Combine Mail messages for printing

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Have you ever wanted to print a number of e-mail messages in Mail? You can do so easily; just hold down Command, click each message you want to print, and then press Command-P. Simple. However, there’s a downside. Each message will print on a full sheet of paper, so if you print four 10-line e-mail messages, you’ll waste nearly four full sheets of paper. Ugh. There must be a better solution.

If you’re running OS X 10.4, there is—you can use Automator to create a simple workflow to reduce the number of trees killed when printing multiple messages from Mail. To begin, launch Automator, in Applications -> Utilities. Once it’s open, click on Mail in the Applications column.

To create our workflow, we’re going to drag three Actions into the blank work area on the right. First, click and drag the Get Selected Mail Items entry from the Action column into the work area. Then drag the Combine Mail Messages Action into the work area, placing it below the previous action. Finally, drag in the New Mail Message Action, placing it below the other two actions. When you’re done, it should look like this:

That’s it; that’s the entire program. The next step is to make it easily usable. Select File -> Save, name your program ( Combine Mail Messages ), and change the File Format pop-up to Application. Regarding where to save your new program, you could just save it to the Applications folder, or another folder of your choice. However, to use it from there, you’d have to select the messages in Mail, then find and launch the application in the Finder. Not necessarily efficient. Instead, we’ll use the built-in Scripts menu to make your program accessible directly from Mail.

If you haven’t enabled the scripts menu yet, now is a good time to do so. Switch to the Finder and open the Applications -> AppleScript folder. Launch AppleScript Utility, and check the box next to Show Script Menu in menu bar. This will put a small script icon on the right side of your menu bar. Before we can really use it for this tip, though, we need to create a few folders in the Finder. Navigate to your user’s Library folder, and create the following folder structure within the Library folder:

Scripts -> Applications -> Mail

In other words, create the Scripts folder and then open it; create the Applications folder and open it; then create the Mail folder. This special structure will let us use our new program (and any other Automator programs or AppleScripts you place there) directly from Mail.

Switch back to Automator now, navigate into the Mail folder you just created, and save your program. That’s it; you’re done. Switch back to (or launch) Mail, and Command-click to select a few messages. Now click on the script icon in the menu bar, and look near the bottom of the list—you’ll see your new Combine Mail Messages program listed in the Mail Scripts section of the menu.

Select the program, and then wait a bit while the workflow runs (you’ll see a status message in the menubar, showing exactly which step of the workflow the program is presently running). When it’s done, a new message will open, containing all of the previously selected messages. They’re even split up with a nice text dividing line, making it easy to see where each message starts. Print this new e-mail message, and you’ll have your desired hardcopy without excessive damage to the forests of the world. And yes, printing to PDF would save even more trees, but sometimes, you really do need printed copies. When you do, this workflow will help you print in a more economical fashion.

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