How to make PDFs in macOS Mojave without any extra software

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 15
You've been able to make a PDF out of any document on Macs for years. We take it so much for granted, though, that we don't know what extra options we've got -- nor noticed how Apple is trying to change the way we're supposed to make PDFs. AppleInsider walks you through making a PDF, with only the tools that come with macOS.




We just do not appreciate what we've got. After a brief period in the '90s when PDFs could only be generated through costly software, the document format was added a core feature of macOS. For a while after that, it would only be when you had to use a client's PC that you realized how integral PDFs are to Macs, how easy they are to use. And, how exasperating it was that just to print out a PDF on Windows you had to buy extra software -- if the client's IT department would let you.

Things have changed, and now Windows 10 has some of the PDF features that we're used to on the Mac. Yet still, our familiarity means we can miss out on some of the finer PDF details and features our Macs can do for us.

There are third-party tools with features that Macs -- and especially the Preview app -- don't have. But, the giant majority of what you can use a PDF for is covered right there in Mojave.

Making PDFs

For years and years, the way to make a PDF out of any document in any application on the Mac was exactly the same. You printed it. Go to File, Print and click on the PDF button at the bottom left of the Print dialog. It looks like a button but it's a drop-down menu. Choose Save as PDF from the list and then you're shown a regular Save dialog that lets you choose where you're going to put the PDF document.

It's easy to miss but every Print dialog has a PDF dropdown menu
It's easy to miss but every Print dialog has a PDF dropdown menu


That's it. Before you choose that Save as PDF option, you could make some minor adjustments in the print dialog. You could set it to make the PDF out of just pages 10-15, for instance. Or change it from portrait to landscape. Anything that you can adjust for a document printing on paper, you could adjust here for the PDF, but that's all.

Apple would rather you did this another way, however. The company would prefer that your apps offer you something like the File, Export to PDF option that Pages, Numbers and other Apple apps have.

Right now it's anybody's guess whether a particular app will ever adopt this or not. Microsoft Office ignores it, for instance, and sticks to the old way -- but there are times when this export approach is useful. True, that's partly just because it saves you a step hunting through that Print dialog but it also gives you the option to save the PDF in different qualities. It's not a precise tool, but Apple's giving you the choice ofGood, Better and Best get you significantly different quality and file sizes of the resulting PDF.

Top L-R: a Good, Better, Best text PDF. Bottom: the same with a photo
Top L-R: a Good, Better, Best text PDF. Bottom: the same with a photo


You can be hard-pressed to see any difference in text when you've chosen Good, Better or Best quality in Export to PDF. It's not always a dramatic difference when the PDF has photos, too, but it can be. In this example case, the Good quality has slightly distorted the walls of the theater in the first image.

Close up on the difference between Good and Best quality. Notice how the brickwork between the windows is distorted
Close up on the difference between Good and Best quality. Notice how the brickwork between the windows is distorted


Similarly, you will get differences when the PDF has charts or illustrations but they may be small. With pen and ink illustrations, you'll see areas of cross hatching look less distinct, for instance.

There's no way to measure how much difference there is going to be, and actually there's not even a way to know in advance how much smaller your file size will be. It depends on the length of your PDF document and the number of photos or illustrations in it. For example, though, the PDF document in the image above is 115KB at Good quality, 168KB at Better and 197KB at Best.

That's not a difference that is going to concern you. Yet with a much larger and complex document, a reduction in file size could be the difference between being able to upload it to a service like MailChimp or not.

Preview isn't just for viewing

The document in the examples above was created in Pages, exported to PDF and then opened in Preview. The Preview app is an excellent PDF reader -- but it is also much, much more than that.

Preview has two oddly similar yet importantly different options. In the File menu, you'll see both Export... and Export to PDF.

The first Export... lets you produce a PDF just as the second option does, but it gives you more controls along the way. Choose Export... and Preview will display a regular Save As dialog with certain automatic settings. There's a Format setting, for instance. This lets you save any document as PDF, JPEG, PNG and so on.

Underneath that, though, there are settings that vary depending on what format you've chosen. For PDF, you get an option called Quartz Filter. The name Quartz comes from macOS's internal Core Graphics features and what you're really setting here is how the Mac will render the PDF. You can make a monochrome PDF, you can lighten up the images -- and you can reduce the file size.

Left: the full-size PDF document. Right: the same after using Preview's Reduce File Size
Left: the full-size PDF document. Right: the same after using Preview's Reduce File Size


However, you get no options for specifying the reduction, you can just turn Reduce File Size on or off. You also can't choose two of the Quart Filter options or at least not at the same time. You could produce PDF that was, say, black and white. Then you could open that up and export it again with the Reduce File Size.

Again, there's no way to predict the difference all of this will make to your PDF document's size. However, for example, taking that same Pages document with a photo and using Reduce File Size turned the 197KB original into a 92KB PDF.

Going back to the Pages PDF and choosing to make a black and white version in Preview made an 86KB file. And then using Reduce File Size on that version we ended up with an 87KB document.

You can really squeeze the life out of your PDF. Left: a monochrome version. Right: that version also put through Reduce File Size
You can really squeeze the life out of your PDF. Left: a monochrome version. Right: that version also put through Reduce File Size


So we made the document as poor as possible and we also increased its size, if just fractionally. Perhaps this is why Apple only allows you to choose one Quartz Filter at a time.

Nonetheless, even though you have to fiddle a little to get a combination of small file size and a document that's acceptable to read, you can do this. You do have more options for PDFs on the Mac before you consider third-party apps.

It's exactly the same with the next issue. Most of the time you will just be reading PDFs and only some of the time will you be making them. And then, there's some smaller amount of time when you'll be editing the PDFs instead of the original document.

You can do some large-scale edits on your Mac such as adding and removing whole pages. And you can annotate or mark up any PDF to within an inch of its life just using what comes with Mojave.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    It would be really wonderful if Apple would add accessibility capabilities to this feature, similar to what Adobe and Microsoft are doing.
  • Reply 2 of 13
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,107member
    Save to PDF has been part of the print function in OSX since... um... the beginning.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,196administrator
    eriamjh said:
    Save to PDF has been part of the print function in OSX since... um... the beginning.  
    The first paragraph addresses this. As a reminder, AppleInsider is for everybody covering a wide array of skills and knowledge, even those of us that know the history -- or don't.

    There's a lot more to the article.
    edited February 15 command_fwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    Thanks for the article...I was not aware of the Quartz option...When I was doing lots of 15 page contracts 10 years ago I bought PDFShrink. It would take the contract (no photos) and shrink it down to very fast email-able sizes! It was a godsend! :)

    I will explore Preview in Mohave more now I have this article as I prefer to use Apple first-party apps, as opposed to third-party apps designed in Russia. Maybe I'm being paranoid.


    Thanks again! :)


    P.S. Admittedly, I have not done this for awhile, but filling out a PDF fillable form (using Preview)  sent to me via email was problematic. In that, I'd often complete the form in Preview and it would not save (or print) my insertions. Will have to check it out again, to make sure.

    edited February 15 watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,196administrator
    Thanks for the article...I was not aware of the Quartz option...When I was doing lots of 15 page contracts 10 years ago I bought PDFShrink. It would take the contract (no photos) and shrink it down to very fast email-able sizes! It was a godsend! :)

    I will explore Preview in Mohave more now I have this article as I prefer to use Apple first-party apps, as opposed to third-party apps designed in Russia. Maybe I'm being paranoid.


    Thanks again! :)


    P.S. Admittedly, I have not done this for awhile, but filling out a PDF fillable form (using Preview)  sent to me via email was problematic. In that, I'd often complete the form in Preview and it would not save (or print) my insertions. Will have to check it out again, to make sure.

    We'll be talking about that soon.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 13
    P.S. Admittedly, I have not done this for awhile, but filling out a PDF fillable form (using Preview)  sent to me via email was problematic. In that, I'd often complete the form in Preview and it would not save (or print) my insertions. Will have to check it out again, to make sure.

    There's something weird about layers where the info you fill in doesn't always show up on other platforms. To get around that I usually fill out the PDF then Export as PDF which seems to flatten it.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 13
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,423member
    eriamjh said:
    Save to PDF has been part of the print function in OSX since... um... the beginning.  
    True, but I know quite a few long-time Mac Users that had absolutely no clue this feature was available.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 13
    Meanwhile Apple kneecapped Preview in Mojave by dropping the “send as fax” feature.

      If your brain says “but I don’t send faxes”, you should still care because your doctor’s office still does.  

    When your medical record HAS to go to the Emergency Department right now, that is how it’s done.  Lowly inconsequential stupid old fax.

    The reason is simple: you will eventually get sick or be in an accident out of network.  You’ll be in some other state, some other city, Fargo, Key West, Punta Arenas, Gdansk, or Olongapo City.  

    Meanwhile I have to roll back a bunch of Macs to High Sierra.  What a waste.
  • Reply 9 of 13
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,098member
    sflocal said:
    eriamjh said:
    Save to PDF has been part of the print function in OSX since... um... the beginning.  
    True, but I know quite a few long-time Mac Users that had absolutely no clue this feature was available.

    This is absolutely one of the best features of macOS!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 13
    Fun fact... the Mac user interface is actually rendered using PDF, at least it was in the beginning. It's likely evolved well past that, as Quartz has evolved.
    It is widely stated that Quartz "uses PDF internally" (notably by Apple in their 2000 Macworld presentation and Quartz's early developer documentation[5]), often by people making comparisons with the Display PostScript technology used in NeXTSTEP and OPENSTEP (of which macOS is a descendant). Quartz's internal imaging model correlates well with the PDF object graph, making it easy to output PDF to multiple devices.[6]

    watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 11 of 13
    Meanwhile Apple kneecapped Preview in Mojave by dropping the “send as fax” feature.

      If your brain says “but I don’t send faxes”, you should still care because your doctor’s office still does.  

    When your medical record HAS to go to the Emergency Department right now, that is how it’s done.  Lowly inconsequential stupid old fax.

    The reason is simple: you will eventually get sick or be in an accident out of network.  You’ll be in some other state, some other city, Fargo, Key West, Punta Arenas, Gdansk, or Olongapo City.  

    Meanwhile I have to roll back a bunch of Macs to High Sierra.  What a waste.

    You sound like a real authority on the topic of faxing, yet you fail to mention the ultimate solution — email-to-fax services. But maybe those are risky for sending any sensitive info. That said, if a company demands faxing and doesn't accept emails, I'd look elsewhere. :smile: 

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 13
    One additional advantage using this in Safari is that the "Get Info" stuff saves the URL. So if you save a PDF of a web page, you can get back to it again.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 13

    That said, if a company demands faxing and doesn't accept emails, I'd look elsewhere.  

    Some places require fax for legal reasons. Lawyer offices are at the top of this list.
    watto_cobra
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