Combine PDFs In 5 Seconds with Mac’s Preview

A leather bound book with "PDF 1.5" written on the spine

Academics tend to work with a lot of PDFs. We read journal articles as PDFs because they come that way from databases. We collect assignments from our students as PDFs because a paperless classroom is a disease-free classroom. We annotate these PDF assignments or the grant applications that we’re working on with colleagues. And no conference travel would complete without scanning receipts into PDF form and submitting them. (Fortunately, you can turn your phone into a scanner.) The prevalence of PDF in modern life is one of the reasons we’ve written so often about the subject at ProfHacker.

If PDFs are so important because the file format is widespread, they can also be frustrating because the format is also inflexible at times. Fixing problems with PDFs, then, can be a real pain. Lincoln wrote a helpful post a while back about fixing some common PDF problems with the command-line tool pdftk. In it, he teaches you how to both rotate a PDF and how to combine multiple PDFs with simple commands.

Lincoln writes that he prefers using the command line for combining PDFs because it saves him time over using the GUI of a program like Adobe Acrobat or Mac’s Preview, where he would have to poke around to find the right method for fixing his problem. It doesn’t hurt either that he’s a big fan of the command line (see his invaluable series The ProfHacker Guide to the Command Line).

But not everyone uses the command line as willingly. So today I want to show you how to use Apple’s Preview software to combine PDFs in five seconds. There are, as Lincoln points out, many different tools that you can use to combine PDFs, but Preview is especially useful as it is included on every Mac. Even better, combining PDFs takes all of five seconds.

1. Open PDFs

The first thing that you want to do is to open both PDFs that you want to combine in Preview.

2. Show the PDF thumbnails.

Click on the drop-down menu in the upper-left corner and select “Thumbnails” on each PDF.


A tray will open on the lefthand side of Preview, showing you the individual pages of your PDFs.


3. Click and Drag the Pages

Select the thumbnails of the PDF that you want to combine from one file—use Command-A to select them all at once—and then simply drag these thumbnails pages onto the thumbnails of the other PDF. Shazam! You’re done! Simply save the file, and go about your life.

N.B. It’s important to drag the thumbnails onto the other thumbnails and not below the very thin line that appears at the end of the thumbnails. If you do the latter, you will still only have two files.


I’ll agree with Lincoln that using a tool like pdftk is much simpler than discovering this trick in Preview on your own. But since we’ve introduced the process here, combining PDFs should only take you five seconds now, whether you work on the command line or in your normal desktop environment. Now, start filing those receipts!

What tips do you have for working with PDFs? Or what problems with PDFs can we help you solve? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: PDF 1.5 specification / CC BY-SA 2.0

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