✱ How to Print Large Format PDF Drawings to Scale on a Mac

With more and more of the world going paperless all the time, Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) has taken over much of the architecture and construction industry as the preferred file format for sharing drawings. In fact, many estimators and contractors that I work with don't have the ability to work with anything else. I'd love to just give them my BIM file but that's another rant for another time. For some of us, this could mean having to purchase (or subscribe to) the Adobe Creative Cloud to get Acrobat Pro or buy Bluebeam to be able to create PDF's. Granted, these professional programs allow you to do much more than simply create PDF's, but the cost of entry is fairly high.

There is an alternative. I've recently found a free open source PDF printer that solves a few problems called PDFwriter for Mac.

While the Macintosh has a built-in PDF creator, it's lacking in several ways when it comes to creating large format PDF's. Of course this isn't a mainstream problem, so typical users won't see the value in this tutorial. But for us working in the industry, this is a big pain in the ass. The main problem with the built-in solution is that it forces you to click through several extra steps to print to a PDF by using the little pull-down menu in the lower left corner of the Print dialog to create one. Another problem is that it's not available in some programs (as you'll see below). On top of that, printing large format can be problematic.

PDFwriter acts like any other installed printer and can be used for any kind of PDF creation. It takes steps out of the process by allowing you to just hit Command+P and Enter if you're in the PDF print-making assembly line process. It also gives you the benefit of having large format paper sizes so you can print drawings to scale which then allows you to email them to someone expecting to do scaled take-offs or plot the files for you at a service bureau.


Here's the process to get great PDF prints from your drawing files with PDFwriter (Steps 1-4 you'll only need to do once):

Step 1: Download the software from SourceForge.

Step 2: Install the software.

Step 3: Make sure you read the ReadMe file. It contains really important info like where your PDF's end up. See this clipping especially:

Step 4: Make sure the printer has been installed into your system by checking System Preferences > Printers & Scanners.

Here are the steps involved each time you print:

Step 5: Open up a drawing in your favorite CAD program and use the Print... command. Here's the Print dialog box from formZ as an example. Notice the typical system level PDF pull down menu does not exist. No, we do not want to print the drawing onto 25 pages.

Step 6: Choose PDFwriter from the device drop-down list at the top. Click on the Print Settings... button to choose the correct paper size that you want. Make sure you choose the correct scale of your drawing here too. Every program works differently with scale, so make sure the preview looks like you expect the final output to look here first. 

Step 7: Print your file using the options you want. The process will then run and disappear, not really letting you know anything has happened. Don't worry!

Step 8: Go to the folder they indicated in the Readme file (see Step 3). I created a shortcut to it by dragging it into my sidebar for easy future access.

In that folder, you'll find a high quality PDF of your plans. Each page will have a weird file name but that's not a big deal. You can rename it however you want at this point. I recommend you use my file naming article as a guide. 

This workflow works well for any CAD program you're using on the Mac where you have to output large format, scaled PDF drawings and not buy expensive PDF creation software. Happy printing!


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