Printing Multiple Copies of a Single Page on a Sheet in OS X

This is something that was making me crazy : getting multiple copies of a page into a single sheet in OS X — think of small fliers or business cards. The problem was particularly annoying in Adobe Creative Suite (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign), where I hoped (in vain) to find an option to do it easily. The straightforward solution (asking on the system Print dialog for multiple pages per sheet, and then asking for multiple copies) doesn’t really work.

The answer is as simple as Columbus’ egg : convert the document to PDF, duplicate the pages manually, and then ask for multiple pages per sheet. It works like a charm !

Need more guidance ? You’re in luck, for I did a video tutorial (my very first — be forgiving) to show the process step by step :

I’m demonstrating the solution on Illustrator CS5, but it works for any page that can be rendered on a PDF, so not only for Illustrator or Photoshop, but also for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, or Apple Pages and Keynote.

Edit 8/dec : there’s a simpler procedure than the one explained above. Once you open the PDF in Preview, don’t duplicate the pages, and choose the number of Copies per page on the Preview tab (not the Layout tab) on the Print system dialog. I would have completely overlooked this if it weren’t for a helpful YouTube commenter, who also suggests that you can avoid the intermediate PDF step in Microsoft Word by, for example, putting  “1, 1, 1, 1” in Page Range (Copies & Pages tab), and then selecting 4 Pages per Sheet (Layout tab).

Mac OS X, Word and the quest for the unbloated PDF

Hard-science scholars are strange people, who insist on using TeX because it “typesets beautifully”, but then forget to check badness warnings, letting the lines spill beyond the right margin. I have resisted TeX as much as I could, until I finally caved to peer pressure. Still, I only use it for cooperative work : when all by myself, I want something, let’s say frankly, less Jurassic.

Still, I am forced to envy my frozen-in-1975 colleagues, when I find out that saving to PDF, an operation that the industry should had gotten right by now, turns my 1 MB Microsoft Word file into an 80 MB PDF-zilla.

I’ve spent a good part of my morning solving that problem, considering both the official solution, and more independente initiatives. The official solution flunked when I’ve found out that Adobe had no trial of Acrobat for Mac (am I really willing to spent US$ 500 just to find out whether or not it’ll do what I want?). I tried a PDF compression solution, PDF Shrink, which reduced my PDF… from 89 MB to 87 MB, while mangling horribly all the images: not exactly worth the US$ 35. I’ve also tried recreating the PDF from scratch, but PDF Studio, at US$ 125, just refused to open the Word file with a cryptic ‘error reading’ message. I was glad both were in trial.

In despair, I continued searching the Web. Lots of users crying “Large PDF !”, “Word PDF too big !”, “Huge PDFs on Mac !”, but very few answers. Industry, why u no listen ?

They say that we should never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. But Hanlon’s razor notwithstanding,  I couldn’t avoid drifting into conspiracy theories. What if that horrible implementation of PDF conversion was not completely accidental ?

Conspiracy theories are unfalsifiable, of course, but I’ll tell you what finally solved the problem and you’ll tell me if it doesn’t make you itsy bitsy suspicious :

  1. On Word, instead of saving to PDF, save to PostScript (using File… Print…, and then, on the print dialog, the PDF button on the lower left corner. The Save to PostsScript is one of the options);
  2. Open the PostScript file (double-click its icon) and let Preview make the automatic conversion;
  3. On Preview, save the file as PDF (using the menu File… Export… — or on older OS X versions File… Save as…)

And that’s all. Now lets check the sizes :

  • Original PDF file (using Save as PDF or Print to PDF from Word) : 89 MB
  • PostScript file (Using Print to PostScript) : 94 MB
  • Final PDF file (using the steps above) : 5 MB

That is, using only tools already present in OS X, and three small steps, I’ve got an almost 18x smaller file. Risking joining the ranks of the ‘moon hoax’ lunatics, I smell something rotten in the current state of PDF conversion implemented by Word–OS X.

* * *

Incidentally, I’ve found something I also needed : how to password-protect PDFs. I was ready to buy a solution, but I’ve found that unnecessary.

When creating a new one, on OS X, you can click on the “Security Options” menu of the “Export as” (“Save as” in older versions) dialog — how come I’ve never remarked that one ?.

If the PDF exists already, you can open it with Preview, go to File… Export… (File… Save as… in older OS X versions), and check the box “Encrypt”. Two textboxes below let you put a password. Save the file and it will be only visible after the password is entered.

EDIT 28/02/12 : I am finding out that the above method is by no means foolproof, i.e., it doesn’t work for every kind of PDF. In particular, I tested it for PDFs generated by PowerPoint, and it backfired (PostScript conversion generated a file much bigger). For image loaded PDFs from PowerPoint, contrarily to the mainly textual ones from Word, I’m finding that the usual tip of using the Quartz Filter (open the PDF file with Preview, then File… Export… [File… Save As… in older OS X versions], then select “Reduce File Size” on the Quartz Filter field in the dialog) works quite well.

EDIT 23/07/13 : I’ve never dreamed this blog entry was to become my most popular one. (Apple and Microsoft, aren’t you listening ?) I’ve edited the procedure above to reflect the change in the Save As… logic introduced in OS X Lion, when it became Export…