PDF/A: PDF Designed for Archival
ISO 19005-1:2005 is an ISO Standard that was published on
October 1, 2005:
Document Management - Electronic document file format for long
term preservation - Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1)
This standard defines a format (PDF/A) for the long-term
archiving of electronic documents and is based on the PDF
Reference Version 1.4 from Adobe Systems Inc. (implemented in
Adobe Acrobat 5).
PDF/A is in fact a subset of PDF, leaving out PDF features not
suited to long-term archiving. This is similar to the definition
of the PDF/X subset for the printing and graphic arts.
In addition, the standard places requirements on software
products that read PDF/A files. A "conforming reader" must
follow certain rules including following color management
guidelines, using embedded fonts for rendering, and making
annotation content available to users.
The Standard does not define an archiving strategy or the goals
of an archiving system. It identifies a "profile" for electronic
documents that ensures the documents can be reproduced the exact
same way in years to come. A key element to this reproducibility
is the requirement for PDF/A documents to be 100 %
self-contained. All of the information necessary for displaying
the document in the same manner every time is embedded in the
file. This includes, but is not limited to, all content (text,
raster images and vector graphics), fonts, and color
information. A PDF/A document is not permitted to be reliant on
information from external sources (e.g. font programs and
Other key elements to PDF/A compatibility include:
and video content are forbidden.
fonts must be embedded and also must be legally embeddable for
unlimited, universal rendering. This also applies to the
so-called PostScript standard fonts such as Times or Helvetica.
Colorspaces specified in a device-independent manner.
Encryption is disallowed.
of standards-based metadata is mandated.
Conformance levels and versions
The standard specifies two levels of compliance for PDF files:
PDF/A-1a - Level A compliance in Part 1
PDF/A-1b - Level B compliance in Part 1
PDF/A-1b has the objective of ensuring reliable reproduction of
the visual appearance of the document. PDF/A-1a includes all the
requirements of PDF/A-1b and additionally requires that document
structure be included (also known as being "tagged"), with the
objective of ensuring that document content can be searched and
A new version "PDF/A-2" is currently being worked on. It is
expected to be based on the PDF Reference Version 1.6.
PDF/A document can be identified as such through PDF/A-specific
metadata located in the "http://www.aiim.org/pdfa/ns/id/"
namespace. However, claiming to be PDF/A and being so are not
necessarily the same
document can be PDF/A-compliant, except for its lack of PDF/A
metadata. This may happen for instance with documents that were
generated before the definition of the PDF/A standard, by
authors aware of features that present long-term preservation
A PDF document can be identified as PDF/A, but may incorrectly
contain PDF features not allowed in PDF/A; hence, documents
which claim to be PDF/A-compliant should be tested for PDF/A
As a PDF/A document must embed all fonts that it uses, a
PDF/A file will often be bigger than an equivalent PDF file that
does not have the fonts embedded. This may be undesirable when
archiving large numbers of small files that all use the same
fonts, since a separate copy of each font will be embedded in
The majority of PDF generation tools that allow for PDF/A
document compliance, such as the PDF export tool in Microsoft
Office 2007 suites, will also make any transparent images in a
given document non-transparent.
PDF/A was originally a new joint activity between NPES - The
Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting
Technologies, and the Association for Information and Image
Management, International (AIIM International) to develop an
International standard that defines the use of the Portable
Document Format (PDF) for archiving and preserving documents.
The goal was to address the growing need to electronically
archive documents in a way that will ensure preservation of
their contents over an extended period of time, and will further
ensure that those documents will be able to be retrieved and
rendered with a consistent and predictable result in the future.
This need exists in a growing number of international government
and industry segments, including legal systems, libraries,
newspapers, regulated industries, and others.
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