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When two is too many: How to merge multiple PDF files

Clutter is a killer, even more so when addressing Adobe’s flagship file format. Honed by the San Jose-based company in the early ’90s, PDF files— short for Portable Document Files — were quickly adopted as the open standard for electronic document exchange around the globe shortly upon their debut. The format is industrious, lined with interactive functionality viewable on nearly any electronic device available, while offering additional levels of encryption and data compression that render the format one of the most stable and trusted to date.

However, although PDF files are fantastic in their own right, possessing scores of similar documents isn’t the most conducive for giving a seamless business presentation or when simply attempting to collate 30 reports into one, unified document. Fortunately, combining and merging multiple PDF files sans Adobe Acrobat has never been easier thanks to an expansive market of freemium software available in Windows, Mac OS X, and even on your favorite browser. It appears the days of printing and physically binding documents are behind us.

Here’s our quick guide on how to merge PDF files, whether using Windows, Mac OS X or Web-based software. Also, check out our detailed guide on how to password protect a PDF, or our guides on how to convert a PDF to JPEG and how to convert a PDF file into a Word file if you’re experiencing trouble viewing and editing PDF files.

Skip ahead to how to merge PDF files in Mac OS X or using Web-based software.

Windows Banner

Step 1: Download, install, and launch PDFBinder — Navigate to the main PDF Binder homepage, click the blue Downloads tab located at the top of the page and select the most recent version build on the resulting page. Afterward, click the blue download link above the QR code, follow the installation instructions — avoiding to install the bundled software whenever possible — and launch the program once properly installed. The capable software is freely available, and though it lacks additional features beyond its innate merging capabilities, the lack of extras only makes it more accessible and lightweight.

PDFBinder Download Screen

Step 2: Select the PDF files — Once opened, click the Add file button with the green addition sign at the top and choose the PDF files you wish to merge from the respective save locations.

PDFBinder Add Files to Merge

Step 3: Arrange and merge the PDF files — Select the order in which you’d like to view the files within the merged PDF. To rearrange the order, highlight the file you wish to move and click the green up and down arrows to move the files in relation to one another. Once you’re satisfied with the file order, click the Bind button at the top of the window, name the resulting file, and choose an appropriate save location for the document. The sole resulting file will open when the merge is complete.

PDFBinder Bind Files

Mac OS X Banner

Step 1: Launch preview and open the PDF files — Click the Finder icon in the dock, navigate to the main Mac OS X Applications folder, and launch Preview from the resulting list of applications. Afterward, choose the PDF files you wish to merge from the respective save locations and click the gray Open button in the bottom-right corner of the pop-up window. Preview, Apple’s innate image viewer and editor, comes preinstalled in all versions of Mac OS X so there’s no need to seek additional third-party software or download the application elsewhere. 

Preview Select Screen

Step 2: Ensure thumbnails are visible — Once open, check and make sure the thumbnails for each document are visible within the left-hand sidebar of the application window. If hidden, click the View option located in the main Preview taskbar and select the Thumbnails option near the top of the resulting drop-down menu.

View PDF Thumbnails

Step 3: Merge the PDF files — Assuming the thumbnails are viewable, click and drag the thumbnail of one PDF upon the thumbnail of the PDF with which you wish to merge the document. Release the mouse or trackpad once a green addition symbol appears in the point and Preview will automatically copy and add each page of the former document to the end of the other PDF.

Step 4: Arrange and save the PDF file — Once the files have been added, click and drag the thumbnails amid the sidebar to rearrange each document’s position within the newly-minted PDF. Afterward, click the File option located in the top-left of the main Preview taskbar and select Export as PDF from the resulting drop-down list prior to naming the file and choosing an appropriate save location for the resulting document. When finished, click the flashing Save button in the bottom-right corner of the drop-down window.

Export PDF

Web-based banner

Step 1: Head to the Merge PDF homepage and open the PDF files — Navigate to the main Merge PDF homepage and click the gray Browse button near the middle prior to choosing the PDF files you wish to merge from their respective save locations. Once chosen, click the gray Open button in the bottom-right corner of the window. Although the Web-based software is free to use, the total file size is capped at 30 MB and the site automatically removes uploaded files within one hour of inactivity. If you intend to utilize a larger PDF file, consider using the method above corresponding to your particular OS.

Merge PDF Browse Button

Step 2: Merge the PDF files — Click the hot-pink Merge PDF button located near the middle of the page after the resulting files you wish to combine have been uploaded.

Merge PDF Merge Button

Step 3: Download and save the PDF — Click the blue-and-grey Download button in the pop-up window once the merge is complete, name the resulting file and select an appropriate save location for the document. Additionally, check the box directly left of Retain uploaded files if you wish to keep the original PDF files.

Merge PDF Download and Save

What do you think of our quick-hit guide on how to merge PDF files? Do you have an easier, more comprehensive or simply a different solution? Let us know in the comments below.