Q&A: Batch printing to PDF

Q Some time ago, I used Adobe’s Virtual Printer to batch print folders of documents to PDF. This broke with updates to Mac OS, and has never been updated or replaced. Can you suggest a suitable replacement?

A Years ago, Adobe produced fine PostScript and other tools that ran on ‘classic’ Mac OS, including a superb PostScript interpreter and development environment. These progressively broke and were not updated or replaced, even the Virtual Printer driver falling by the wayside.

The advent of OS X’s mature printing environment also made the Virtual Printer driver superfluous: on Classic systems, applications created a virtual image of each page, which Virtual Printer then converted to PostScript (later PDF). Initial interim printing models in OS X were eventually replaced by one in which applications create PDF virtual images, so printing files to PDF no longer requires any additional software.

As far as I can tell, the last version of Adobe’s Virtual Printer was released in 1998, but could not print arbitrary batches of documents to PostScript or PDF. Printing from a document to PDF requires the application that knows how to open the document to do so, then to print it. It is not possible to produce a single application, driver, or combination of the two that can of itself process any arbitrary document and turn it into PDF.

It is very straightforward to create your own AppleScript or Automator app that will open a specific document type in its normal application and print that to PDF. Apple provides example scripts including one to print to PDF that you should find in /Library/Scripts/Printing Scripts. If you are feeling more adventurous, you could develop that into a script that works out which application to open a document with and then process it.

If you still have PostScript files that you need to print to PDF, Adobe Acrobat Distiller, a bundled part of Acrobat Pro, is probably the best tool. That does have a batch mode, and you can create watched folders for automatic conversion, for instance. Some third party PDF tools can also do this, as can the freeware command line tool pstopdf, although Distiller remains the industry standard.

However because PDF is so easy to generate in OS X now, it is quite unusual to have to convert PostScript files, unless they have been created on another system such as Unix.

Comments Further details on the OS X print architecture are here.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 28 issue 12, 2012.