How to: Convert Several Images into a Single PDF Using Preview

 

By Tim Hardwick of MacRumors

Over the years, Adobe’s PDF file type has become a universally accepted method for sharing digital documents. The format’s cross-platform adoption means the documents can be viewed on almost any mobile device or computer, so it’s no surprise to find that macOS includes native support for viewing and creating PDF files.

In the Preview app, for example, it’s possible to create a single multi-page PDF document out of several separate image files. The feature is particularly useful if you need to share a number of scanned documents over email or digitize something for reference. Keep reading to learn how it’s done.

HOW TO CONVERT SEVERAL IMAGES INTO A SINGLE PDF

In Finder, select all the images you want to include in the PDF. To do this, drag a box over several images files using your mouse cursor, or select them individually by holding the Command key and clicking them one by one.

Right-click (or Ctrl-click) one of the highlighted files and select Open With -> Preview in the contextual dropdown menu.

 

In Preview’s sidebar, drag the thumbnail images into the order that you want them to appear in the PDF document. Use the Rotate button in Preview’s toolbar to change the orientation of individual pages (drag a selection over multiple pages to rotate several at once).

In the Preview menu bar, select File -> Print…, or use the Command+P keyboard shortcut to bring up the Print dialog.

Click Show Details to expand the Print dialog and browse the full set of options. Make sure the All button is selected in the Pages options. Note that you can double-check the orientation of each image by clicking the arrows below the print preview, and use the Orientation buttons to correct any if required.

Select Save as PDF from the PDF dropdown menu in the lower left of the Print dialog.

The Save dialog will appear. Give your new PDF a name and choose a save location. Fill in the Title, Author, Subject, and Keywords fields if desired (these details are searchable in Spotlight). The Security Options… button also lets you optionally set a password to open the document, copy from it, and/or print it.

Click Save when you’re done.

Note that the Save as PDF option can be accessed from the Print dialog window within a number of macOS apps, not just Preview. You can use it to create PDFs of web pages viewed in Safari, or Word documents opened in Pages, for example.

 

Do you have any slick Preview tips? Tell us about it in the comments below!!

App of the Week: Workflow

Workflow 1.7.8 Adds ‘Mask Image’ Action, Things Automation Support, PDF Text Extraction, and More

 

 

 

BY FEDERICO VITICCI of MacStories

In the first update since November 2017, Apple today released version 1.7.8 of Workflow, the powerful iOS automation app they acquired last year. The latest version, which is now available on the App Store, introduces a brand new Mask Image action, adds support for Things’ automation features, and improves the ability to extract text from PDFs using the company’s PDFKit framework, launched in iOS 11. While the unassuming version number may suggest a relatively minor update, Workflow 1.7.8 actually comes with a variety of noteworthy changes for heavy users of the app.

First up is the ability to open specific workflows without running them. While Workflow previously supported URL schemes to either open the app or run an existing workflow, it didn’t support opening an individual workflow without starting it. In Workflow 1.7.8, you can now use the workflow://open-workflow?name=WorkflowName URL scheme to create launchers that open existing workflows in the app.

These new URLs are ideal for apps such as Launcher or Launch Center Pro, and I recommend them to create shortcuts for workflows you’re frequently editing, or which you want to run only after dropping content into the workflow editor (a feature that was added in version 1.7.7). Speaking of drag and drop: if you’re dragging an item and want to use it as input for a workflow, you no longer need to wait for the workflow to spring-load after hovering over it in the main My Workflows view. Just pick up a file and drop it over a workflow to run it – it’s faster and feels nicer than the old implementation.

The new Mask Image action is a feature Workflow users have been requesting for several years now; thankfully, Apple’s implementation doesn’t disappoint, and is poised to dramatically simplify image editing workflows that relied on tedious workarounds to mask images. Workflow’s native Mask Image action applies a mask to an image passed as input, cutting it into any shape you want. By default, the action offers three built-in presets: rounded rectangle (with a customizable Corner Radius value), ellipse, and icon.

In addition, you can also provide your own custom alpha mask through an image variable: in my early tests with this feature, I had fun using random images from my photo library as masks and understanding how Workflow treated their brightness as a custom alpha mask. According to the app’s documentation, darker colors in the alpha mask become transparent and lighter colors remain opaque; the mask is also resized to match the dimensions of the source image if necessary.

For the past couple of years, here at MacStories we’ve used our own workflows to mask images in the shape of iOS app icons or rounded profile pictures to be used for interviewees in our newsletters. These workflows required us to make our own squircle alpha masks from scratch and use a handful of actions and calculations with the Overlay Image action to fake the ability to mask an image because Workflow didn’t officially support it. We can throw all those workflows away with the new Mask Image action. Turning square artwork returned by the iTunes API (also natively supported in Workflow) into an app icon shape is now as easy as using Mask Image: Icon – that’s it.

Here’s a three-action workflow I made to search the App Store, pick a result (from a rich list), and generate an iOS icon for the selected app. No more third-party mask images, no more Overlay Image coordinates to be used. You can now create similar workflows for cropping a profile picture to a circle or putting iOS screenshots into device frames. I’ve been waiting for this action, and I’m happy with Apple’s solution.

In a surprise move, Workflow 1.7.8 extends its existing Things integration by supporting the more powerful automation features Cultured Code recently brought to its task manager. The Add Things To-Do action has been updated in this release with new fields based on Things 3.4’s URL scheme: you can assign a task to a project or area, specify a heading, enter dates, reminders, and deadlines, and even specify notes and tags. When saving a task in Things, you can choose to show the task editor in Things and manually confirm the new item, or immediately return to Workflow, receiving the task’s ID as input text.

There’s a common thread between the Mask Image and Add Things To-Do actions: both obviate the need for complex workarounds – whether they involve image overlays or URL schemes – because they’re based on visual automation and magic variables. The complexity of the underlying automation is completely abstracted as the user shouldn’t have to worry about the details of what goes on under the hood. Both actions make automation more intuitive and accessible, which is exactly what Workflow always set out to achieve.

To give you a practical example, here’s what my Things action looked like before today’s update, and how Apple made it obsolete with an enhanced built-in action that exposes no URL scheme and doesn’t require any date formatting:

Thanks to native Things support, I’ve already updated my Things Linked workflow (previously detailed here), and I plan to update other workflows previously shared with Club MacStories members as well.

There are a couple of features missing from Apple’s Things action I should point out: the reveal option to show a newly created task in Things doesn’t seem to be supported yet, and I couldn’t find an option to specify checklist items within the task either. The action also doesn’t integrate with Things’ more advanced JSON capabilities, but that’s to be expected given the developer nature of the functionality. Overall, I’m thrilled to see Apple rolling out initial support for Things automation in Workflow as I didn’t imagine it would happen so soon.

Lastly, besides dozens of welcome fixes and smaller enhancements (such as the ability to reorder items in dictionaries – finally), Workflow 1.7.8 features a substantially improved PDF-to-text coercion engine, built on top of the PDFKit APIs for iOS 11. In my initial tests with the update, Workflow appears to be extremely accurate in extracting text from PDFs now, correctly preserving line breaks and special characters, and going as far as splitting PDF pages as individual text items in the output – features all made possible by Apple’s PDFKit.

Perhaps even more impressively, the performance of Workflow’s PDF-to-text conversion is astounding: Apple’s iOS Security Guide, a 78-page PDF document, is converted to plain text in 1 second by Workflow on a 2017 iPad Pro. I’m going to have fun thinking of how Workflow can now fit in my paperless workflows and DEVONthink usage. In the meantime, here’s a workflow I made to pick a PDF with an iOS 11 file picker (which supports both iCloud Drive and third-party locations), extract its text, and merge multiple pages into a single plain text block.

As I wrote when Workflow 1.7.7 was released four months ago, I appreciate the fact that, despite an unclear big picture, Apple is still listening to the Workflow community and updating the app with fixes and important new features, such as today’s Mask Image and Things actions. The company clearly knows that thousands of users depend on Workflow to make their iOS devices more efficient and productive; as we near the first anniversary of the acquisition with no updates on a possible Workflow 2.0, it’s good to see that Apple is still putting in the effort to keep the app alive with new functionalities and native iOS integrations.

You can download Workflow 1.7.8 from the App Store and read the release notes here.

 

Do you have a favorite Workflow automation? Tell us about it in the comments below!

App of the Week: LiquidText 3.0.11 changes how you annotate documents on the iPad

It’s hard to go back to an more ordinary PDF annotator after using LiquidText, but it is not the ultimate PDF tool for the iPad.

 

By Mike Wuerthele and William Gallagher of Apple Insider

We’d be doing you and LiquidText a disservice if we just called it a PDF editor but at its heart, that is what it is. It’s so much more than that, though, that the PDF element seems almost incidental. LiquidText 3.0.11 for iOS is about gathering ideas and making something useful out of them.

You can do regular PDF work in it. Just as you might with Adobe Acrobat or PDFpen, you can create PDFs and edit them to at least some degree. You can annotate them, too, and that’s where LiquidText starts to show its muscle.

It handles PDFs of course but also Word and PowerPoint files. Open one of these in LiquidText on your iPad and it first turns it into a PDF. So if you just wanted to convert that Word document into one, you’ve just done it.

By far the app’s most striking feature, though, is how you can pinch to collapse parts of your document. It makes a PDF act like an outline except rather than levels that you elect to see or hide, you pinch your fingers together and it squishes up everything in between.

 

Say you’re writing a screenplay and you feel a character isn’t working out. Find their first scene, excerpt that by just dragging the text to the work space, and keep referring to it as you read through their other scenes.

That workspace can as big as you want it to, and it shrinks as much as you care to pinch it. Collate lots of elements on it or just the one: whatever you need to get your ideas moving around in your head.

This pinching, this squeezing of lines is a little startling at first: it looks like there’s a problem with your iPad’s screen. Yet once you’ve found and used it, you keep coming back to it.

 

If you’re more of a corporate type and have to deal with pie charts, excerpt one the same way. Circle it, drag it out to the workspace and keep it there. Annotate it with handwritten notes. It’s easier to scribble a line over your document and then handwrite on the workspace but you can also choose to create text boxes that you then drag around.

Drag together two elements on your workspace and they connect. Drag three, four or as many as you like and they all connect into one blob-like element.

It’s like you’ve got a messy desk with notes strewn and random lines doodled between them —except it’s a regulated mess and the lines are never random. LiquidText makes you feel like you’ve got a paper document that you can crumple, tear bits out, doodle all over and in every other way fold, spindle, and mangle it while you work to make the best thing you can.

Yes, Adobe Acrobat and PDFpen can do the boring stuff but LiquidText can be engrossing. There’s just this irony that an exquisitely gorgeous app lets you make such horrible messes of your documents in the interest of data access and editing.

But, what you do with that document afterwards? LiquidText files are really intended just for you, and to be a working document rather than something you prepare to send on to other people. You can share your LiquidText work over email and what your recipient gets depends on whether they’ve got LiquidText too.

If they have, then they get your scribbles in all their glory. If they haven’t, they get a PDF with a range of options regarding how much get to see or your working notes.

Means to an end, not the end itself

 

It’d be good to see LiquidText accept more types of documents and it’d be handy to at least refer to them on your iPhone.

LiquidText is not meant to be a PDF editor per se, you won’t use it to create much. It’s really for reading and doing intensive annotations and edits. Nonetheless, the way it does that makes you wish every PDF reader app with annotation features worked the same way.

We talked about sharing documents. It may not be a major hassle, as the app as it’s free to download. If you’re only ever going to read someone else’s LiquidText documents, it’s all you need.

But, to work on documents of more than a single page, you can buy the $4.99 multi-document in-app purchase. To get that plus all of the editing features, there’s the Pro version which is a $19.99 in-app purchase.

Try out the free version but skip the multi-document edition and go straight to the full version of LiquidText 3.0.11.

It’s an iPad-only app and though it doesn’t require an Apple Pencil, you’ll want one to get the most out of LiquidText.

What’s your favorite App for PDF editing and annotation? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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