How to Combine Multiple PDFs Using Preview

| How-To

As discussed on Mac Geek Gab 370, the Preview application in Mac OS X is an extremely powerful tool. One of its less-obvious features is the ability to combine and re-order multiple PDFs into a single document, something that was once the purview of only expensive third-party software. 

Open your first document in Preview. At the top of the window you’ll notice four buttons next to the search field. Select the second button, which will add the Preview sidebar to the left of the PDF document.

Use Preview to Combine PDFs

In the sidebar, you can now drag individual pages (or groups of pages if you use Shift-click or Command-click to select multiple pages) and re-order the document as you please. You can even selectively delete pages by selecting the page and pressing the delete key on your keyboard.

Use Preview to Combine PDF Sidebar

Once you’ve rearranged the document to your satisfaction, simply save it before closing Preview to give your changes permanence.

To combine multiple PDFs into a single document, open a second PDF in a separate Preview window and click the button in the toolbar to bring up the sidebar, as discussed above. Next, select the pages from the second document that you want to add to the first (use Command-A to select all if you want the entire document merged).

Once selected, simply drag the pages from the sidebar in the second document and drop them into their desired relevant position in the first document’s sidebar.

Use Preview to Combine PDFs Drag and Drop

There’s one important note: at the top of the sidebar in each document is the name of the document with a disclosure triangle to the left and a horizontal line below. When dragging your pages from the second document to the first, make sure to drop them below this line. If you drop them above the line, it will merely “move” the second PDF into the first PDF’s window, allowing you to view both documents in the same Preview window. It will not combine the documents. 

Just as with rearranging a single document, once you’ve combined the pages you desire, simply save the changes and your first document will now contain the pages you chose to add. 

While this example focuses on two PDFs, the practice will work the same with a virtually unlimited number of documents, allowing you to fully customize and combine all your PDF data into one handy file.

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21 Comments Leave Your Own

Agee

I use OS 10.6.8 and don’t get the four buttons next to the search field, as you describe. ?

Pashtun Wally

Does NOT work in Preview 5.0.3 (10.6.8).  At ALL.

Please label Lion-specific tips and tricks so they can be found, rather than merely stepped-on.

haywire

Don’t forget the ‘slide table’ view using the rightmost of the 4 View buttons. That view is great for re-arranging monster PDFs.

Jim Tanous

Does NOT work in Preview 5.0.3 (10.6.8).? At ALL.

Yes, it does actually. In 10.6, Preview just has one button called “Sidebar.” Use that to bring up the sidebar for a particular document. If you have multiple-paged documents, simply drag and drop the pages into their corresponding order, as described in the tip.

If you have two single-paged documents that you’d like to merge, drop the second document’s sidebar page on to the first’s and you’ll have a two page document. Then just save the changes.

1stplacemacuser

Thanks!!

This is a great tool.  Sometimes, I need to fax a bunch of documents (yeah, fax) and I need to send it to some web-base fax service.  For the free web-based fax service, they would allow only so many faxes per day.  This allows me to combine a bunch of PDFs into one and that works.  (Usually, 2 pages per document, about 4 docs, so doesn’t go over the MB limit.)

Jack Hayes

I love this capability in Preview. In particular, I use it for two purposes that might interest others:

1. I download a years worth of bank or investment account statements (or any other account statements for that matter…) and combine them into a single document for the year. Through the use of the page delete capability in Preview, you can also delete all of the extraneous pages you don’t need, such as the account reconciliation pages that are repeated in each month’s statement.

2. I download the user manual for many of my appliances. Preview allows me to go in and delete all of the alternative languages that most modern manuals include. This dramatically reduces the size of the manual.

Hope these ideas help others!

John

For Windows users, PDFSAM (PDF Split and Merge) is a free app that does similar things, although it is not as nice looking.

John P

I prefer using Automator with the “Combine PDF Pages” action. I find combining pdfs in Preview to be rather unwieldy.

Paul P

Hi Agee,

The tip does work and works well. Go to the VIew -> Sidebar menu to show the sidebar which allows you to move pages as described.

I just had 3 PDFs with a combined 10 pages and easily combined then into the one PDF document I originally intended to create.

Happy combining. grin

Thanks Jim for sharing tis tip.

Scott

It does not seem to work in Mountain Lion- commands are different and no matter whatI do, the document does not save any additional pages. Sort of like taking a few steps backwards, but Apple has done this before (like dropping “Save As” which was so intuitive and consistent with other programs. I lost tons of documents and messed up a lot of projects without the Save As command (they brought it back in ML, but you have to go find it).

haywire

It does work in Mountain Lion. I do it all the time. First, there are no commands involved; you only need to open the side panels on the receiver and the provider PDFs to have the thumbnails showing. You do that by clicking the side panel button which may be in the left or right group of buttons at the top (depending on whether the toolbar has been customized) and select Thumbnails.

I did have troubles at first getting the drag and drop from the provider to the receiver PDF to embed properly because you really have to be sure you’re dropping the dragged thumbnails into the thumbnail ‘chain’ of the receiver and not before or after that chain - so I usually drop the dragged thumbnails directly onto the first or last thumbnail in the chain if I want them to be in front or after the receiver chain. This may result in the first or last receiver thumbnail being pushed to the wrong end of the dragged chain, so I then correct that. After a while you get use to finding the front or end of the receiver chain and your drag and drops need no correction.

smallpdf

Another nice solution you can find online on Smallpdf’s Merge PDF. It’s a nice online tool that is very similar to using preview but it works on all platforms and is even easier to use.

Ros Jennings

It definitely does not work in 10.6.8 and Preview 5.0.3.
Automator? What a complicated thing to use.
Small pdf works well, but takes so many mouse clicks to navigate through files to locate it, and the again again to save the file.
It used to be so simple in Preview.  I have a month’s work to do ow what would have taken a day.

Jim Tanous

It definitely does not work in 10.6.8 and Preview 5.0.3.

Hi Ros (and everyone else having difficulty),

Yes, it does work in Snow Leopard and with Preview 5.0.3. Here’s a video I just made demonstrating the process: https://vimeo.com/81206839

Jim Tanous

Whoops, forgot to make the link active: https://vimeo.com/81206839

Ros Jennings

Thanks Jim. That all works fine until Save. I’m unable to add an attachment within this message.
I have a 2 page document. I add 2 more pages and I see the thumbnails for 4 pages, but when I scroll through the document there are only 2 pages. The top of the window reads “Title.pdf (page 1 of 2) (3 documents, 4 total pages)”.
The only options is Save As… When I close the document, I get the message “You have 2 Preview documents with unsaved changes.  Do you want to review these changes before closing? your changes will be lost if you don’t save them.” Below that it reads “Title (dragged) 2. pdf” and “Title. (dragged) 3.pdf”. I click Save All. (the other alternatives are “Cancel” or “Discard Changes”). When I reopen the document, it shows only the 2 original thumbnails and 2 pages in the document.

Jim Tanous

Hi Ros,

I think I know what the problem is. You may be adding your second page too low below the first document. Here’s a new video I recorded, this time with narration to walk you through the process: https://vimeo.com/82072722

Jim Tanous

Sigh… I’ll get these links to work one of these days. Try this: Link to video

Ros Jennings

Thanks Jim. It appears to have worked this time. Previously, I didn’t have the greyed out area. I don’t know how it has suddenly materialised, but it has! Thanks you for the clear video and narration.

Victor Reyes

So if anyone is still struggling and no matter what you do you cannot get it to combine, all that it lets you do is put the files on the same window, I have an extra tip.  If you downloaded it, sometimes you have to save each document under a different name. For Example my transcripts had some kind of protection on them that would let me combine them (I was going crazy watching these videos that make it look so easy!) and I even moved them to my desktop from my downloads folder and still they didn’t work. Then i remembered that the PDFs of my check stubs from work are password protected until I “Save as..” any other name, then they open like any other PDF. Renaming them doesn’t work by itself you have to go to file>save as… After that you can edit PDF’s just like everyone else is saying. Give that a try if nothing else is working.

Wayne Connor

It works in most version of OSX - just persevere till you get it. It has changed slightly in Mavericks but still works!!

http://macintoshhowto.com/pdf/how-to-merge-2-pdf-files-with-os-x-mavericks-10-9.html/

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