I had a 47-page PDF document that I wanted to turn into a compact A5 booklet – you know, one of those things where you get out the big stapler and make something like this:
Unfortunately, you need to print page 39 on the same page as page 10, and then pages 40 and 9 on the other side, etc, and when you get to anything more than about 4 pages it’s hard and tedious to do this by hand and get it right. My HP printer driver had a ‘booklet’ facility, and it worked OK for 8 pages, but let me down when given any more.
Now, there are utilities you can buy which can do exactly this, but why would I spend a tenner or two when I could instead use a few otherwise lucrative working hours and build one myself?
So here’s my solution, which could be a lot tidier, but does the only tricky bit of the job: getting the pages in the right order. It’s an Automator script which you can run as a service: once installed, you can right-click on a PDF and select Services, and you should find a ‘Make Booklet PDF’ option. It produces a new PDF on your Desktop with appropriately shuffled pages. You can then just print that using Preview as follows:
- Go into the Layout section of the Print dialog.
- Select Two-Sided Printing
- Set Pages per Sheet to ‘2’
- Set the ‘Two-Sided’ option to ‘Short-Edge Binding’
Now, please note: You should understand how this works before trying it! It’s not complex, and I could have made it much prettier and self-explanatory, but I was using Automator, which is so far from a real programming language as to be frustrating. It does, however, have a few useful ways of manipulating PDFs without having to install anything else, and my script will at least prompt you with some of the following information when you run it.
(Note too that if you’re reading this in 2022 or later, you definitely want to continue on to read the updates at the bottom of the post!)
First, the number of pages in your starting PDF must be a multiple of 4. Fortunately, you can easily append blank pages in Preview if needed. Select the last page and choose ‘Edit > Insert > Blank Page’ as often as needed and then save. The script will warn you if your page count isn’t right.
Then when you run the script, it will create a folder called ‘booklet-pages’ on your desktop. In here, it will create one PDF for each page of your document.
Finally, it will work out what order these pages should be in, and create a new ‘booklet.pdf’ on your desktop with the pages reassembled in that order.
You can then delete the ‘booklet-pages’ folder.
So, here’s a zip file containing the Automator script. You should be able to double-click it and open it in Automator if you want to see what’s inside, but I think if you put it into your
~/Library/Services folder within your home directory, it will probably just appear as a service if you right-click on a PDF file in the Finder.
Make Booklet PDF on desktop.zip (for pre-Monterey Macs)
Hope it’s useful to someone! Sorry I can’t provide any support if you try it, but recommendations and improvements are welcome from anybody with more Automator stamina than me! All I can say is that it works nicely on my Mac running High Sierra (10.13.6).
Some updates: please read these when you’ve read all of the above
If you’re doing this kind of thing, you may also like a video of MacOS PDF tips and tricks, which I made back in 2016 but which people still say they find useful.
Update April 2022:
MacOS version 12.3 and onwards doesn’t include Python 2, on which this script depended, and, while it does include Python 3, Apple haven’t updated Automator to make the switch quite as trivial as it should be! However, I’ve created an updated version which works on my Mac; I hope somebody can confirm that it works for them too! (See below.)
Update June 2022
The new version of the ZIP file below tries harder to find a copy of Python 3 on your computer.
For MacOS 12.3 and later:
- Download this ZIP file: Make booklet PDF on desktop – 2022b.zip.
- Your browser may uncompress this for you; if not, then double-click on the ZIP file to reveal the ‘Make booklet PDF on desktop’ workflow inside.
- Double-click on this and you should be asked if you want to install it as a ‘Quick action’
- This will then be copied into your
~/Library/Servicesfolder as mentioned above, and you should find it in the ‘Quick actions’ submenu if you right-click on a PDF.
You can also use Adobe Reader which has a booklet printing option.
You are awesome!! Thanks for the software update. Cheers from Czechia.
In the new script(MacOS 12.3 and later), the final booklet is greyed out.
Can you fix this?
Hi RF –
That’s one I haven’t heard before, and it doesn’t happen for me… (I’m still on Monterey – haven’t tried Venture yet.)
A greyed-out booklet.pdf probably means some issue with your permissions to access the file on your desktop. I think the only way that would be likely to happen would be if the script was running as a different user from you, or if your desktop or the underlying filesystem had some slightly unusual configuration.
If you right-click on it and choose
Get Info..., does it tell you anything helpful under the
Sharing & Permissionssection?
I also had the same result. Works as expected other than the end-result image is like washed out as if the brightness is turned all the way up, but there’s no way to undo it. I ended up using the Folder with all the PDF files split up and manually sorted them into the order I needed.
Man, you’re a legend. This helped so much! Thank you!
This has helped immensely, but I am getting non-vectored pdfs when I run the script. I start with a crisp vector PDF and after I run the script the text all becomes blurry, low quality, and non-vectored in the booklet. Is there a workaround to this or am I missing a step?
Mmm. I haven’t seen any other reports of that. Do you have another rather different PDF you can try to see whether it’s something about that file or about your system?
I’m not up to date on the various protection mechanisms PDFs (or particular fonts) might be able to employ to prevent copying – perhaps something like that is kicking in?