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What is PDF/A?

PDF/A is a version of PDF that has been designed specifically for long term document preservation and archiving. Initially released in 2005 and based on PDF v1.4, the specification’s goal was to create a PDF format that can be reliably rendered on any system when opened with a compliant viewer indefinitely. PDF itself did not meet this criterion because PDF documents can contain elements which are not reliably rendered because annotations, multi-media, document security, and/or referring links. PDF/A was developed to solve these problems.

Advantages of PDF/A over TIFF

The TIFF image format was the first widely used format for digital archiving. TIFF is a raster image format that promises the same guaranteed visual appearance of the document as the original document. However because it is an image format it is missing the ability to include vector content such as shapes, gradients and vector fonts that are available in PDF. Not only does vector content more accurately describe the original document, it is often a smaller document size than raster content, which can be considerable when archiving a large number of documents.

Another advantage that PDF/A has over TIFF is that unicode can be included to ensure document text is searchable and extractable. With TIFF documents, you will need to use a robust OCR engine in order to accurately search and extract text, which is not always 100% accurate.

Lastly, the PDF/A format can accommodate embedded digital signatures and certificates, enabling the ability to verify that the PDF has not been altered from the instance it was certified, which can be important for the legal admissibility of a document.

PDF/A Shortcomings

PDF/A is a more reliable type of PDF that has been accepted as a suitable archive format. That said, there are shortcomings with the format, which we believe has led to a false impression among users regarding the reliability of PDF/A since only the core document is able to be read. Additionally, there are various subversions of PDF/A, PDF/A-1a, PDF/A-1b, PDF/A-2a, PDF/A-2b, PDF/A-2u, PDF/A-3a, PDF/A-3b, and PDF/A-3u, which not all document viewers support.

PDF/A’s Reliability Promise

PDF/A is promoted as a 100% reliable version of PDF. It is said to achieve this by removing features that could display differently on different devices or that can create dynamic, changing content (e.g. JavaScript), external links, and multi-media.

MS Technology’s Solutions Support PDF/A

MS Technology has had a long commitment to supporting the PDF/A file format. From our first viewer , MST Viewer for Desktop, to our current HTML5 Angular eViewer v7, rest assured that the PDF/A format is supported. Additionally our SDKs and MST Batch Converter also support PDF/A enabling you to convert documents to PDF/A for long-term preservation and archiving. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help deliver and create PDF/A documents to your organization, you can contact us to set up a technical meeting to discuss further on our capabilities to meet your requirements.


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