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There are several resources on the web explaining how one can split a PDF into many files with on page per file.

But how can you split them into chunks of, say, five pages each? I have looked into the standard tools such as pdftk but could not find an option doing what I want.

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

pdftk is able to cut out a fixed set of pages efficiently. With a bit of scripting glue, this does what I want:

number=$(pdfinfo -- "$file" 2> /dev/null | awk '$1 == "Pages:" {print $2}')
count=$((number / pagesper))

while [ "$count" -gt "$counter" ]; do 
  start=$((counter*pagesper + 1));
  end=$((start + pagesper - 1));

  counterstring=$(printf %04d "$counter")
  pdftk "$file" cat "${start}-${end}" output "${filename}_${counterstring}.pdf"

  counter=$((counter + 1))

This assumes that you have the number of pages per chunk in $pagesper and the filename of the source PDF in $file.

If you have acroread installed, you can also use

acroread -size a4 -start "$start" -end "$end" -pairs "$file" "${filename}_${counterstring}.ps"

acroread offers the option -toPostScript which may be useful.

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See also pdfseparate and pdfunite from poppler-utils. pdfseparate breaks the file into one file per page which makes it relatively easy to reassemble at will later on with pdfunite, manually or (semi-)automatically.

Like with zsh:

autoload zargs
setopt extendedglob

reunite() pdfunite "$@" file-$1-$argv[-1].pdf

pdfseparate file.pdf p%d
zargs -n 5 p<->(n) -- reunite
rm -f p<->

would split file.pdf into file-p1-p5.pdf, file-p6-p10.pdf...

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Nice. It creates lots of temporary files, though. –  Raphael Mar 6 '13 at 6:46
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I find Python with the PyPdf library convenient for those jobs that pdftk doesn't do conveniently (or at all).

#!/usr/bin/env python
import sys
from pyPdf import PdfFileWriter, PdfFileReader

# Command line parsing
if len(sys.argv) < 2 or sys.argv[1][-4:] != '.pdf':
    sys.stderr.write('Usage: ' + sys.argv[0] + '''FILE.pdf N
Split FILE.pdf into chunks of N pages each.''')
pages_per_file = int(sys.argv[2])

base_name = sys.argv[1][:-4] + '-'
input_pdf = PdfFileReader(open(sys.argv[1]))
output_pdf = PdfFileWriter()
def flush():
    output_file = open(base_name + str(i / pages_per_file + 1) + '.pdf', "wb")
    output_pdf = PdfFileWriter()
for i in xrange(input_pdf.getNumPages(input_pdf)):
    if (i + 1) % pages_per_file == 0: flush()
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