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PDF/A Basics

This post provides users with a quick overview of PDF/A explaining what it is, why it should be used, what is important about it and how to create PDF/A files.
About the author: Thomas Zellmann has been working in electronic data processing (EDP) for more than 30 years and has extensive experience with classic and modern IT solutions. Prior to joining LuraTech/Foxit in 2001 he worked … Read more

This post is intended to give users a quick and concise overview.

What is PDF/A?

The A stands for archiving and thus PDF/A is the standard for long-term archiving, which guarantees a unique representation of digital PDF documents in an unknown future. The basic principle for achieving this goal is that the PDF/A file must contain all the elements necessary to correctly display the document. A simple example: the fonts must be embedded.

Why should you use PDF/A?

IT is extremely fast-moving - just think back 20 years. In contrast, documents need to be stored securely and for a long time. Retention periods vary from one industry to another, for example, in the healthcare 30 years is common, for banks 50 years, and for insurance companies 80 years.

This is a challenge for documents, which are often only available in digital form!

The motivation for PDF/A can be easily understood using the example of Airbus.

As early as 2000, Airbus had a requirement that aircraft design plans must be available for 99 years. At that time, a working group examined the options and quickly came to the conclusion that PDF is a very good document format, but that it offers too many functions for the objective of long-term archiving.

The result at that time was "minimal PDF" and this was also the basic idea for PDF/A.

What is PDF/A important for?

For all important documents in your organization that require a long life span and where it is critical that they are displayed clearly and correctly in the future.

How to create PDF/A?

For single documents many applications allow you to set a s "PDF/A" option in the  "Save as" dialog in common office applications. Many PDF editors offer a conversion function to convert conventional PDF files into PDF/A.

In the mass processing of documents, a distinction can be made between scanned documents and digital documents. In the digital mailroom of many companies, incoming paper mail is usually digitized. Another use case is the digitization of file inventories. Here, tools help to convert the scanned documents to PDF/A immediately.

In the digital area, organizations should ideally create PDF/A files with the appropriate tools when generating their PDF documents at the outset instead of converting from existing PDF files.

For incoming documents or e-mails, there are rendition services that convert these documents to PDF/A.

Learn more

The members of the PDF Association offer many solutions for PDF/A which can be found in the product index. You can also specify your requirements via the Solution Agent and then receive individual suggestions from the members.

More information about PDF/A, the ISO standard for archive-grade PDF.

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