How To Split Double Paged Or Double Columned PDF Files [Mac]

Simon Slangen 25-06-2012

I’m all in favor of paper conservation and keeping our collective environmental footprint in check, so naturally I understand why some people feel obliged to print two ‘pages’ side by side on one physical page; a phenomenon I like to call ‘double-print’.


But even though PDF’s are often destined for print, the fact is they are just as often distributed digitally. More often than not, this means you end up with a double-paged document on your computer, or your tablet. When you reach this point, you’re no longer minimizing your digital footprint. It’s not smart or economical, either. It’s just unwieldy.

What This Will Accomplish

This article will show you how to split your double-printed PDF pages on Mac OS X, making them more readable and portable. Most importantly, you’ll be able to keep in-line text, formatting and images, using only free tools.

The Tools Of The Trade

There are two prerequisite applications for this tutorial. The first, Preview, should already be present on our Mac.

split pdf pages

We’ll also need a nifty tool called PDF Sam. You can download it for free from the website. Once you’ve installed it on your Mac, we’re good to go.


1. Duplicate & Crop

In this first step, we’ll be separating what will eventually be our odd and even numbered pages. Before you do anything else, duplicate the PDF document. You can call one of the documents ‘even-pages’ and the other ‘odd-pages’.

Open the ‘odd-pages’ document, and select the portion of the page you’d like to separate. Use the zoom function and the selection handles to optimize your selection, and make sure not to select any abundant whitespace.

split pdf into multiple files

Open the thumbnail tray from View -> Thumbnails, click on one of the pages’ thumbnails, and select all with cmd + a, or Edit -> Select All. Finally, press cmd + k, or use Tools -> Crop to crop the entire PDF around your selection, and save the file.


Now, open the ‘even-pages’ file, and go through the same steps. However, this time crop around the other section of the page. In the end you should have two PDF files; one with the odd numbered pages, and the other with the even numbered pages of our future document.

2. Merge Odd & Even Pages

Fire up PDF Sam. In the left sidebar of the application, select Alternate Mix in the list of plugins. Next, add the two PDF’s you created in the previous step to the application, with the ‘odd-pages’ PDF first, followed by the ‘even-pages’. Make sure the ‘Mix options‘ are both left unchecked, select a target output file, and hit run.

split pdf into multiple files

This step will merge the two PDF’s, alternating between pages of the two input files. The end result is a single PDF with the double-printed portions neatly separated.


3. Make The Crop Permanent (Optional)

Because of the way cropping PDF’s works in Preview and a lot of similar pages, the content you cropped away is not really gone. Rather, it’s just out of sight beyond the document’s borders. In most cases, you can use the document you just generated as is. However, documents that are cropped this way contain a lot of duplicated content, so can be double the file size.

Using a PDF printer is the easiest way to get rid of this duplicated content, radically decrease the document file size and make the crop permanent.

split pdf into multiple files

With your file open in Preview, go to File -> Print. A third-party PDF printer application may give you the luxury of dynamic page sizes, but we’ll have to create a paper size that matches our document. To do this, select Paper Size -> Manage Custom Sizes, and create a new profile. For presentation slides, the profile visible in the above screenshot (with a 4:3 aspect ratio) works like a charm. Make sure to empty all the ‘non-printable area’ boxes.


split pdf pages

Finally, with your custom paper size added and selected, go to PDF -> Save as PDF in the bottom left of the print dialog.

Did you experience any problems with this tutorial? Do you know any other worthwhile workarounds? Let us know in the article comments.

Explore more about: PDF, PDF Editor.

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  1. Francinec sheen
    April 7, 2019 at 2:11 am

    Thank you for these instructions, really helpful!! I used to split PDF with Acethinker PDF Writer, free and works very well, share it here as an alternative solution to Preview.

  2. Max
    October 28, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Hi there, your app is really nice, I have tried it and it works like a charm. However I prefer using open source projects. Have a look at this post to see how you can split pdf in two odd / even pages documents. [Broken URL Removed]
    In windows though yours is a nice solution.
    Thanks for your work!! Keep it up.

  3. David
    September 28, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Very helpful tutorial! I accidentally discovered a feature that helps with sizing the original crop. In Preview, select roughly the area you want to crop. Then press command-I. A box will open to let you work with measurements in points, inches, or centimeters, and manually type in coordinates for the top/left and height/width of your crop box. This allowed me to set the width of the crop area very precisely so that both my left and right pages came out exactly the same size. Once you have set your preferred dimensions, there are even buttons to crop all pages in the document, or crop the current page.

  4. Alex
    September 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Let's say we have a scanned book, with annoying scanned wide double pages that need to be separated. This separation would have to result practically in doubling the number of pages of the original pdf document. Can this separation be done automatically, for the whole book at once? Otherwise you would have to go page by page and apply your odd-even cropping method.

  5. venkatp16
    June 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    agree with saiwal... any option for windows??

    • Simon Slangen
      June 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Yes, there are. Take a look at the reply to Saiwal's post, it mentions alternative applications for both Windows and Linux.


  6. Saiwal
    June 25, 2012 at 7:01 am

    This is exactly what i was looking for. However i am a windows user. Are there any alternatives for windows/linux. If so please reply.

    • Simon Slangen
      June 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      Sure thing!

      Step one:
      Any PDF cropper will do. e.g.
      - PDFill (Windows)
      - PDF Quench (Linux)

      Step two:
      The application we used in the article, PDFSam is also available for Windows and Linux.

      Step three:
      Again, you can use a Windows or Linux PDF printer. e.g.
      - doPDF (Windows)
      - CUPS-PDF (Linux)
      - Ubuntu also has a PDF printer built in these days.

      Hope that helped.

      • Saiwal
        June 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

        thankyou a lot . I was tired of reading wide pdf files. no more :)

        • Simon Slangen
          June 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm

          I'm glad you liked it! The fun thing about this approach (as opposed to exporting images and recompiling to PDF) is that you can retain the text. This keeps the file small, let's you use reflow, copy-paste, dictionary, etc.