Dan Frakes
23 March, 2009
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One of my favorite Mac OS X features is the capability to “print” to a PDF file. In any program, you just choose the Print command, click on the PDF button in the Print dialog, and then choose Save As PDF. In fact, as part of my personal efforts to conserve, the vast majority of “printing” I do these days is directly to PDF. For example, I have a Receipts folder that contains a PDF receipt for every online purchase from the past few years. (Which means that in addition to saving trees and toner, I’ve also made it easier to store and find information about past purchases. And since I have a good backup routine, all those documents are also backed up regularly.)

My only beef with this system is that I wish it were more efficient. Whereas printing involves simply pressing Command+P and then the return key, saving a document as a PDF requires me to press Command+P, mouse down to the PDF button and click on it, choose Save as PDF from the resulting menu, navigate to the desired folder, and then press return. (If I choose to rename the resulting PDF before saving, that’s another step.) This may not seem like much, but when you print to PDF as many times each day as I do, it’s a hassle.

I found a solution in CodePoetry’s CUPS-PDF. Actually a Mac OS X-specific version of the open-source CUPS-PDF project, CUPS-PDF is essentially a virtual printer driver for CUPS (Common UNIX Printing System), OS X’s printing software. Once installed, using OS X’s own Installer program, CUPS-PDF lets you create a “printer” that automatically saves documents as PDF files.

Adding a CUPS-PDF “printer”

Setup isn’t difficult, but it requires a few more steps than adding most printers. In Leopard, you open the Print & Fax pane of System Preferences, and then click on the add (+) button. In the window that appears, click on Default in the toolbar, then select CUPS-PDF in the printer list. (The default printer name will be “CUPS-PDF”; you can change it, if you prefer, in the Name field.) From the Print Using pop-up menu, choose Select A Driver To Use, and then select Generic Postscript Color Printer in the list of printer drivers. Click on Add to create the new printer.

Printing using CUPS-PDF

Once you’ve completed that initial setup process, your new PDF “printer” appears in the Printer pop-up menu in every print dialog. Choose it and click on Print and a PDF of your document is created in a new cups-pdf folder on your Desktop, with the PDF file named using a combination of the document name (the Web page name if printing from a browser) and the CUPS print-job number. If, like me, you save to PDF more than you print to paper, you can set your virtual printer as the default using Print & Fax preferences; this makes saving documents as PDF files as easy as pressing Command+P, return.

CUPS-PDF is also useful for converting documents to PDF format. If you place your CUPS-PDF printer in the Dock, or create an alias of it on the Desktop, you can drag most documents onto the printer icon to automatically save a PDF version in your CUPS-PDF folder. (The printer—actually its print-queue program—is located in ~/Library/Printers. Just drag that printer icon to your Dock, or hold down command-option while dragging the icon to your Desktop to create an alias in that location.)

If you prefer to save your PDF files somewhere other than the default location, you can edit the destination folder in the CUPS-PDF configuration file (/etc/cups/cups-pdf.conf); specifically, you want to edit this line:

Out ${HOME}/Desktop/cups-pdf/

changing {HOME}/Desktop/cups-pdf/ to the path to your desired folder. For example to save to a folder called PDFs inside your Documents folder, you’d change the line to read Out ${HOME}/Documents/PDFs/

There are a few downsides to CUPS-PDF compared to using the Print dialog’s Save As PDF command. First, PDF files created using CUPS-PDF are roughly twice as large as OS X’s built-in feature. Second, if you use Preview or Adobe Reader to inspect the PDF’s information, OS X’s built-in PDF-saving feature includes a few more details, such as the name of the user who created the PDF. Finally, with CUPS-PDF, you don’t get a chance to change the name of the resulting PDF file before saving (although for me, this is an advantage, as skipping the Save dialog makes the process more efficient).

Product CUPS-PDF
Rating 3.5
Company CodePoetry
Price as rated Free
OS compatibility 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard)
Processor compatibility Universal

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