What are PDF/A files used for?
PDF/A files are used in the same way as standard PDF files but are a preferred option when documents need to be stored in a future-proof format.
To keep the original format.
The PDF/A format is ideal if you want the original formatting to stay exactly the same for long-term use, as well as remaining easily accessible and uniform across different devices.
For documents that need a digital signature.
PDF/An is a good option when it comes to digitally signed records and documents. The format allows embedded electronic signatures and specifies only minimum requirements for these. This means the records can be digitally signed using future technology as it develops.
Research and scientific papers.
PDF/An is widely used in the academic sector due to its reliability when it comes to displaying special characters used in mathematical formulas as well as old languages, with all of these symbols embedded within the file. Some academic institutions now only accept theses and dissertations in PDF/A format.
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Advantages of PDF/A files.
There are various advantages of PDF/A format files that could make them useful for your next project.
- Global integration. Information can be stored in any language, with the PDF/A format making sure that texts are correctly displayed on any device - including those in Arabic, Japanese and Cyrillic.
- Long-term preservation. The nature of a PDF/A file is to archive digital information for a long period of time. This could be useful in libraries, banks and other archives.
- Ability to reuse content. The specific format of this PDF file means that you can reuse the content easily. These files are also relatively straightforward to convert to Word, HTML and e-Books.
How to open a PDF/A file.
To open a PDF file on your desktop or within an application, just double-click the PDF icon in your file system. Mac users may need to choose File, then Open With, before selecting Acrobat.
To convert a PDF file to a PDF/A format, you will need to remove any features that are not compatible with PDF/A - like audio or video. If you’re using Adobe Acrobat, try using the Preflight function to convert your PDF to PDF/A.
How to create and edit a PDF/A file.
It’s simple to create a PDF/A file from within a word processing software. Just navigate to Print or Save and select PDF/An as your option. You will also need to change your PDF preference settings to PDF/A.
In order to edit a PDF/A file on Adobe Acrobat, follow these steps:
- Open your PDF/A file
- Navigate to the right-hand pane and select Edit PDF
- Use the editing tools to adjust the content. You may decide to add or edit text using the features in the Format list or move or resize images using the Objects list
- Name and Save your file.
The PDF/A format is based on the original PDF 1.4 version and it has two conformance levels for PDFs:
- PDF/A-1a conforms with Level An and meets all requirements in its specification. It allows assistive software to improve accessibility for physically impaired users.
- PDF/A-1b has a lower level of conformance with minimal compliance, focusing on ensuring the visual appearance of the file is preserved long-term.
Released in July 2011 as a new standard called ISO 32001-1, this standard includes all features of PDF versions up to 1.7 as well as new features. Its features include the support of JPEG2000 which is handy for scanned documents and specific requirements for customised XMP metadata.
This PDF/A format includes all of the requirements of Level 2. It also allows the embedding of additional file formats - like XML, CSV and word processing formats - into PDF/A conforming documents.
Learn more about similar file types to PDF/A.
Learn more about the original PDF format and what you may want to use it for.
Find out what makes PDF-E different to other PDF files in this handy guide.
Read all about the PDF-X format and why it’s often the choice for professional printing.
Find out more about this PDF-VT format used for variable data printing.
Discover how the PDF-UA format differs from other PDF file types and how it is more accessible for people who use assistive technology.
Want to learn how it all started for this iconic file format? Check out our timeline of the history of the PDF.