 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      Awesome and yeah, I know the feeling. :)

  5. Shirley Phippen

    January 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I love how this works but how can one then reduce the file size if the file created is too large? I need to be able to scan multiple pages, create a single file, and have it be smaller than 2GB. What do I do if the file created is 3.5GB for example.

  6. Steve Walsh

    January 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Great article, easy to follow. I have used Macs daily for years and never used Automator – good to know – Thanks

  7. Amanda

    March 7, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you so much!

  8. Marcia

    April 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    THANKS SO MUCH!!!!! I did know about automator only because I use it to rename my photo files. (I’m not a fan of iphoto) This was a little more complicated and I would have never figured it out. What a life saver. Really appreciate it!!!

  9. Van

    June 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I’m trying to combine 64 pdf’s into one and have done it as you described. It works well, but I am getting all 64 other words, it’s creating them in order 1-64, then doing it again 1-64, so I end up with 128 images. I see that others have had the same problem or a similar one, but I cannot figure out how to get rid of the duplicates. Can you help?

  10. IDr

    July 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    This is honestly the worst explanation and set of directions I think I’ve ever read. I’m sorry. I’m an instructional designer. It’s just… wow.

    • daveinpublic

      August 20, 2012 at 11:20 am

      For an instructional designer, you don’t leave very constructive feedback.

  11. hellodad

    August 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    hi, i done this few times and each time it left me with a folder with nothing in it.

  12. Lucy Treloar

    November 4, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Very frustrating – I’ve been through the steps three times and can’t get it to run. The application won’t save so it can be activated. I actually found the instructions quite clear, but it won’t work.


    February 10, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Great directions on building the application. The nice thing you only have to do once, so you will have the app the next time you need to use it. (I didn’t realize this until I got finished building the program.)
    There are several steps to do it, but if you take your time and follow the steps as presented, you should not have any problems getting it up and running

  14. Mr. Orthodox

    September 9, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Its a clean thing, but little uncomfortable point is the size of new pdf. I took two pdf of 34 & 67 KB , the one i got was of 1 MB. For another two pdf of 450 & 650 KB i got the combined pdf of 8.6 MB.

    Tweak it for reducing the file size and your workflow will be explosive.

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