Keyboard Shortcut for “Save as PDF” in macOS

One of the fundamental skills of working with a computer is learning and integrating keyboard shortcuts for common tasks. Something that I appreciate with macOS is how easy it is to set your own keyboard shortcuts for anything that is available as a menu item.

It’s right there as a tab in the System Preferences -> Keyboard settings -> Shortcuts. No need for third party software.

I want to share a gem with you that you might not be aware of. It’s really easy, and once you’ve set it and got it into your fingertips you’ll forget that it doesn’t come as pre set by the OS:

The Command P + P trick to print a file to PDF

The earliest version I found of this tip was by David Sparks at the Macsparky site, who wrote about it in 2008 and links to an entry at the MacOSXHints site that no longer is found. Internet archaeology at it’s finest.

But while it’s not a new or novel thing, the steps tend to change ever so slightly with different versions of macOS. The exact wording of the tabs and menus get tweaked. This is how it’s done in macOS Catalina.

Open the Shortcuts tab in the Keyboard preference pane in the System Preferences. Select App Shortcuts in the list to the left.

Click the plus button underneath to add a new shortcut

For the shortcut name, enter “Save as PDF”. This needs to exactly match the words and characters of the menu item you want to target. (Before Catalina, there was an ellipsis character included so you’d have to write “Save as PDF…”, where you get the ellipsis via alt+.)

Let “All Applications” be selected. Set the shortcut to ⌘P.

You will now have an item in your shortcut list like this:

Now the beauty of this trick is that this menu item is only available from within the print dialog. So in all applications, ⌘P will open the print dialog as usual. But when it is open, ⌘P is now mapped to the “Print as PDF” option so pressing it again will save your file as a PDF instead of sending it to the printer.

And since you can keep the command key pressed while the print dialog window opens, saving a file to PDF is now as simple as ⌘P + P!

I have added some more shortcuts for other items I use frequently, such as printing a pdf directly to Evernote, EagleFiler and opening it in Preview. The shortcuts will also show in the print dialog as a reminder:

That’s it!

I hope you will find this little tip as useful as I do. And for my Windows user friends: if you know how to do something similar in you OS, please let me know so I can update this post and share it.

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