Using PDF/A for long term access to digital publications


What is PDF/A?

PDF/A is an ISO standard file format for long term preservation of content based on the Portable Document Format (PDF). Although the PDF format is widely used, PDF files may contain elements that will render their contents less accessible over time. For example, PDF files may contain embedded fonts or multimedia content that rely on external components to operate. Such components may become obsolete or unsupported over time, resulting in a loss of information within a file. For this reason the PDF/A standard was developed. The PDF/A format includes certain file features and excludes others in order to preserve as much as possible the appearance and readability of the file contents over the long term and independently of the platform. The files are self-contained, as opposed to PDF files. This means that the file does not rely on external components in order to be read. Fonts are directly embedded in the file, and embedded media files and links are not permitted. Encryption and compression are also not allowed in PDF/A. The PDF/A format is self-documenting, which means that the metadata related to the content of the file can be saved within it. Information such as the author name, title and keywords can be saved with the file to ensure future access.

From a photo by David Orban

From a photo by David Orban

PDF, PDF/A and e-artexte

PDF and PDF/A are the recommended file formats for textual materials in e-artexte. We encourage members to convert their publications to PDF/A, as it will help to maintain access to their documents over time. However, we recognize that converting files to PDF/A can sometimes be complicated depending on the features of the original document, and so we are also happy to accept PDF or other file formats. If you have large PDF files for deposit in e-artexte, it is a good idea to compress these documents to a smaller file size that is appropriate for web viewing. More information about optimizing PDF files can be found in the following tutorial: How to Optimize your PDF file.

Creating PDF/A files

Below is some information that describes how to generate PDF/A files from a variety of other file formats.

Save as PDF/A in Adobe Acrobat

Using Adobe Acrobat 7 or later, you can save your files directly in PDF/A format using the File > Save As menu.

MS Office 2007 and 2010 to PDF/A

If you use MS Office 2007 for Windows, then you can install the Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS Add-in. Once this Add-in is installed, you can open your document in Word, go to File > Save As and choose the PDF or XPS option. Then in the PDF options you can select ISO-19005-1 compliant (PDF/A) and click Publish. In MS Office 2010 for Windows the ability to save as PDF/A is built in. Follow the same directions as for MS Office 2007.

MS Office 2008 and 2011 to PDF/A

In MS Office 2008 and 2011 for Mac, you can use the File > Save As menu to save in PDF format. Once you have a PDF file you can convert it to PDF/A using Adobe Acrobat.

Open Office / Libre Office to PDF/A

If you use an earlier version of MS Office or another word processing software that does not support PDF/A, you may be able to open your files in Open Office or Libre Office, open source office suites which include the ability to export files as PDF/A.

More Information

Alexandra Oettler, PDF/A in a nutshell 2.0 – online edition, PDF Association, February 7, 2013.

PDF/A-1, PDF for Long-term Preservation, Use of PDF 1.4, Sustainability of Digital Formats, Library of Congress.

PDF as a standard for Archiving, White Paper, Adobe.


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