Adobe Acrobat White Paper
• Device-independent—PDF/A requires device-independent components, such as speciﬁc RGB or CMYK color
proﬁles, so that the static visual appearance can be reliably and consistently rendered and printed without
regard to the hardware or so晴ware platform used.
• Two levels of compliance—周e lowest level of compliance, PDF/A-1b, meets all the core requirements,
ensuring reliable reproduction of the visual appearance of a document. 周is speciﬁcation is o晴en applied to
scanned images and preexisting PDF ﬁles that are converted to PDF/A. 周e higher level, PDF/A-1a, requires
document structure called tags, which provides an underlying structure for the content within the document
and facilitates searching, repurposing of content, and accessibility for people with disabilities such as
blindness. 周is higher level speciﬁcation is typically applied to “digitally born” documents captured directly
from applications like Microso晴 Word, which create document structure during the authoring process.
• Unfe瑴ered—PDF/A prohibits encryption. 周is means that a compliant PDF/A ﬁle must be open and available
to anyone or any so晴ware that processes the ﬁle. User IDs and passwords cannot be embedded. Access
control is typically managed outside the ﬁle format by a content or records management system.
Comparing PDF/A to other PDF standards
PDF/A is uniquely designed to support long-term archiving, but what about other stages of the content
lifecycle? This chart summarizes each of the standards based on PDF. Because the complete PDF specification
is now a formal, open standard (ISO 32000), it is possible to use a wide range of PDF types and still be
confident that your approach is standards-based.
The umbrella standard
Conventional PDF for a
broad range of uses
PDF is a formal, open standard maintained by the ISO. ISO 32000 contains
the complete PDF specification and supersedes the 1.7 edition of the Adobe
PDF Reference. This standard will become the foundation for all future
generations of derivative standards. The next generation of PDF/A, for
instance, will build on ISO 32000 to enhance the definition of PDF files used
for long-term archiving.
Provides specifications for the creation, viewing, and printing of digital
documents used for long-term preservation. PDF/A preserves and protects
final documents of record as self-contained files. It does not allow
references to external content because those items might not exist in years
to come. PDF/A-1 is based on PDF v1.4. PDF/A-2 is under development.
ETSI TS 102
PDF digital signatures in
the European Union
Anyone who needs
signatures to enable
Provides a standard that facilitates secure, paperless business transactions
throughout Europe, in conformance with European legislation. Maintained
by ETSI, this standard builds on the ISO 32000 standard to define a series of
profiles for advanced electronic signatures that comply with European
Provides specifications for the creation, viewing, and printing of documents
used in engineering workflows. PDF/E facilitates the exchange of
documentation and drawings to share with others in the supply chain or
streamline review and markup. It specifies PDF settings suitable for building,
manufacturing, and geospatial workflows and supports interactive media,
including animation and 3D. PDF/E-1 is based on PDF v1.6.
Provides specifications for the creation, viewing, and printing of final
print-ready or press-ready pages. PDF/X provides guidelines for PDF settings
affecting critical aspects of printing, such as color space and trapping. It also
restricts other content, such as embedded multimedia, that does not directly
serve high-quality print production output.
Healthcare providers and
Provides best practice and implementation guidelines to facilitate the
capture, exchange, preservation, and protection of healthcare information.
Following these guidelines provides a secure electronic container that can
store and transmit health information, including personal documents, XML
data, DICOM images and data, clinical notes, lab reports, electronic forms,
scanned images, photographs, digital x-rays, and ECGs.
Focus on digital
Live digital signatures can
be included in a PDF/A
ﬁle as long as they are
applied a晴er the PDF/A
ﬁle has been created. To
make sure that the ﬁle
remains compliant with
the standard, apply the
signature using so晴ware
that is PDF/A-aware, such
as Adobe Acrobat or
Adobe LiveCycle ES.
standards bodies have
done extensive work to
advance the legal accep-
tance of digital signa-
tures. For instance, the
U.S. Courts, U.S. Army,
and Belgian government
have been among the
leaders in deﬁning poli-
cies and adopting digital
signatures. 周e European
Standards Institute (ETSI)
has also developed
related to electronic
signatures, including PDF
for Advanced Electronic
have found ways to build
eﬀective processes that
include digital signatures.
Some of them create
PDF/A ﬁles ﬁrst, and then
apply certifying signa-
tures and route the ﬁles
for further processing.
Other organizations use
conventional PDF ﬁles
with digital signatures
earlier in the content life-
cycle and then convert
to PDF/A for archive.
周e la瑴er scenario is
supported by Adobe
LiveCycle ES, which sets
up an automated process
to capture metadata
about the signature at
the time of archiving
and then embeds it in
the PDF/A ﬁle. LiveCycle
ES also preserves the
signature’s appearance at
the time of archiving.