The really simple guide to Automator in OS X on the Mac

Automator is a sort of programming tool that enables you to create utility apps on the Apple Mac, but it does not require any programming knowledge. This guide takes you step by step through your first app.

Automator has been bundled with OS X for several versions now and it is a powerful and flexible tool that can be used for many purposes. It makes programming just about as simple as it can possibly be by providing the building blocks for an app. All you have to do is to choose the blocks and put them in the right order.

Save the result and you have a fully working app that you can use yourself on your Mac or give to others to use on theirs.

It is really clever and some great utilities can be created with it. In this guide we will create an app that enables images to be rotated. Sometimes when you shoot photos you hold the camera or phone vertically instead of horizontally. The images might come out that way when they are transferred to the Mac and they must be rotated through 90 degrees either left or right before they can be viewed. The app here does that for you and it can batch convert dozens of images at a time.

Start Automator and it prompts you to select an Automator app on the disk drive or to create a new document. Click New Document.

Automator on OS X

It then asks you to choose the type of document you want to create. We will create an application becauser that is the simplest

Automator on OS X

The Automator window opens and there are two columns on the left. The first is a list of libraries. Each library contains a collection of actions. Select a library like Calendar for example, and the list of actions that can be performed on the Calendar app are listed.

Select the Photos library in the first column and Rotate Images in the second column. Drag Rotate Images and drop it in the large empty area on the right. A warning appears that the action will change the images passed to it. It offers to add a Copy Finder Items action. Click Add.

Automator on OS X

The app we are creating will rotate images and you should always work on copies of photos and not the originals, so you can always go back to the original and start again. We now have a simple Automator script that can be turned into an app.

Automator on OS X

At the top it says Application receives files and folders as input. What it means is that you can drag files from a Finder window and drop them on the app icon. We want to perform an action on photos, so we could drag photos from Finder and drop them on the app.

Copy Finder Items will copy them to the desktop (several other disk locations are available in that To list if you want to save them elsewhere).

Rotate Images offers Left, Right and 180 degrees in the menu to the left of the thumbnail images.

As it stands, this Automator app would rotate images to the left. What if you want to rotate them to the right? Click Options and tick Show this action when the workflow runs. Apps created with Automator do not show anything on the screen unless your tick this option.

Automator on OS X

It is finished. Go to the File menu and select Save. Name it Rotate and save it to the desktop (it’s convenient to place it there, but it can be moved to the Applications folder if you prefer).

Automator on OS X

Now let’s test it. Open a Finder window, find and select one or a more photos, then click and drag them to the Rotate icon. Drop them on it and you are asked if you want to rotate them left, right or 180 degrees. Select the option you want and click Continue.

Automator on OS X

That’s it. The rotated images are saved to the desktop.

The way it works is that Finder sends the filenames to the app. Copy Finder Items copies the files to the desktop, then passes the names on to the next action, Rotate Images. That rotates each one and saves it.

There are ways to refine this app and make it even better, but this two-action Automator app is functional and useful. It’s fine for a first attempt at creating Automator apps.




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