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How to Extract Pages from a PDF Document in Mac OS X Preview

Posted by Jim Tanous on August 4, 2015
pdf mac os x

The OS X Preview app is a great way to view PDFs on your Mac, to the point where many users prefer it over more powerful software like Adobe Acrobat. And using Preview to view PDFs is simple, too, with the intuitive interface making it fairly easy to change your viewing preferences, combine documents, and even rearrange existing pages. But what if you want to extract a page from a PDF and save it as its own separate document? It’s not quite clear how to do that in Preview, but that’s what we’re here for. So read on to see how you can extract one or more pages from an existing PDF and save them as a new document.
For this tutorial, we’re using a sample PDF of the Buffalo Sabres 2014-2015 Media Guide. This is a huge 361-page document, and we want to extract just a single page — page 235, which lists Sabres career records — so that we can email it to someone without having to send them the entire document.
os x preview pdf
There are two methods for extracting one or more pages from a PDF document in Preview. The first, something we call the “Drag and Drop Method,” is quick and dirty, but doesn’t give you much control over how the file is saved or modified. The second, let’s unofficially label it the “New Document Method,” is a bit more detailed, but lets you modify how and where the new file is saved, along with some other potentially important options. We’ll start with the New Document method first so that you can understand what’s happening with this process, but if you’re in a hurry, just jump to the second section, below.

The New Document Method

For both methods of extracting one or more pages from a PDF, our first step is to change to the Thumbnail view in Preview, which will let us select a single page. This is the same view that is useful for deleting or rearranging pages in a PDF document. With Preview selected, head to the OS X Menu Bar and select View > Thumbnails. You can also switch to Thumbnail view by using the keyboard shortcut Option-Command-2.
os x preview view as thumbnails
You’ll see a sidebar slide in to the left of your PDF document showing each page individually from top to bottom. Find the page you want to extract and click on its thumbnail to select it. Preview will jump to that page and display it on the right of the window (if you weren’t already navigated to the page previously) and the page’s thumbnail will be surrounded by a gray box in the Thumbnail sidebar.
os x preview pdf thumbnail view
In our example, we’re just extracting a single page from the PDF. If you’d like to extract multiple pages and place them all in a single new document, hold the Shift key and select multiple sequential pages from the thumbnail sidebar, or hold the Command key to select multiple non-sequential pages.
os x preview new from clipboard
With our page(s) selected, we need to copy them to the clipboard, either by selecting Edit > Copy from the Menu Bar, or by using the keyboard shortcut Command-C. Next, we’ll tell Preview to make a new PDF document from the page(s) we just copied, which can be accomplished by selecting File > New From Clipboard in the Menu Bar or by using the keyboard shortcut Command-N.
os x preview extract single page pdf
A new Preview window will appear containing the page(s) you copied previously. From here, you can rearrange the pages if desired, or even delete any pages that were copied by accident from the original document. When you’re ready, go to File > Save and save the new PDF file in your desired location.
os x preview save single pdf

The Drag and Drop Method

Now that you understand the extraction process, here’s the faster “Drag and Drop” method, although it comes with some caveats.
First, repeat the steps above to change Preview to the thumbnail view, and then select one or more pages from the thumbnail sidebar. Now, simply click on one of the selected pages and drag your cursor outside the bounds of the Preview app. You’ll see a green circle with a ‘plus’ icon appear below your cursor, along with a faint preview of your selected pages.
drag page pdf preview mac os x
While continuing to hold the mouse or trackpad button, move your cursor over a blank space on your Desktop, or to a location in Finder, and drop the files. A single PDF will appear containing the page(s) you extracted. The file will have the original PDF’s name with “(dragged”) appended to it. From here, you can further modify the file, archive it, or send it on its way to friends and colleagues.

Drag & Drop vs. New Document

After learning about both ways to extract pages from a PDF document, it appears at first that the “Drag and Drop” method is so much faster (and it is). So then why would anyone use the “New Document” method?
The reason that the New Document method of extracting pages from a PDF may be preferable to the quicker Drag and Drop method is that the former allows you to modify the new PDF’s file name, add OS X Finder tags, apply Quartz Filters, or encrypt the file, all during the extraction process. You can even change the output format to something other than a PDF, such as a JPEG or TIFF file.
Of course, you can make all of these changes if you use the Drag and Drop method, but you’ll need to open the file(s) separately after extracting them, make the changes, and then re-save them, all of which may negate any time saved during the actual extraction. Therefore, if you just need a quick copy of a few pages from a PDF, the Drag and Drop method is the way to go. But if you need to make any changes (file names, formats, tags, etc.), it’s probably easier to use the detailed method.
Note, however, that neither method as described here actually modifies the original PDF document. Any pages that you copy into a new document, or drag and drop to your desktop, still remain in the original file.

15 thoughts on “How to Extract Pages from a PDF Document in Mac OS X Preview”

Philip Gardner says:
Thank you for a simply explanation. The “Complex” method worked perfectly for me. Great job!1
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Stella says:
Thank you! That was very helpful. It was exactly what I was looking for. It took me a while trying to figure a way to do it.
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Peter Fritz Walter says:
It is not working for me and Preview hangs each and every time and delivers only blank pages. Have they made an agreement with Adobe so that people buy their exorbitantly expensive Acrobat?
My system: Mac OS Sierra 10.12.6, New MacBook Pro 15″
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Earl A. Brackett says:
cannot copy to “New From Clipboard” on my Ticketmaster file in 10.13.
they may have created a file that cannot be separated by page. I am not familiar enough with PDF creation.
thanks anyway.
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Earl A. Brackett says:
I was able to right-click on each page and export a JPEG copy by single page…
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Jade Rouzeau says:
Thanks for this article. These steps are exactly what I have used in the past to create a new doc from selected thumbnails in Preview. The feature is no longer working on my computer. New From Clipboard is greyed out. Thoughts? I’m running OS Sierra v.10.12.4
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TekRevue says:
Hi Jade,
I just checked our MacBook running the same version of Sierra and it works, so I think the issue may be local to your Mac. Is New From Clipboard greyed out for every file you’ve tried? If so, try creating a new user account and try it there. If it works, you likely have an issue with Preview’s user preference files.
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Jade Rouzeau says:
Hi! Thanks for responding. I tried it with a different PDF and New From Clipboard was not greyed out after I copied a selection of thumbnails. I guess that means the specific PDF I tried this with could not be edited. I went back to the first document and double clicked on the first page. This prompted Preview to create a copy of the original document. From that copy I was able to select thumbnails, copy, and create New From Clipboard! Sweet! Thanks for your help.
TekRevue says:
Great! 🙂
LaughingLibrary says:
Thank you so much! Just accomplished this in mere seconds!
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Onion Blaster says:
Thanks for this. Really helpful.
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Tina says:
Very Informative & easy to follow. Thanks very much!
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Christian Boyce says:
Terrific article. Nicely explained and good screenshots.
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John Bertram says:
Thanks for posting this.
A word of caution however: when you mention near the end how Copying selected PDF pages to the Clipboard, and then using the New File from Clipboard option has the advantage of even letting you “…change the output format to something other than a PDF, such as a JPEG or TIFF file”, there’s a major catch: selecting an image format such as JPEG will only convert and save a SINGLE page from the multiple pages you just grabbed from the Clipboard to create your new document. All the other pages appear to get discarded (unlike leaving it as a PDF, of course, in which case ALL the pages are included in that new PDF file).
So I’m STILL looking for a simple way to select only certain thumbnails within a multi-page PDF, and with one click Export only those selected pages as individual, sequentially named JPEGs (at whatever quality setting and resolution I choose for that particular export). I know about the Automator workflow option, but as far as I can see this is an all-or-nothing conversion of EVERY page within the PDF file from which you’re exporting.
And yes, I know — not the end of the world; I can always just then select and trash all the new JPEG files I DIDN’T want to create and keep only the ones I need; or I could use the method described here to create a new PDF file containing only the pages I want to export as JPEGs, and then drop THAT PDF into an Automator workflow; but either route involves extra clicks, all of which would be unnecessary if Preview simply had the option to “Export Selected Pages As…” which then took you to a window with the different format choices along with with some basic batch renaming schemes. I can’t believe this would be all that hard to implement. It’s certainly LONG overdue. (And yes, I do know about Apple Feedback, and HAVE used it to point out this and MANY dozens of other sloppy OS oversights Apple has let slide for years now.)
John B,
Toronto
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natamiracle says:
Guys! Thank you very much! I am so stupid with computers! Your article really saved me!
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dandolino says:
doesn’t work. Drag and drop doesn’t work either. 🙁
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Rajeev Jain says:
The above methods for saving the file separately didn’t work for me. I selected Print in Preview and then in the print window there is a PDF tab below. In the PDF tab drop down list select save as PDF.
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Toestubber says:
Apple has made this so ridiculously complex. If only there was a way to simply export JPGs from a multi-page PDF.
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Tami says:
Thank you so much! I appreciate this!! This was exactly what I was looking for!
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