Validation: Is it really PDF/A?

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

It is not always easy to tell at first glance whether an existing PDF file actually meets the ISO’s PDF/A standard. Applications such as Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader do use a pale blue banner to indicate when a file claims to be PDF/A compliant, but this is only an indicator and should not be used in place of a full examination to ensure the document meets the PDF/A standard.

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader can indicate whether a document may be PDF/A compliant, but this is not a replacement for a full validation.

To be absolutely certain, you can perform a validation check which examines all relevant parts of a document.

When do I need to validate?

During the typical life cycle of a PDF/A file, there are particular points when it should be checked for complete ISO compliance.

  • After creation: A PDF/A file should be validated immediately after creation, to ensure that the process was carried out successfully.
  • On receipt: If a company receives a PDF/A file (by email, for example, or by other means), validation is advised. After all, it is impossible to know how the PDF/A file was created.
  • Prior to transmission/distribution: When sending a PDF/A file by email or making it available online, validation in advance is recommended.
  • Before archiving: You must validate data before placing it in a digital archive.
  • At the end of certain processes: Certain processing stages which should not adversely affect a PDF/A file under normal circumstances (such as inserting extra pages) may, in rare cases, cause a PDF/A to become invalid. Validation will clarify the situation for you.

If the validation process detects a violation of the PDF/A standard, the file can often be repaired using the appropriate software. If this is not possible, the only other option is to recreate the PDF document from scratch.

Finding the right validation solution

Several validation programs are available on the market. As with PDF/A creation software, you can choose between workstation applications, server-based solutions and modules for workflow systems. PDF/A files can also be validated using programming libraries.

Some PDF/A creation tools can also perform a test after conversion to ensure the result meets the ISO standard. Naturally, these solutions can also validate PDF/A documents delivered from elsewhere.

Adobe Acrobat Pro, already used in many industries, can test almost all PDF ISO standards including the three parts of PDF/A, using its Preflight function.


Acrobat’s Preflight function checks for compliance with PDF standards.

Note regarding process validation: during an automated stage of processing, such as scanning to PDF/A, the process as a whole is validated rather than each individual PDF in the process.

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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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