The myths and legends surrounding PDF/A

PDF/A in a Nutshell 2.0 – PDF for long-term archiving

A number of critics have spoken out against PDF/A, especially when the standard was first introduced. Many criticisms of the format, however, are based on misunderstandings. These are some of the most commonly encountered myths and legends:

  • PDF/A files are too large: PDF/A actually allows exceptionally small file sizes thanks to its sophisticated use of powerful compression algorithms such as JBIG2 and JPEG (and JPEG2000, from PDF/A-2 onwards). Embedded fonts can slightly increase the size of a PDF/A file. When archiving a very large number of individual, fairly similar documents, this can in some cases (such as for mass mailings) prove problematic.
  • PDF/A is not as revision-safe as TIFF: TIFF files are easier to alter than PDF and PDF/A documents. In any case, however, revision safety is not achieved through your choice of file format. It can only be achieved by using an appropriate document management or archiving system.
  • PDF/A does not allow signatures: Quite the opposite. PDF/A expressly supports embedded digital signatures. PDF/A-2 requires PADeS-standard compliance here.
  •  Links are not allowed: This claim is also false. Hyperlinks are allowed in principle. The PDF/A standard sets no requirements as to whether an external link should lead to a valid destination.
  • PDF is a proprietary format: PDF was originally developed by Adobe Systems, but since then PDF (ISO 32000) and PDF/A (ISO 19005) have become ISO standards. TIFF, on the other hand, is a specification belonging to Adobe Systems alone, and it has not achieved the status of ISO standard.
  • Scanned documents cannot be searched by text: PDF/A permits text recognition processes, meaning that even scanned PDF/A documents can be searched.
  • PDF/A is not supported by DMS systems: Any ECM system which works with PDF can also handle PDF/A in principle. Many DMS suppliers offer solutions which support PDF/A.
  • PDF/A does not allow metadata: Not at all: PDF/A specifically requires embedded standardised metadata corresponding to the modern XMP metadata standard, which was published in February 2012 as “ISO 16684-1”. XMP metadata can be directly embedded into the PDF/A document.
  • PDF/A is not globally relevant: This statement is false. Although the very first PDF/A initiatives and products did come from German-speaking countries, the ISO standard has since become a recommendation or even a legal requirement in many countries and industries.
  • PDF/A is expensive to implement: Yes and no. Implementing PDF/A solutions and training staff will incur costs at first, but these investments very often pay for themselves within months.

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About Alexandra Oettler

Alexandra Oettler ist (Co-) Autorin der Bücher PDF/A kompakt und PDF/A kompakt 2.0.

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