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macOS: How to print to PDF via keyboard shortcut from any application

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macOS offers multiple options to print to PDF. In fact, you can save almost every file as PDF, regardless of if the application supports saving to PDF or not. In this article, I will show you how to quickly print to PDF using a keyboard shortcut and automatically save the PDF in a particular folder. My special folder is called “Scans, ” and I save most PDFs to it for further processing via an app called Hazel.

Export as PDF

Some applications for macOS natively support exporting or saving data as PDF. iA Writer, which I use for drafting new blog articles, is such an example. If I wanted to save the draft of this article as a PDF, I would go to File –> Export and choose PDF as the file format.

Safari and Mail are examples of native macOS apps that support exporting emails or web pages as PDFs via the “Export to PDF…” Menu.

But not all apps have that ability. Plus, it takes up to several extra clicks to navigate to my “Scans” folder to save the file.

macOS: How to print to PDF via keyboard shortcut from any application

Export to PDF in iA Writer

Print to PDF

macOS has supported printing any file to PDF for several years. So don’t worry if the application of your choice doesn’t support the PDF format.

To print any file as PDF, just open the File –> Print dialog (or COMMAND + p), click on the drop-down on the lower left of the screen that says “PDF” and then select “Save as PDF…“. From there, you can select the folder you would like to save the PDF to. That feature is available in every application that supports the macOS print framework. The problem is, I still need to click a couple of more times to select my “Scans” folder.

Print to PDF and automatically select a folder

The good news is that Apple allows you to change the list you have seen in the Print –> PDF dialog. As you may have noticed, there is an “Edit Menu…” entry at the bottom of that list.

If you click it, another dialog opens that allows you to add (+ sign) a target folder to that list. In my example, I have added my “Scans” folder. As a result, I can now see my “Scans” folder in the drop-down list of the Print –> PDF dialog.

Going forward, if I want to print anything to PDF and save it to my “Scans” folder, I do the following:

  • Select File –> Print or better yet, COMMAND + p
  • Click on the PDF drop-down and select “Scans.”

Without any further interaction, macOS saves the selected file as PDF and stores it in the “Scans” folder. That’s already a huge timesaver, but why stop there?

How to add a keyboard shortcut

We already have established that you can print anywhere in macOS using the COMMAND + p keyboard shortcut. But isn’t there a way to also use a shortcut for selecting the “Scans” folder? The good news is, there is and here is how it works:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Select Keyboard
  • Go to “Shortcuts” and select “App Shortcuts.”
  • Click on the + button to add a new shortcut
  • Leave “All Applications” in the Application drop-down
  • Add a “Menu Title” that matches the name of the folder you added to the Print –> PDF menu. In my case, that’s “Scans” (without the quotes)
  • Select the Keyboard Shortcut text field and type COMMAND + p (the shortcut) on your keyboard.

You can use any other keyboard shortcut of course, but there is a reason why I chose COMMAND + p. You may think that this is a reserved shortcut and it may conflict with the standard print command. But that is not the case and here is why:

When you use the COMMAND + p shortcut, macOS tries to match it to the “Scans” menu item. Unless the app in question has a menu entry called “Scans,” it won’t find it because it is tucked away in a sub-dialog of the print menu. As a result, it looks for the next best match, and that’s File –> Print. That shows the print dialog. If you now tap COMMAND + p again, it doesn’t find “Print” anymore, but instead, it finds “Scans” and triggers it.

In other words, overloading, or reusing the COMMAND + p keyboard shortcut works to our advantage, so we don’t have to remember two different keyboard shortcuts.

From a productivity perspective, that means that I only have to tap COMMAND + p twice to print any file to PDF and store it in my “Scans” folder.

How to print to PDF via keyboard shortcut from any application

The method I presented above is the fastest and most efficient way I have found to accomplish this task. It works for virtually any application in macOS and requires only a single keyboard shortcut.

The beauty of macOS is that there are a thousand ways to execute a certain task. So if you know of a better, faster and more efficient way to print to PDF, let me know by leaving a comment below. If you find my article useful, please share it on social media so that others can enjoy it too. And if you want to see a screencast of how all the above is done, check out the blog of my fellow blogger and excellent Mac resources MacSparky.

About the Author Michael Kummer

I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in Alpharetta, GA. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow the Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else.

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  • Paul Nevai says:

    About “MacOS: How To Print To PDF Via Keyboard Shortcut From Any Application”:

    It works. This is the best advice and most needed shortcut I heard in years.

    BTW, I assigned command-P to “Save as PDF” so I could name the resulting pdf as needed.

    Many-many thanks, Paul (Mac user since 1984)

  • Jun says:

    I’ve spent my whole afternoon searching for a solution to better print pdf file, most of the answers are complicated ones that require some code basis. Yours is absolutely the best user-friendly solution for me, I could even figure out tons of time saved because of this know-how, aha!

    Thanks,
    Jun

  • Mike Noonan says:

    Initially, I couldn’t get this to work. [Before High Sierra, I had added a shortcut that allowed me to use Command+S in the print dialog without using the PDF (pulldown). That saved two mouse moves and two clicks. This Command+S then pulled up the Save dialog box where I could specify a target folder and press Return/Enter to execute the Save action. I.e. Command+P (change PDF settings), Command+S (set folder if need be), and Return/Enter, a minimum of three keyboard actions. I do not recall how I set it up. My vague recollection is that in the Keyboard Menu Title box I was able to change “Save as PDF” to “Save as PDF…”.

    I did get it to work eventually. My “mistake” was using Downloads as my equivalent to your “Scans folder”. Apparently, this is a reserved word and did not work. I did add “PDF downloads” as my target folder and I used Command+S as my second instruction. So Command+P followed by Command+S works and for me, this more syntactically correct. With more fiddling, I was able to get the Downloads folder to be accepted by in the Workflow box by using the path Hard Drive/Users//Downloads to accept the folder name. Thus Command+P and Command+S worked.

    The issue now is that one a PDF file can only go to one folder. I experimented with adding a”Downloads” indirectly via the Edit Menu in the Print menu dialog with Command Option+Command+S. This was in addition to the “PDF downloads” command. Things went pearshaped after that. I tried different combinations of the two titles and commands and the Shortcuts window collapsed the two title names down to “—” with dark squares. When one was selected it showed a part of the correct titles inside. I think I overloaded it. I didn’t try any of this with Preview instead of All Applications. Maybe you have ideas.

    Thanks for the tip. Mike Noonan

  • Tom says:

    This is great. It saves me a lot of time when I have to save a bunch of invoices at expense time at work. Whether saving a web page, and email, or image file, this is a super-simple way to save a PDF. Thank you for posting it.

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