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2020: the year in PDF

PDF Association staff // December 30, 2020


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27 years after Adobe shipped the first PDF viewer the portable document format has replaced paper as the final format document media of choice.

For many organizations 2020 - the year of COVID-19 - has become an “acid test” for digital transformation strategies, and has prompted many organizations to accelerate their digitization projects, a trend we expect to see continue in 2021.

Driven, in part, by the dramatic increase in remote working due to the pandemic, 2020 saw a new high-point for PDF’s mindshare worldwide; a new “peak PDF” in April, 2020 (Google Trends).

PDF in Google Trends, end of 2020.

The trend is visible in other ways; even as PDF grows, the scanner industry is shrinking; already one major manufacturer is leaving the marketplace citing downturns in demand, and others have made similar statements.

As 2020 began we noticed that PDF had finally made its first appearance in a New Yorker cartoon. In February the PDF Association added its Hall of Fame to recognize it’s leading event sponsors over time and announced Adobe’s Standards Support Endowment to enable the PDF Association to take over management of the PDF standards development process itself. 

The arrival of COVID-19 in Q1 disrupted everyone’s year and the PDF industry was no exception, with the PDF Association forced to cancel its traditional “PDF Days” in-person event, as well as numerous other appearances at events around the world. As we dealt with this crisis we did manage to collaborate with the Library of Congress and the US National Archives and Records Administration on a blog post in which both agencies agreed that “PDF is here to stay”.

As the pandemic took hold a new draft of ISO 32000 was posted. Peter Wyatt explained the ISO pipeline for PDF standards and reminded us of the value of PDF in the work from home (WFH) context, while Board Member Dietrich von Seggern discussed the role of PDF in producing magazines for mobile devices. In his capacity as the PDF Association’s Principal Investigator supporting DARPA’s SafeDocs research, Peter also provided an update on that program’s activities and accomplishments.   

In April the PDF Association announced that it had taken over administrative responsibilities for the majority of PDF standards development and published PDF in Manufacturing, it’s first collaboration with our liaison member, the 3D PDF Consortium. In May we announced our virtual OctoberPDFest as a replacement for our customary in-person event in 2020, while in June we announced the Board of Directors for the next two years, with new members joining from Datalogics and Orpalis.

Following requests by its members the PDF Association launched several new members-only Working Groups, including the Accessibility Service Bureau WG (chaired by AbleDocs’s Patrick Scouten and Commonlook’s Paul Rayius), the PDF Reuse TWG (chaired by Adobe’s Matthew Hardy), the Digital Signatures TWG (chaired by Bernd Wild of intarsys) and the PDF Forms WG (chaired by Adobe’s Leonard Rosenthol).

In July we noted Google’s announcement that their Chrome browser, the popular browser worldwide, would begin to support creation of tagged PDF. For our members we overhauled our website’s membership interface and launched new members-only benefits.

In September we announced the “issue tracker” corpus, a new resource developed by DARPA’s SafeDocs program. In November, we followed up by announcing a dramatic expansion of this resource. There will be more news from the SafeDocs program early in 2021!

Also in September the PDF/UA TWG updated its PDF/UA Reference Suite to provide up-to-date guidance to authors and accessibility remediators. We found PDF in the news once again with the US Presidential campaign drama regarding Hunter Biden’s “email”.

In October the PDF Association’s live webinar event featuring member presentations - OctoberPDFest Online - took place over four weeks with 31 webinars and over 2200 registrations resulting in 1238 attendees. Recordings of all OctoberPDFest presentations are now available for public viewing.

At the end of November the PDF Association announced its new “Solution Agent”, a unique resource to help PDF technology users find vendors who can meet their needs.

December 2020 brought the best news of all; ISO’s publication of the latest edition of ISO 32000-2 (PDF 2.0). This update to the 2017 publication is a must-have for all PDF developers, and serves as the basis for the latest generation of PDF subset specifications, including PDF/X-6, PDF/A-4 and more.  

Like you, we at the PDF Association are delighted that 2020 is over, and we wish you all the best for 2021. Engagement from members has never been stronger, and we expect the various existing and new working groups to deliver on multiple projects serving the PDF technology community in the year ahead. In 2021 we’ll continue to increase the value we deliver to our members and to all users of PDF technology.



PDF Association staff

The staff of the PDF Association are dedicated to delivering the information, services and value members have come to expect. Staff members of the PDF Association include: Alexandra Oettler (Editor), Betsy Fanning (Standards Director), Duff Johnson (Chief Executive Officer), Matthias Wagner (CFO & Operations Director), Peter Wyatt (Chief Technology Officer), Thomas Zellmann (PDF Evangelist).  


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PDF Association staff

The staff of the PDF Association are dedicated to delivering the information, services and value members have come to expect. Staff … Read more