What is a PDF/A? When to use them and how to create one

You could be forgiven for thinking that your digital files are invulnerable and safe for all eternity, backed up and stored safely in the cloud away from peril. Sadly that’s not quite true, and with the changing digital environment, your documents can be rendered next to useless – particularly concerning if they pertain to legal matters or long-standing business agreements. Fortunately there is a way to preserve your documents for the future, in the form of the PDF/A format.
Business people reviewing financial data on digital tablet

In the almost quarter-century since its inception, the Portable Document Format, better known as PDF, has revolutionised the way that people create, store, share and edit digital information. By preserving the layout, fonts, graphics and features of the original document from device to device, it has made sharing documents particularly user-friendly and intuitive.  But what if you were no longer able to access your old documents due to technological advances and format changes?

For both home and business users, the possibility of this occurring, and you losing access to vital information is a very real one. While physical documents generally last until the paper they are printed on degrades, slight technical changes in the future, such as the obsolescence of a particular option or format, could render digital files unreadable. This is because not all PDF files are completely standalone, and options made at the point of creation – such as encryption and font-linking (features which depend on factors outside that single file) – make a document vulnerable to future change and potentially unsafe for use as an ‘archival copy’.

Fortunately there is a solution to this problem – PDF/A.


What is a PDF/A?

    PDF/A is a specific format within the wider PDF family which was created specifically to preserve digital documents for future use. In short, it is intended to allow the original document to be displayed in the same way many years in the future, using a variety of software tools that may be available at that time. So what makes it different from a regular PDF file?

    • PDF/A files are entirely self-contained – when they are opened they are independent of any other settings or software, and all information needed (ie fonts, colours, images) to ensure correct display is contained within the file itself.
    • All fonts are embedded – this is important as otherwise fonts used in the document might not be available at a time of future reading. For this reason, fonts used in PDF/A files must be licensed for unlimited and indefinite use
    • Encryption is not allowed
    • No links to external documents or websites, as these are unlikely to be available in the same location in future
    • Image compression is restricted to ensure compatibility


    When should I use a PDF/A?

      You should use the PDF/A format whenever you need to create, store or share a document that needs to be preserved for many years to come. For example, business contracts and agreements, terms and conditions, court documents, and important documents of historical interest or note. At a personal level, this might extend to such things as family photo albums, other mementos, and legal documents.


      How to create a PDF/A document with Power PDF

        While some of this might sound a little complicated, it is in fact entirely simple, particularly when you use Nuance’s Power PDF. Just follow these few steps to create a PDF/A document using the software:

        1. Begin by opening the ‘PDF Create Assistant’. You can do this by clicking on the Windows start menu (or Mac equivalent), and then All Programs. Locate the Nuance Power PDF program folder and then click ‘create assistant’.

        2. In the window that opens, click the ‘profiles’ button.

        3. Click on the drop-down menu that appears next to the words ‘compatible with’, and select the PDF/A option available. To the left of this, select the quality you desire for the document.

        4. Click ‘Ok’ to finalise. The resulting file will conform to the PDF/A-1B standard.

        Try Nuance Power PDF for free today to start making PDF/A files that will stand the test of time.


        Create a PDF/A the easy way today

        Nuance’s Power PDF makes it easy to create a PDF/A file which will be future-proof. Try a free trial today.

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