Zvi Biener

Save your eyes while saving paper.

04/15/2020  latexautomator

I try to print as little as possible, so I often use a double-page print layout. That way, each printed page includes two logical pages. This is called a 2-up format (you can have 3-up, 4-up, N-up).

The problem is that Apple’s N-up feature is pretty bad. You get it by selecting Layout in the print dialog, and then selecting 2 Pages per Sheet. This combines pages in a very inefficient way. For example, most journals use page sizes that are far smaller than 8x11, so when you 2-up them, the resulting page has lots of white space. You can see this in the print preview for a paper from the Southern Journal of Philosophy. This page is hard to read, because the text is so small.

Standard 2-up Layout

A more efficient procedure is to crop out the white space, and then combine the pages with minimal margins. Notice the bigger text:

Better 2-up Layout

You can use follow the instructions below to create an efficient 2-up “Printer Plugin” for MacOS. Use it by opening the print dialog, and selecting Crop and 2-Up (or whatever you name it) from the lower-left drop-down menu. After a few seconds (large documents will take longer), Preview will open with the properly combined document. Now print it, save it, file it, etc.

Print Dialog Dropdown Menu

Caveat: This will only work with PDFs. For other formats, first print the document to PDF, and then print the PDF using this plugin. Make this process quicker with a few one-time steps: select the “Edit Menu” in the print services menu (the lower-left drop-down), hit the plus sign, and select an often used folder (I use Downloads). From that point on, when you select that print option in the drop-down menu, a PDF will be generated in that folder without going through the “Save As” dialog.


  1. Get a LaTeX installation from http://www.tug.org/mactex/. I recommend the “Smaller Download.” Install it. (Skip if you already have one.)
  2. Open the Terminal app. Type in:
sudo tlmgr install pdfcrop pdfjam

You’ll be asked for your password.

  1. Download this file. Unzip. Double click. You’re done.

Under the Hood

If you want to create the workflow from scratch, do this:

  1. Open the Automator app. Hit ⌘N to create a new workflow and select Print Plugin from next menu.
  2. Once a blank workflow opens, search the list of actions (on the left-hand side) for Run Shell Script. Drag it over to the right-hand side of the screen.
  3. Inside the Run Shell Script action, paste the following:
source /etc/profile

[[ -f $InputPDF ]] && rm $InputPDF
[[ -f $CroppedPDF ]] && rm $CroppedPDF
[[ -f $NupPDF ]] && rm $NupPDF

cp "$1" "$InputPDF"
pdfcrop --margins '10' --clip --verbose $InputPDF $CroppedPDF
pdfjam --nup 2x1 --delta "2mm 0mm" --landscape --outfile $NupPDF $CroppedPDF
open -a Preview $NupPDF

  1. Save the workflow with a name of your choosing. It will appear in your print dialog drop-down menu.