How to Join Multiple PDF Files Into a Single PDF Document in Mac OS X

Jun 27, 2014 - 17 Comments

Join PDF Files together in Mac OS X

If you have multiple PDF files that you want to combine into a single PDF file, you can rely on the Macs bundled Preview app to accomplish this. Not only can Preview combine a variety of single or multi-page PDF docs into a single file, you can even add images as pages, remove a page from an existing file if it’s unnecessary to have in the joined doc, or rearrange the pages of the joined files to be reordered according to your needs. The end result will be a single PDF document that contains every page and input file that you need.


Some apps make this task overly complicated, but Preview makes combining the highly portable and multi-platform pdf files incredibly simple, offering drag & drop ease. Perhaps best of all, you certainly don’t need to pay big extra bucks for a fancy PDF editor application when the Mac has the tools directly within OS X. That’s what we’re covering here, with a step by step guide showing you how to quickly join a variety of these docs into a single file.

Combining Several PDF Files Into a Single PDF using Mac Preview

This will demonstrate combining multiple files, adding additional files, removing pages, reordering pages, and exporting as a single .pdf file of all the joined contents:

  1. Open one of the PDF files into the Preview app of Mac OS X
  2. Click on the Thumbnails button and choose “Thumbnails” to open the side drawer of PDF pages (do this even if one of the PDF files is only a single page length) – this can also be accessed from the “View” menu by choosing “Thumbnails”
  3. Show thumbnails of PDF pages in Preview

  4. Now go to the Mac Finder and locate the additional PDF file you want to join to the one that is already opened in Preview app
  5. Drag and drop the additional PDF file from the Finder into the Thumbnail drawer of Preview app to instantly add it to the PDF – this adds the dropped PDF’s into the already open PDF doc, effectively combining them. You can repeat this with as many other PDF documents as necessary
  6. Drag and drop PDF files into the thumbnail drawer to join them together

    • To add an image file as a page, simply drag an image file into the Thumbnail drawer
    • To reorder the pages of the combined PDF, simply drag and drop them within the Thumbnail drawer to their appropriate position
    • To remove a page, simply select it and hit the “delete” key to drop it
  7. When finished adjusting, pull down the “File” menu and choose “Export as PDF” (normal saving does not work reliably to join the PDF files together, this is likely a bug)
  8. Export the combined PDF files into a single PDF document

  9. Save the new file as usual (optionally, you can encrypt the document if desired with password protection), and exit Preview when done

Saving the joined PDF files with Mac Preview

You can always double-check that it worked by re-launching the freshly created PDF document that you just exported from Preview app, it will contain all of the PDF files that you dragged & dropped into the Thumbnails app to join them.

Join multiple PDF files into one in Mac OS X

That’s all there is to it, remarkably simple, and it’s free and universally supported (for Macs anyway) since Preview is bundled in every single version of Mac OS X.

One thing to note about older versions of Preview app is the “Export to PDF” option is not always available, thus these older versions of Preview can still successfully export the combined files as one either by choosing the “Save As” option, or by using the traditional Print to PDF option that is available through the Print menu in all versions of OS X.

Quick side note: joined PDF’s can often be quite large, if the resulting file is too large you can reduce the file size by adjusting the Quartz filter used. While this reduces the file size, it can also reduce the quality of the images and artwork within a document, so it’s best used for text heavy docs where image sharpness doesn’t matter as much.

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

17 Comments

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  1. Craig says:

    Tried this but it didn’t work. When I dragged the PDF file from the Finder to the Thumbnails, it just bounced back. Also tried Deleting a page from a multi-page document by hitting the Delete key and that didn’t work either.

    • Tiger says:

      i do it for years, works perfect!

      • Jill says:

        Craig and Tiger, I have used Preview successfully for a number of months and it has been wonderful… very dependable. But when I upgraded to Yosemite, I began having the same problems as you, Craig. I have spent quite a few hours with senior advisors at Apple Care with this issue, as I need this software option for my work, and finally my files have been sent to the Apple engineers. I am hoping they will be able to work this out, as the Preview software is really quite nice when it works.

  2. cashxx says:

    I think in newer versions of Preview you have to drag on top of the page you want your page to go after. Drop it on the page, not the bare space like they show.

    If that doesn’t work open both pdf’s in Preview, put them both in Thumbnails view and again take one page from the thumbnail of the other and drop it in the other document, but on the page like I said above, not on the space like they show.

    Should work, I just did this in Mavericks and combined about 20 pages.

    I think you can even just hit save and it will save the document, but don’t quote me on that, I may have exported, I don’t recall now. I know you can combine pdfs as I just did it last week.

    • Tiger says:

      exactly :)

    • AJ says:

      You can just drag the PDF anywhere into the Drawer to “add” it as a new page(s), then re-drag them within the panel to adjust their order. It’s the same as what’s shown and described.

      I do this often in Mavericks too, and it works in OS X Yosemite the same way.

      And yes, for me anyway, you can just hit “Save” and the new document will save with the newly added PDF’s joined/combined into the original document. I suspect there’s a bug in some versions of Preview that would prevent that from occurring, but for me in OS X 10.9.3 and OS X 10.10, I can just hit ‘Save’ and the combined PDF file is generated as expected.

      BTW this also works with encrypted PDF’s as long as they have write access and aren’t copy/write protected from Acrobat.

  3. Hobo says:

    Works really well. I use it all the time. Like cashxx says to make a single document drag & drop the page on top of an existing page. To have a separate doc inside the one PDF drop it below the existing doc. A line will appear showing it is separate. The rest as above.

  4. fusionfan says:

    However, this method will “print” a new pdf file, so any pdf links are going to be destroyed.
    You can use pdftk, a free tool, which will join pdf files while preserving and updating the links inside the new document.

  5. Y-Guy says:

    If you can find a copy of the free app called iCombiner v1.5.0 it works in Mavericks and others and makes it a breeze to combine PDFs.

  6. John Robinson says:

    NO JOY.

    I’ve tried combining jogs into a pdf.
    I’ve tried combining pdf’s into a pdf.
    I’ve tried dragging ONLY thumbnails into.
    I’ve tried dragging thumbnails onto the original.
    I get multiple pages after dragging thumbnails, but after SAVE, there is only one page.
    I get multiple pages after dragging thumbnails, but after EXPORT, there is only one page.

    I’m using 10.9.4 in Mavericks, and this instructional is hogwash.

    • Wrong says:

      Wrong, this works. Interesting that every other commenter and myself can join multiple PDF files into a single PDF file and that you can’t, perhaps your inability to follow instructions is hogwash?

    • Paul says:

      Hi John,

      I assure you this works to combine PDF files under Preview in OS X 10.9.4. As the guide states in step 5:

      “When finished adjusting, pull down the “File” menu and choose “Export as PDF” (normal saving does not work reliably to join the PDF files together, this is likely a bug)”

      There is a bug in some versions of Preview that may prevent saving as usual, thus you have to use “Export as PDF” or the “Print to PDF” function if you want all the PDF files to be combined into a single document. Why the bug only impacts some users but not others is not clear, it almost seems dependent on the input files instead, or perhaps how they are added.

      Anyway, I use this almost every day and I used it again today in 10.9.4 (and OS X 10.10 for that matter), it works perfectly to join PDF docs assuming the steps are followed as directed.

      • John Robinson says:

        The only way I found to do this per your suggestion clunkily is to Print to PDF. If I try to Export, or Save as PDF, or Save As, or Export to PDF the ONLY thing I get is the item that is selected in thumbnails. There is no way I see to select all pages in thumbnails. There is no way to Unselect all pages in thumbnails. One page is ALWAYS selected in thumbnails, and that one page is exported or saved as. No matter if the header says there are multiple pages in the Preview Doc window. Preview will ignore all other pages except the selected page in thumbnail view and there is no way to select all pages that I can see in thumbnail view.

        The trouble with Print to PDF is the default to 8.5 x 11 inches, so I must remember to reduce the image to to fit the letter size, or manually make a paper size to fit the images.

        Its a hassle as I am used to Acrobat Pro simply combining a number of same size jpegs and pdfs into one pdf in a snap. I was hoping to drop the need for Acrobat Pro.

        Ill try the above mentioned free app and see.

        • dee says:

          This is what I found after hours and hours of trying.

          If you have one page that is portrait and another that is landscape, “save” or “export to pdf” options don’t work. However, print to PDF works. Then you have to go back in it and flip the landscape pages around.

  7. Michael says:

    PDF Toolkit+ (available from the App Store) does this and more for just a few dollars. I’ve used it and Preview for several years and find Preview clunky for combining PDFs. It’s worth a couple of dollars to avoid struggling with Preview’s interface, IMO.

  8. Mike says:

    I too have been able to do this on regular occasions over the years but for some reason, today I am having no luck.

    Have reverted to the old fallback – print to PDF

  9. John Starcher says:

    Hi Everyone –

    I just thought I’d share – today is the first time I have tried combining PDF files since I upgraded to Yosemite. I experienced the same problem as many of you – when “export to PDF” was attempted it only saved the highlighted thumbnail. Through trial and error, I discovered that if I just “exported” the file, rather than “export as a PDF” it worked just fine!

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