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A thorough understanding of the PDF/A standard is a prerequisite for the creation of PDF/A-compliant documents, and also for displaying them in accordance with the standard. This knowledge alone is however insufficient for optimally configuring PDF/A-related processes. The following article describes how some typical processes can be designed, in order that components that are available on the market today can be used to achieve an optimal cost / benefit relationship.
The creation software must adhere to the dos and donts of PDF/A (including the corrigendum):
(e.g. Acrobat Distiller, 3-Heights PDF Producer, LuraDocument PDF Printer).
A PDF Producer (also known as PDF Creator, PDF Converter etc.) is used to create PDF documents from any Windows application with help of a printer function. MS-Office documents are most commonly converted this way. The conversion of E-Mails, including attachments, is more complex. Alternatively, PDFs can be created directly by means of a Save to PDF function, as is found for example in Microsoft Office 12 products.
PDFs are programmatically created directly out of an application (e.g. web server). Simple dynamic content from a database, in addition to static content, can be introduced into the document using this means.
The conversion of image files into PDF/A-conforming files requires in most cases a simple file transformation. The conversion can however become quite complex if more demanding requirements are present (for example colour management).
Scanning, recognition of characters, and conversion into PDF/A-conforming documents is a special field that requires a high level of expertise (mixed raster content, compression methods).
Split: separating a document into individual pages
Merge: combining several separate files into one complete document
Stamp: applying watermarks, stamping marks, headers and footers, page numbers etc.
Fill Forms: programmatically filling in form fields with dynamic content.
Annotate: applying interactive elements like comments, bookmarks, text marks
Most PDF processing functions do not guarantee PDF/A compliance for output documents, even when the input documents themselves were PDF/A compliant.
The conversion to PDF/A serves in particular the following purposes:
The conversion from PDF to PDF/A is not trivial. It entails, amongst others, the following tasks:
The application of a digital signature to a PDF/A document is the equivalent of an incremental update to the document. The document has to be PDF/A-compliant before it is signed. The original content of the document remains unchanged and the data structure of the digital signature is added at the end of the file. The digital signature itself must also be PDF/A compliant. Several digital signatures can be applied to the document (e.g. authors signature, checkers signature, release signature).
Change to a document after a digital signature has been applied
All changes made to a PDF/A document after it has been digitally signed must also be incremental and PDF/A compliant. Common changes include redaction (removal, changing, and amendment of text, annotations etc.) as well as updating content. Currently there are no PDF/A compliant modification tools that can work with documents that have been digitally signed.
The purpose of validation is to confirm whether or not a PDF document conforms to the ISO standard for PDF/A.
Areas of application:
Validators must be tested and approved by an independent body using a generally accepted test suite.
Most viewing programs are not PDF/A compliant, meaning they do not take into account all of the requirements in the ISO standard with respect to displaying PDF/A files. A PDF/A viewing component should offer the following functionality:
Single, individual PDF/A documents can be archived as they are. When archiving large numbers of similar PDF/A documents (e.g. telecommunications invoices etc.), the situation quite often arises that each document contains the same fonts, logos, or other corporate identification elements, each of which has to be separately saved with every document. The repeated saving of the same common resources (fonts, images) is undesirable and reduces the acceptance of PDF/A.
An enhanced archiving system can resolve this problem by separating the common resources when the PDF/A files are mass archived, and storing just one instance of the resources for all of the files. When a document is retrieved, the common resources are combined with the file again to re-create the PDF/A compliant document.
This process can also be used for digitally signed documents, however the files must already be prepared for the separation of the resources before they are signed.
PDF Tools AG was founded as a spin-off from GLANCE (in the market for PDF tools since 1993). The company offers server-sided and developer tools for creating, processing, converting, and enhancing PDF and PDF/A documents. PDF Tools AG is active internationally with customers in over 60 countries. PDF Tools AG represents Switzerland as a voting member of the ISO Working Group 171 (PDF/A).
Numerous solutions and applications available from PDF Tools AG have been developed to support PDF/A, including: PDF Producer, PDF to PDF/A Converter (including digital signatures), Image to PDF Converter, PDF to Image Converter, PDF Validator, PDF Viewer and PDF Printer.
Note: Translation by Roger Reeves, Reeves & Partner GmbH