How to Batch Convert DOC files to PDF format Using Mac OSX Automator

Our clients often request an area on their website for sharing business and promotional documentation. They also sometimes require that this content be available to the public via downloads. This request is often followed up by an email containing a zip archive of any number of .doc formatted files, with something like “Please convert these files to .pdf format for the website” in the subject.

Of course there are many methods and utilities in the wild for performing this type of file format conversion, however we were looking for a method that would batch process the files most efficiently, preferably without downloading or buying any additional software.

Below is a simple step by step solution for converting the format of doc files using Automator for Mac OSX. You can download the workflow at the end of this article.

  1. Open Automator.

  2. Create a new custom workflow.

  3. From the Actions panel library, select Files & Folders then double-click Get Specified Finder Items.

  4. Add the items you wish to convert.

  5. Next, from the library, select Documents, then double click Convert Format of Word Documents.

  6. From the dropdown menu, select the format you wish to convert the files to. In our case we select Portable Document Format (PDF)

  7. Now we are ready to run the action. Click the run button in the top right of the automator window.

  8. The new converted files are converted and saved using the original file name and file location.

  9. Open up your destination folder and verify your files have been successfully converted.

This method for file conversion is not limited to converting .doc files to .pdf but can be modified to work with most file formats. Furthermore the Autormator application can be used to create more complex workflows where files can be moved, renamed, sorted etc.

In addition to providing a simple method for performing basic automation, after getting to know the Automator interface and discovering all its capabilities, you will find that it is perhaps one of the most useful but overlooked utility applications available for the mac OSX.

The best part: we achieved our goal to batch convert the files efficiently, we utilized a tool that we already have access to use, and by using this method we can build more complex workflows, and save and reuse them the next time we get the same request from a client.

Download the sample workflow:
Automator File Conversion Workflow

  1. For some reason when I try this, ‘documents’ does not show up as a selection in the ‘Actions’ library.I am running OS 10.6.4 What is missing? I am using Office 2008, does the problem have to do with Microsoft not supporting macros on Mac now?

    Oct 31st, 2010
  2. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This works great on 10.6.5. I have left massive tufts of hair on the floor trying to get Automator configured correctly to make this conversion work. Kudos!

    Nov 17th, 2010
  3. @Pepe – I don’t believe it’s an issue with your software. I have run this workflow using OS 10.6.5 and 10.6.4 without any issues. Download the example workflow and see if the pre-assembled workflow works for you.

    I can confirm this method works with the following
    OS 10.6.4 +
    Office 2008 for Mac.
    Automator Version 2.1.1

    @David – no problem, glad the tutorial helped you out. It’s certainly a time saver.

    Geoff Palin
    Geoff Palin
    Dec 10th, 2010
  4. I would love to be able to use this. Would be my first time using automator. However the “Documents” section in library is not there, like Pepe. My rummaging around the interwebs has brought me to the conclusion that office 2008 STUDENT edition does not support automation. However the STANDARD and SPECIAL MEDIA editions do.

    Any thoughts on this? I have a large number of documents I’d like to make PDF for my iPad using forScore.

    Dec 22nd, 2010
  5. thanks for responding, Geoff. I downloaded the example workflow, and got a flag which said “The action “Convert Format of Word Documents” could not be loaded because the application “Microsoft Word” is the wrong version. Try upgrading the application to version 14.0 or better”.

    I checked and my version of Word 2008 is 12.2.8. When I try to update, Microsoft tells me I am running the latest version of the software. What gives? Is version 14.0 Word 2011 for Mac?


    Jan 1st, 2011
  6. OK, now I have Word 2011 installed. The wrokflow goes a few steps further (at least I have the ‘convert to pdf’ option available) but no matter what I try, it won’t do the last step. Automator gives me a flag that says conversion failed because document does not exist. However, if I use the same exact workflow to convert a .doc to .docx it all works fine. I have tried this starting with both .doc and .docx documents and it won’t do either one. Any other suggestions?

    Jan 4th, 2011
  7. Like Kris and Pepe, “Documents” does not show up. I have Word for Mac 2008 v. 12.2.8. I suspect the reason is the same for what Kris mentioned about the student version. Is there any way of getting around this without getting a new version of Word?

    Jan 13th, 2011
  8. I am experiencing the same issue as Pepe. Using Office 2011 for the Mac. The workflow always fails with a “document doesn’t exist” message OR a “Word doesn’t understand the save as message (-1708)”

    Jan 15th, 2011
  9. Same issue as Pepe and Steve – using Office for Mac 2011. Tried the steps mentioned here, as well as tried using print word document and selected Adobe as the printer. Either the error pops up OR if the document is created, it will not open in any PDF reader giving a message that the file is corrupted! Using Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro (Mac) + Office 2011 (Mac) + Latest OSX as of today.

    Rahul Nallari
    Feb 22nd, 2011
  10. This is awesome. You’ve saved me so much work. Thanks for documenting this process so well.

    Feb 24th, 2011
  11. Using Latest OSX + Office 2011 (Mac) and getting error code 1728…

    Please help. I see my post is similar to Rahul Nallari’s and others before him. I don’t see a response, so maybe the response is emailed?

    Please help.


    Mar 4th, 2011
    I was about to go out and purchase Word ,however it appears that only an isolated set of software works, as mentioned above.

    Mar 9th, 2011
  13. I actually called applecare and they confirmed that it would work, however you all don’t confirm that.

    Mar 9th, 2011
  14. Me too. The damned thing will convert all my docx’s into HTML (which I don’t need) but I also get the dreaded 1728 error code when I try to convert everything into pdf’s. There is clearly a software glitch. Called applecare and they said they do not support automator. Who does?

    Mar 10th, 2011
  15. actually , I just made a keyboard shortcut for “Export…” in pages, so all I do is hit command x, then “enter” twice and I have a pdf, could not be easier.

    Mar 10th, 2011
  16. Bud,
    Didn’t quite understand what you did, but I have about a thousand docx documents to be converted to pdf’s. Would hate to have to do it one at a time.

    Mar 10th, 2011
  17. well, this involves doing them on at time , however it can be done with a series of keystokes, actually, three, per document taking about 10 seconds. so it would take you thirty minutes to convert 1000 doc. I have the same issue.
    You Mac, under preferences/keyboard/keyboard shortcuts enable you to set a new keystroke command for any menu item. In pages the menu item is ” Export…” under the “file” menu I added a new command. “commandX” for export. then two more enters, and the document is a pdf .

    Mar 11th, 2011
  18. Thanks, Bud. I’ll give it a try.

    Mar 11th, 2011
  19. While I appreciate Bud providing a temporary solution (Thx Bud) I will continue to search for a permanent solution to the automator workflow. Please, if anyone out there knows how to resolve the issue with Office 2011 + automator workflow not turning word documents into pdf’s – leave your comment on this page. All those of us who have tried it so far get a series of error messages (as you can read above). Thanks in advance for your help.

    Mar 24th, 2011
  20. I am now batch converting 20 files at a time with the method described above. Takes only seconds per file, and is intrinsic to the Mac OS . nothing could be more simple and hassle free. I believe injecting an overlay program is unnecessary and obviously filled with pitfalls

    May 19th, 2011
  21. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work with Word 1.X-5.X, which are the files I most need to convert!

    Reina Pennington
    Jul 28th, 2011
  22. What a waste of time!! There’s no ‘Documents’ in the Library. Doesn’t work on Leopard 10.6.8

    Aug 26th, 2011
  23. Help, getting error “the object you are trying to access does not exist (-1728)”.

    Sep 17th, 2011
  24. I don’t have ‘Documents’ in the Library of Automator for Leopard 10.6.8. Can’t use. Is there another way of programming in Leopard? Would love to convert several Emails to PDFs.

    Oct 19th, 2011
  25. Documents is available in the library. Is there an update I can get to fix this?

    Nov 5th, 2011
  26. Running OS 10.6.8 on an iMac. Like several others, “Documents” doesn’t show up in the library. Want to convert Pages docs to PDFs.

    Nov 5th, 2011
  27. Very informative and useful post. You have nice command on the topic and have explained in a very nice way. Thanks for sharing

    Dec 5th, 2011
  28. Did anyone find a solution for Office 2011 and Automator? I just spent 3 hours trying to get it work and just now found out it won’t. I want to pull my hair out.

    Ashley Schandel
    Dec 7th, 2011
  29. My Automator doesn’t have the action “Convert Format of Word Documents” but after a lot searching I found a perfect way to do the same action online. I just uploaded all my Word documents to Google Docs and downloaded them again as PDF.

    It takes about a minute for 50 docs, so I think it’s pretty fast.

    Jan 24th, 2012
  30. this Action doesn’t work here – I get error -1728 in Automator – as above. It gets as far as creating a .pdf file in the folder but the newly created pdf will not open.

    Running: OS X.6.8 / Word 2011 [version 14.0]

    I tried Nico’s Google Docs method above [thx Nico!] – it works – but documents may not be formatted correctly – my files look a bit screwy but they are readable.

    Jan 28th, 2012
  31. I’ve had the same error like others (-1728), than I tried to find an alternative solution that makes the same convertation with batch of files. After massive google search I find this solution :

    Feb 29th, 2012
  32. Hey, Geoff. I note that in Preview (in OSX 10.8), it can open a .docx and can SaveAs a .pdf, thus permitting conversion without even owning a copy of Word.

    However, Preview is not listed in the apps on the left in Automator. Any suggestions for automating this workflow? (like many of the others, I do not have the “Documents” section, prob due to using 2008 Student edition of MS Office)

    Sep 18th, 2012
  33. It does a great job. If you are looking for an image converter , it may be of help.
    Mac Graphic Converter

    Dec 11th, 2012
  34. Hello, do you know any software to convert pdf files with chinese characters into doc files?
    I really appreciate your help.

    Feb 18th, 2013
  35. I was excited to find this workflow, however, in OSX 8.3 (Mountain Lion) there is no ‘documents’ folder, nor is there any option to convert to PDF . . Nor can I find a dedicated app that’ll do what I need. I have hundreds of Word and text files that need to be converted, need to be able to batch convert. Ideas appreciated.

    May 8th, 2013
  36. Tried this on a Mac Pro running OS 10.9.5 and with Word 2011 14.7.3. No joy, I’m afraid – the action ‘Convert Format of Word Documents’ is not present in the list of variables. Trying to use the downloaded workflow results in a message to the effect that, unsurprisingly in view of the previous result, this same action “cannot be located”. Very frustrating.

    Jul 17th, 2017

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