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What is a PDF/A, and Why Should You Care?

By Higher Information Group on November 23, 2022 | Document Solutions

There are some industries, such as government, healthcare, and banking, where documents need to be stored for decades. PDF/A (Portable Document Format Archival) is excellent for preserving these files. (Good riddance to printing and storing physical copies of documents!)

You might be asking: What is PDF/A? Well, it’s a special kind of PDF that ensures the visual appearance of a document remains the same, regardless of what hard- or software is used.

All the information needed to display the document and its elements (think fonts, images, color information) is embedded in the file. This means the documents will remain readable even if the hard- or software used to access the documents changes.

You might be wondering how a PDF/A is different from a PDF. Good question! Let’s break it down.

How PDF/A is different from PDF

  • PDF/A is meant for preserving documents that can be restored when needed. A PDF can’t preserve documents.
  • PDF/A does not allow audio, video, and executable content, while PDF does.
  • PDF/A requires that graphics and fonts be embedded into the file, while PDF does not. This ensures that a user of a PDF/A does not need the same fonts that were used to create the original file installed on their computer to read the file.
  • PDF/A does not allow external content references, while PDF does.
  • PDF/A does not allow encryption, while PDF does.

After reading this list, you might be thinking: Geez, what’s a PDF/A good for? It turns out it’s good for a lot.

The benefits of PDF/A

  • Archiving: As previously mentioned, PDF/A’s main draw is the long-term storage of digital information. This is especially useful for certain industries, such as banking and insurance.
  • Perfect conversion: PDF/A is ISO-standardized in contrast to a PDF. It must meet certain requirements so that years from now, the look of the original file remains the same. This is especially important should a legal dispute arise. You can be confident that you can rely on PDF/A documents and that they have not been altered.
  • Searchable: You can search PDF/A documents, saving you time and money.
  • Legally binding: PDF/A is a great option for digitally signed documents and records. Digital signatures recorded in the PDF/A file can be enforceable by law.
  • Reusable: PDF/A makes it easy to reuse content. The files can be easily converted to Word, HTML, or eBook formats.

Using this document preservation tool will keep your documents safe, accessible, and easy to search. The format can also be used for scanned documents.

If your organization needs help making documents PDF/A compliant, our document conversion team can help.

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