What is a PDF/X file?

A PDF/X file is a variant of the classic PDF file format, specially designed to enable graphics exchange - and meet specific needs for printing and publishing.

  • These files support the use of graphic information such as images, fonts and colour profiles and help ensure that no modifications take place during printing.
  • In order for them to work comprehensively, everything within the file needs to be fully printable - so no videos or 3D images should be included, for example.

PDF/X is commonly used by graphic designers, publishers and printing experts.

What does PDF/X stand for?

The meaning of PDF/X is “portable document format exchange”. Essentially, the PDF/X was made so that a standard document could be accessed, exchanged and printed, regardless of the software that you use.

History of the PDF/X file.

Following on from the creation of the classic PDF file, the PDF/X format was created in the late ‘90s by Adobe co-founder, John Warnock. The overall standard is made up of a number of different versions, all of which are designed to be accessed and opened on most systems and software.

These include:

  • PDF/X-1a
  • PDF/X-3
  • PDF/X-4
  • PDF/X-5

There was a PDF/X-2 version for partial data exchange, but this was discontinued.

Today, PDF/X is commonly used throughout the printing and publishing industries, as it meets various industry-specific demands. For example, it enables people to send and then print large graphic-heavy documents, all contained in a single file.

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What is PDF/X used for?

PDF/X files are primarily designed for printing and publishing. Each version was created with different requirements and features in mind, so they may therefore suit different kinds of projects.

For example:

  • With PDF/X-1a, all fonts must be embedded and the images need to be CMYK or spot colours.
  • PDF/X-3 is less restrictive and can use CMYK, RGB, Lab and ICC-based colour spaces.
  • PDF/X-4 supports transparencies and comprises all the necessary data without the need for flattening.
  • PDF/X-5 includes added support for external graphics and profiles used for rendering intent. It can also be used for partial exchange of printing data.

Advantages of PDF/X files.

  • Optimises prints - The strict requirements of PDF/X can help users create better quality prints by following printing best practice.
  • Multiple versions available - Each version of PDF/X builds upon the previous one, so users have a wide range of file options to choose from. The different versions offer flexibility, better results for specific projects and also enable reliable exchange.
  • Lower chance of errors - You are less likely to face printing errors by following the specific requirements for PDF/X.

The best type of PDF for your project will depend on your specific aims and objectives. If you’re looking to produce high-quality prints, a PDF/X file could be the best choice. However, if you want to enable wide-scale accessibility, PDF/ UA could be the most suitable option.

How to open a PDF/X file.

To open a PDF/X file on Mac or Windows, simply double-click the file to open it. Your software or PDF/X reader - preferably Adobe Acrobat - will then examine the filename extension. If it recognises the file, it will open it for you to view.

How to create and edit a PDF/X file.

You can create a PDF/X file by using Adobe Acrobat. The software has PDF/X-1a support built into Acrobat Distiller, used for PostScript conversion and now merged into the wider tool-set.

If you want to convert an existing PDF document into a PDF/X-1a file, you can do this with Adobe Acrobat Pro. As long as your file complies with the specific requirements, you can save your PDF as a PDF/X by following these simple steps:

  1. Open the file you want to convert to PDF/X in Acrobat
  2. Select Tools > Print Production > Preflight
  3. In the panel that opens, choose which PDF/X variant you want to save your file as
  4. In order to avoid any compatibility issues for the conversion and check that sufficient standards are met, select ‘Analyse and Fix’ - and allow fixes for any identified problems to be enacted
  5. Select a location where you would like to save the file. Click File then Save As and choose Adobe PDF (PDF/X). When asked which PDF/X standard you want to save the file as, pick the correct one and click Save.

Is PDF/X safe?

As a subset of the wider PDF format, PDF/X documents benefit from the same robust security measures as the Portable Document Format at large. This means that they are typically safe to share and exchange with others - contributing to their widespread popularity in the printing and publishing industries.

Learn more about similar file types to PDF/X.


Discover more about PDF/An as a subset of PDF and the role it plays in file archiving.


Learn more about PDFs and how to make the most of one of the most popular and reliable document file formats, used across the globe.


Understand key information about PDF-VT and its role in variable data printing.


Explore the ins and outs of PDF-E, another subset of PDF and its benefits for engineering documents.

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Is PDF/X the same as PDF/A?

No. While PDF/X is designed to ensure that files print to a high standard, PDF/A documents are designed for archiving - and also allow documents to be accessed for longer periods of time.

What is a PDF/X compliant file?

A PDF/X compliant file is a document that follows all of the specific requirements for PDF/X. For example, depending on the variant, all fonts must be embedded and all images should use CMYK, greyscale or spot colours.

Can you print from PDF/X?

Yes. PDF/X files are often used specifically for printing. Indeed, they offer many benefits for people wanting to produce high-quality prints and allow for the seamless exchange of detailed graphical information.

How do I convert PDF/X to PDF?

It’s easy to convert your PDF/X to PDF. Follow these simple steps.

  1. Choose Tools > Print Production > Preflight
  2. In the Preflight dialogue box, choose PDF Standards from the Libraries drop-down list
  3. Click the Profiles tab
  4. Expand a compliance profile and select the profile you want. For example, under PDF/X Compliance, select Convert To PDF
  5. Click Analyse and Fix.
  6. Click Save to convert the file.

You also may be able to save your PDF/X as a PDF simply by clicking File>Save as and then selecting PDF from the drop-down menu.

Which industries can PDF/X benefit?

PDF/X files can be beneficial for all businesses and users that frequently print documents or supply documents to be printed. PDF/X is however especially suited for and most commonly used by the graphic design, printing and advertising industries.