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The Ultimate Guide to Printing to PDF on Mac (2023 Edition)

If you work with documents on your Mac, chances are you‘ve encountered the PDF format. PDFs are everywhere these days – from contracts and tax forms to ebooks and digital magazines. Being able to create your own PDFs by printing to PDF is an essential skill for any Mac user. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive deep into everything you need to know about printing to PDF on your Mac.

What is a PDF?

Before we get into the how-to, let‘s step back and clarify what exactly a PDF is. PDF stands for "Portable Document Format". It‘s a file format that was developed by Adobe Systems in the early 1990s as a way to present documents consistently across different software, hardware, and operating systems.

PDFs can contain text, fonts, images, and even interactive elements like buttons and form fields. The key feature of PDFs is that they always retain their original formatting and appearance, regardless of what device or platform they‘re viewed on. This makes them ideal for sharing documents when you need to ensure that the recipient sees exactly what you see.

Why Are PDFs So Popular?

PDFs have become one of the most widely used file formats in the world. Here are a few key reasons for their popularity:

  1. Cross-platform compatibility: PDFs can be viewed and printed on any device running any operating system, as long as it has a PDF reader installed (which almost all do by default these days).

  2. Preserves formatting: When you send a Word document or an image, there‘s always a risk that it will look different on the recipient‘s device due to differences in software, fonts, etc. With PDFs, what you see is what they get.

  3. Security: PDFs support encryption and password protection, making them more secure than many other file types. You can also set permissions to prevent printing, copying, or modifying the document.

  4. Smaller file sizes: Because PDFs compress images and fonts, they‘re often smaller than the original source files (like a Word document with lots of images). This makes them easier to email or upload.

  5. Universally accepted: Many organizations, from government agencies to universities, specifically request or require documents to be submitted as PDFs. It‘s become a universal standard.

Just how popular are PDFs? According to a report by the PDF Association, there were over 2.5 trillion PDFs in circulation as of 2019, and that number is only growing. Another study found that PDF is the most common file type on the web, accounting for over 30% of all files.

How to Print to PDF on Mac

Now that we understand what PDFs are and why they‘re important, let‘s dive into the nitty-gritty of actually creating them. On a Mac, you can print to PDF directly from almost any application that has a Print function. Here‘s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Open the file you want to print to PDF (e.g., a document in Pages or Word, an image in Preview, a webpage in Safari).
  2. Click File in the top menu bar and select Print (or press Command+P).
  3. In the Print dialog box, click the PDF dropdown menu in the bottom-left corner.
  4. Select "Save as PDF" from the dropdown menu.
  5. Choose a name and location for your PDF file.
  6. Click Save.

That‘s it! Your file will now be saved as a PDF in the location you specified. You can open it in Preview or any other PDF viewer to check that it looks as expected.

Here‘s a visual summary of the process:

[Insert step-by-step screenshots or an infographic illustrating the process]

Advanced PDF Printing Techniques

While the basic PDF printing process is straightforward, there are some more advanced techniques that can come in handy:

Printing Selected Pages

If your document has multiple pages but you only need to print some of them to PDF, you can specify a page range in the Print dialog box. Just enter the page numbers you want, separated by commas or dashes (e.g., "1-3, 8, 11-13").

Printing Multiple Files to One PDF

What if you have multiple files that you want to combine into a single PDF? You can do this by printing each file to PDF individually (using the steps above), then merging them together using Preview:

  1. Open one of the PDFs in Preview.
  2. Click View > Thumbnails to show page thumbnails in the sidebar.
  3. Drag the thumbnails from the other PDFs into the sidebar of the first PDF, arranging them in the order you want.
  4. Save the combined PDF.

Printing to PDF from the Command Line

For advanced users, it‘s also possible to print to PDF directly from the Mac command line using the cupsfilter command. This can be useful for automating PDF creation. Here‘s an example command:

cupsfilter input.doc > output.pdf

This will convert the file input.doc to a PDF named output.pdf. You can specify various options to control the output, like page size and resolution.

PDF Printing on Mac vs Windows and Linux

While printing to PDF is a fairly standard feature these days, there are some differences in how it works on different operating systems. Here‘s a quick comparison:

Feature Mac Windows Linux
Native PDF printing Yes (since OS X 10.2) Yes (since Windows 10) Varies by distribution
Default PDF viewer Preview Microsoft Edge Varies (e.g., Evince, Okular)
Command line PDF printing Yes (cupsfilter) Yes (requires additional tools) Yes (e.g., cups-pdf)

As you can see, Mac has had native PDF printing capabilities the longest, with Windows adding it more recently. Linux support varies depending on the specific distribution and desktop environment.

One advantage of the Mac approach is that the PDF printing functionality is built directly into the operating system and available in virtually every application. On Windows and Linux, you may need to install additional software or drivers to enable system-wide PDF printing.

Tips for Working with PDFs on Mac

Here are some expert tips to help you get the most out of working with PDFs on your Mac:

  • Compress PDFs for smaller file sizes: If you need to email or upload a PDF, you can often reduce its file size significantly by compressing it. On Mac, you can do this in Preview by clicking File > Export, then selecting "Reduce File Size" from the Quartz Filter dropdown menu.

  • Protect sensitive PDFs with passwords: If your PDF contains confidential information, be sure to protect it with a password. You can set a password to open the document and another password to edit it. In Preview, click File > Export, then check the "Encrypt" box and enter your passwords.

  • Use OCR to make scanned PDFs searchable: If you have a PDF that was created by scanning a physical document, the text won‘t be searchable by default. However, you can use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the scanned text into actual text that you can search and copy. On Mac, this functionality is built into Preview. Just open the scanned PDF, click Tools > Text Selection, then choose "Recognize Text in This Document".

  • Annotate PDFs with Preview: Preview isn‘t just for viewing PDFs – it also has a full set of annotation tools. You can highlight text, add notes and shapes, draw with a pencil or marker, and even sign documents. Just click the marker icon in the toolbar to reveal the annotation tools.

  • Automate PDF workflows with Automator: If you find yourself doing repetitive tasks with PDFs, like combining multiple files or applying the same annotations to every page, you can automate these workflows using Automator on your Mac. Automator lets you create custom workflows by stringing together pre-built actions, including many PDF-specific actions.

Troubleshooting PDF Printing Issues

While printing to PDF is generally a reliable process, you may occasionally encounter issues. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

  • PDF is low quality or text is fuzzy: This can happen if you have "Preserve formatting from original document" selected in the Print dialog box. Try deselecting this option to improve the PDF quality.

  • Certain elements are missing or not rendering correctly in the PDF: This is sometimes caused by font issues. Make sure that any custom fonts used in the document are properly installed on your system. You may also try the "Print as image" option in the Print dialog box, which will render the entire page as an image (though this can result in larger file sizes).

  • PDF is printing with the wrong paper size: Make sure you have the correct paper size selected in the Print dialog box. If you‘re trying to create a PDF with a custom paper size, you may need to create a new custom paper size in the "Paper Size" dropdown menu.

  • Printing to PDF is not available in the application: In rare cases, an application may not support the standard Mac print dialog, meaning you won‘t see the option to print to PDF. In this case, you can try a workaround: print to PostScript (File > Print > Output > PostScript), then convert the PostScript file to PDF using Preview (File > Open, then File > Export as PDF).


Printing to PDF on Mac is a powerful capability that every user should master. Whether you need to share a document with colleagues, submit a form electronically, or archive a webpage for offline reading, PDFs are often the ideal format. With the step-by-step instructions and expert tips provided in this guide, you should now be able to create PDFs with ease on your Mac.

Remember, the PDF format offers many benefits beyond just preserving formatting. You can protect PDFs with passwords, compress them for smaller file sizes, make them searchable with OCR, and even automate PDF workflows with tools like Automator. By taking full advantage of these features, you can take your PDF game to the next level.

While the PDF has been around for three decades now, it shows no signs of declining in popularity. As our world becomes increasingly digital, the need for a reliable, cross-platform document format is only going to grow. By mastering the art of PDF creation on your Mac, you‘re equipping yourself with a valuable skill for the digital age.