The PDF format provides the ability to create portable collections, more commonly known as PDF portfolios. Portable collections were introduced by the ISO committee as part of the PDF 1.7 specification (and expanded in PDF 2.0) and can contain multiple files integrated into a single PDF. Although “portable collection” is the name defined in the specification, for convenience we’ll be using “PDF portfolio” for the rest of this article.
This feature offers similar functionality to combining files into a single PDF but differs in one major respect. Simply combining files means that all the files will be converted to PDF, whereas creating a PDF portfolio preserves the files in their original file format and you can edit or modify them in their native application without removing them from the portfolio. It should be noted that if the portfolio is signed with a digital signature, then edits to documents will break the signature since it covers the whole PDF including the PDF portfolio and its files.
PDF includes features such as "embedded file streams" (PDF 1.3) and "associated files" (PDF/A-3 and PDF 2.0) which allow the containment and characterization of arbitrary content (such as files commonly found in email attachments) within the PDF file. As noted in this article from the PDF Association, the PDF standard includes embedded-file, metadata, navigation, data-protection and accessibility/reuse features in an ISO-standardized, vendor-independent specification. In a similar way that PDF documents can be a container for other types of data, PDF portfolios themselves are also a data container format that enable you to collect many different file types together in a single file.
There are many business use cases and applications where PDF portfolios could be ideal. For example, loan application requests where there are forms to fill out and read-only disclosures, or packets for new employees containing information such as health insurance forms and company policy documents in different formats.
They can also be used for non-business applications too, such as art students who need to submit a portfolio for college. Using a PDF portfolio, they can easily incorporate original images, photographs and videos into a single file without needing to worry about compression artifacts affecting the perception of their work, since unlike a combined PDF where all files are converted to PDF, files contained within the PDF portfolio remain untouched and easily viewed with a supported application.
PDF portfolios offer a number of benefits, depending on your use case. For example, imagine you run a construction company that is building a house. There might be various documents relating to the project, such as CAD drawings, pictures, Word documents such as .doc and .docx files, .xls and .xlsx spreadsheets for the budget etc. All these files could be neatly packaged into a PDF portfolio for convenience, so everything relating to the project can be shared easily with anyone that needs it.
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