How to Print to PDF in Mac OS X

May 21, 2010 - 19 Comments

Want to save a document or web page as a PDF file, but you don’t own Adobe Acrobat? No problem, you can print documents, webpages, or nearly anything to create a PDF file directly from Mac OS X using a built-in feature without any additional software or apps. In fact, it works with almost any Mac app, and if you can print it through the normal “Print” functions, then that means you can also turn it into a PDF document through this method. This is quite simple, but here is exactly how to do it if you haven’t done so before:

  • Open the document, web page, or file you want to print to a PDF
  • Click the File menu and select “Print”, or just hit Command+P
  • Look for the “PDF” button in the lower left corner, click on that pull-down menu, and select “Save as PDF”
  • Click “Save” in the save dialogue box, and save the file to whatever location you want (Documents is default)

Locate the resulting document in the Finder or with another app, it’ll appear as a unique PDF file, and no, it will not overwrite or alter the origin file it was created from.

Here is an example of what the submenu looks like in most Mac apps, note there are other PDF saving options too but what we’re looking to do is “Save as PDF” which effectively prints the document precisely as it appears into a PDF document:

Print as PDF in Mac OS X

Going to save gives you a few options, specify a location other than Documents if desired, and you can fill out author information, the title of the PDF document, subject, keywords for searching within the document, and even specify a password and editing options by choosing “Security Options” if you want to protect the file from others having unauthorized access to it:

Print a file as PDF, specify PDF document options if necessary

That’s all there is to it, you will now have a PDF file created instantly by the print function. You can then view it later, use your favorite PDF editor for Mac (or Windows/Linux) to edit the PDF, distribute it online with something like Amazon, ScribD, Google Docs, or whatever else you need it for.

Note that some apps like Google Chrome have a separate Print window, and you’ll find “Save as PDF” as a checkbox option in Chrome alongside “Destination” options. All else is the same though, and you’ll still wind up with the open document or web page being saved as a PDF file through the virtual printer engine of OS X. Additionally, some applications have native “Export to PDF” functions built directly into them, though using those functions does not pass the origin document through the printer engine of OS X and thus can have slightly different results.

This ability has bene in Mac OS X for a very long time, but it looks slightly different in older versions of OS X and some things have slightly different language and options:

Though this is not yet a native feature in iOS, you can set up a bookmarklet to achieve the same function with webpages if you’re interested in doing so on an iPad or iPhone.

Updated 5/22/2013

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

19 Comments

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  1. Dani Heebler says:

    This is one of those features of Mac OS that is just wonderful to have and I use it frequently for offline reading and document production. Why buy Acrobat Pro when you can just use any application on the Mac? One of many features where Mac > Windows.

  2. anon says:

    I too find this feature a great help. But… I often print pages from websites that I might want to keep for later reference (a good example is cooking recipes). But often times, I find that the PDF file does not save the file well at all. Either very odd formating, or even missing images, and type. 1) does anyone else have this issue? 2) does anyone have tips or tricks to get it to work correctly?

    Thanks!

    Here’s an example of a link that won’t correctly ‘print to pdf’…

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/potato-salad-recipe/index.html

  3. [...] some of the free Logic tutorials from WikiAudio or Logic-Cafe and save a few as PDF for later viewing on your Mac, or open them in iBooks on your iPhone and iPad for reading and [...]

  4. Greg says:

    I don’t get it. I click on the link above and it takes me to a download for FoxTab PDF converter, for Windows, XP PC etc. What is up with that?

  5. [...] The printer driver I am using is the Pdf995 Printer Driver. And Mac users already have the required functionality without installing [...]

  6. Booschang says:

    I almost used this feature ONCE… Looked at a print preview. Saw that if wrecked the web page formatting and so I never printed. Now I can’t print normally. Why?

    How do I make it go away?

    MacBook Pro with Mac OS X 10.6.8

  7. yeeebo says:

    I use save as pdf a lot, but it always enlarges the file size. So, if I want to print a word of 1 MB to pdf, the pdf will be 50 MB of size! Instead I would want to decrease file size when printing to pdf.
    Can anyone help with this? Thank you!

  8. [...] their desktop just to have a look at what you’re thinking. If you’re on a Mac you can print to PDF or take a screenshot. … If you’re on a PC, I really can’t help you (maybe [...]

  9. clarkedj says:

    Not a very useful feature or I may not know how to use it properly. If the document has a scroll bar only the part visible gets saved. you actually have to print to pdf twice. once to copy top of document and once to copy bottom.

    Somebody feel free to educate me.

  10. sea says:

    how do I in one step:
    - print to PDF and save that PDF in a preferred location
    - plus email that PDF

    so essentially saving myself a copy, and emailing a copy

    I could not find any PDF service for that.

    thankyou

  11. light says:

    does anyone know how to change the default “author” of the pdf file.

    My default is setting to my computer owner name.

    • matt says:

      The author is automatically set as the user name that you are logged in as in Mac OS X, you can change that either in general OS X settings or if you have a PDF editor you could change authorship there. Preview has limited functionality of that through the Preference panel > PDF > Annotations.

  12. Cyber says:

    Does anyone know how to print a pdf from a pdf in the browser (there you get the print dialog from adobe and it doesn’t allow to print to pdf’s). Some pdf’s you can only fill in text in the browser. But it cannot be saved.
    A virtual pdf printer you do it. But the installation of for example CUPS fails (OSX 10.5.8).
    Any idea?

  13. [...] the ability to natively “print to PDF” directly on the iPad and iPhone, a popular trick on the Mac and in the PC world that allows you to digitally print anything and, in this case, save the [...]

  14. [...] that it’s achievable through almost any Mac app, because the password layer is created from the OS X standard “Print to PDF” trick. Essentially that means if you can print the document, you can probably password protect it as [...]

  15. [...] iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch directly to a file on the computer, much like you can print to a PDF on the Mac. Note that if you’re just wanting to print an item to to a PDF file, you can do effectively [...]

  16. Sue says:

    I tried the above suggestions but it still does not print when document is saved. The page I try to print is blank. Am I missing a download step?

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