Use Automator to combine your research photos into one PDF

By request, these are updated instructions for using your Mac to combine your research photos into a PDF. For more on digital research workflows, see here, here, and here.

If you have a Mac, you own a robot! It’s called Automator and it lives in your Applications folder. It does pretty much what the name implies: It bundles little actions and makes them easy to repeat and perform on a lot of files. Here, I’ll show you how to use Automator to combine a bunch of research photos into one PDF.

Open Automator


It lives in your Applications folder.

From the pop-up menu, select Workflow


Choosing Workflow means that in order to run your series of actions, you’ll open up Automator first. (It’s kind of fun to experiment with Application, too! That means that to your series of actions becomes a standalone application. To run it, you double-click on your icon or drag some files onto it. But for now, let’s keep it simple and stick with Workflow.)

Let’s investigate!


The Automator interface is actually pretty simple. The far left pane (1) contains categories of actions you might want to run. The second pane (2) contains the actions themselves: things like “Add Songs to Playlist” and “Combine Excel Files.” You can assemble actions into sequences by dragging them from pane 2 into pane 3, in the order you want to run them. So, really, not too complicated!

Assemble your actions (1)


First, you need a way to feed Automator the files you want it to alter. Under the Files and Folders category in pane 1, find the Ask for Finder Items action in pane 2 and drag it into pane 3. This means that the first thing that Automator will do is ask you which files you want it to modify. Because you’ll be modifying multiple files, check the Allow Multiple Selction box.

Assemble your actions (2)


Happily, the latest version of Automator comes with an action that does exactly what we want! Under the PDFs category in pane 1, you’ll find an action called New PDF from Images. Select it and drag it into pane 3. In the Output File Name box, call it something that makes sense to you. You can even tell Automator where to save your new PDF, if you want.

Run your workflow


Click on the Run button, which you’ll find in the top right-hand corner of your Automator window. Automator will ask you to select the photos you want to modify (hold down Command-A to select all the photos in a folder) and then it’ll run your actions!

You’ve got one big PDF!


Unless you specified a different place to save it, your big PDF should be waiting for you on your desktop, simple as that. Cool, huh?

Save your workflow


Since you’ll probably want to do this again, select File, then Save, so you can perform these actions again later. You can save it as a Workflow, or, if you don’t want to have to open up Automator every time you perform your action, you can save it as an Application.

Play with some options


Automator does a lot of cool stuff, and it’s fun to just play around with it. For example, you can make your PDF easier to find with Spotlight by using the Set PDF Metadata action (in the PDFs category). Give it a shot! You won’t break anything.


10 Replies to “Use Automator to combine your research photos into one PDF”

  1. This is a very useful Automator script, but I am finding that the size of the resulting image-based PDF file is rather big. It is interesting that the size of all my page images combined is 254 MB, but the resulting PDF file is 360 MB. My PDF is much larger than the sum of its parts, and I am not entirely sure why.

    I wonder what effective ways exist of compressing PDF files? The “Quartz” filters in Preview do not do a very good job.

  2. Why i cant select select all the photos in a folder ? only can choose one .
    thank you


    I’ve wasted money on two worthless apps and probably 3 hours of time on countless blogs trying to figure out how to do this. You rock!

  4. Automator works better then I thought! Thanks Miriam!

    It is a shame however that you have to use IOS to use it. If you switch computers a lot (work and private) it could be more useful to use an online converter for this. If I can, I use Automator. If i can’t, I switch to It is free as well and, just like Automator, very easy to use.

  5. @Kenny Cargill: I am having the same experience: Automator’s “New PDF from Images” function often creates PDFs up to 5 times the collective file size of the original jpegs.

    On the other hand, when I combine a folder full of jpegs into a PDF in Acrobat, the resulting PDF is the same size as the originals.

    Anyone have any ideas why Automator creates such large PDFs? Is there a way around this?

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