Automator - A Useful Tool By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

         Automator - A Useful Tool By Josh Blagden

Automator is a very useful program which comes with OS X. As the name implies, it can be used to automate many routine processes on your Mac. It has little snippets of code, called Actions. By the way, to the user, they’re tiny programs; you don’t actually have to deal with any actual programming, unless you’re ready to dive into AppleScript. You can use this actions to create workflows, which are applications which carry out long and repetitive tasks.

This is what Automator will look like when you start working on a new workflow: 

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 11.20.49 AM

You’ll usually, you’ll either choose “Service”, which will make your program accessible from the menu which results from a right-click, or you’ll choose application, which will make your program able to be activated from wherever you store either it or an alias of the application.

The first Automator workflow I encountered was sent to me by my friend Justin, who has written a few articles for JB Mac Help. The “program” he sent me was one which allowed you to eject pre-specified flash drives and external hard drives from your Mac with a voice command. Here’s a screenshot of it:

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 11.25.17 AM

Of course, like any program, there is a learning curve involved with Automator. It took me a while just to get to where I am now. And even with that, I’m still working out the kinks in one of my PDF combining script, specifically the part which allows me to ask the user(me) where the resulting PDF should be stored. Even without being able to specify where I want to store the resulting document, it’s still rather useful to be able to combine PDFs, especially because frequently when you scan a multi-page document you end up with multiple PDFs or JPEG’s and you're going to have to joined together. At least with automator service, you can quickly and easily join them together. If you would like to have a copy of this Service here’s a link:

By the way, to make this service work, you have to going to a system preferences. From there, go to keyboard and then shortcuts. Then, click on Services. There you should make sure that your Service is showing up and is checked off; that way you can be sure that you’ll be able to use it. Once it's ready to go, all you have to do is I have to do is: 

  1. Select the pages of your PDF by holding down and select clicking on them
  2. Right-click or for those who don’t have right-click enabled, command+click. From the contextual menu which results from right clicking go down to services and click on the name of the service, which in this case is “Combine PDF Pages”.
  3. Next, it will ask you to provide the file path to the folder where you would like the PDF to reside.
  4. Finally, it will ask you to name the finished PDF.


Automator can also be used to automatically rename files. This is particularly useful when you have a lot of photos from a trip. Imagine naming hundreds of photos or even just 20 by hand! Automator can easily take the work out of this task and is really very quick. Even though my workflow only uses two Automator actions, it saves a lot of time and effort. My workflow is set to receive image files in any application. First, it uses the “Get Selected Finder Items” action to incorporate those photos into the workflow and the “Rename Finder Items” action for renaming the photos. Here’s a screenshot of it:

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 2.11.05 PM

If you’d like a copy of it, here’s a link:

By the way, it won’t work in iPhoto. But that’s fine because iPhoto actually has its own photo renaming function which works just as well. In fact, if all of your photos are stored in an iPhoto library, you won’t need my workflow. However, there are two reasons for not keeping them there: 

1. When you want to copy photos to another location, you have to hunt them down in iPhoto instead of being able to get to them through the Finder

2. iPhoto has a weird way of organizing photos in its hidden folders within the Finder.

If only iPhoto could either keep the photos in a normal place in the Finder or use a simpler filing method.

If you have any questions, feel free to head over to the section entitled “Contact Us”.

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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