Get more out of OS X's save-as-PDF feature

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One of OS X’s most-useful features is the capability to save any printable document, webpage, or file as a PDF. This week’s video shows you some nifty ways to get more out of this feature.


One of my favorite features of OS X is the built-in capability to save any printable document, webpage, or file as a PDF. You do this, confusingly enough, from within each app’s Print dialog box. Simply choose File > Print, click the PDF pop-up menu at the bottom of the Print dialog box, and then choose Save As PDF. You then navigate to the folder where you want to put the resulting PDF, and click Save. You get a PDF version of the document in that folder.

Adding a keyboard shortcut But there are some nifty ways you can get more out of this feature. For example, you can assign a keyboard shortcut to the Save As PDF command. Open the Keyboard pane of System Preferences, click the Shortcuts tab, and then select App Shortcuts. On the right, select All Applications, and then click the plus-sign (+) button to create a new shortcut. Make sure All Applications is chosen in the Application pop-up menu, and then type Save as PDF… in the Menu Title field. (Note that the three little dots are an actual ellipsis character, not three periods. You type an ellipses by pressing Option+semicolon.) Then click in the Keyboard Shortcut field and type your shortcut. I use Command+P, the same shortcut as the normal Print command. Finally, click Add.

Now, whenever you want to save a document or other printable item to a PDF file, just press Command+P, and then Command+P again.

Adding favorite locations But what if there are particular folders where you frequently save these PDFs? For example, I save online-purchase receipts to a folder called Web Receipts. You can create shortcuts, right in the PDF menu, to your favorite folders. The menu itself includes an Edit command that lets you add such items, but the better way is to do so manually, because you can then choose how those items appear in the menu.

First, open the Library folder inside your home folder. (In the Finder, choose Go > Go To Folder, type ~/Library and click Go.) If there’s already a folder called PDF Services there, you’re set. If not, choose File > New Folder, and name the new folder PDF Services.

Now find the folder you want to appear in the PDF menu. Create an alias to the folder by right-clicking the folder and choosing the Make Alias command. Then rename the alias to the name that you want to appear in the PDF menu. I like to add “Save PDF to” to the beginning of the name. Now drag the alias into the PDF Services folder.

The next time you’re in a Print dialog box and you click the PDF button, the menu includes your folder aliases, using each alias’s name as the name of the menu item. Choose one of these folders, and OS X saves a PDF of the current document in that folder—you skip right past the file-navigation dialog. OS X uses the name of the document, file, or webpage to name the PDF.

Combining tips You can even combine the tips I’ve shown you here in order to create keyboard shortcuts for custom PDF menu items. For example, I’ve assigned Control+W to my Web Receipts item, so I can save an online receipt to that folder by simply pressing Command+P (to bring up the Print dialog), followed by Control+W.

PDF-menu shortcuts weren’t always reliable in Mountain Lion or earlier, but I’ve found them to work well in Mavericks.

The PDF menu also supports AppleScripts, Automator workflows, and applications, but those are topics for another time. Thanks for watching.

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