Written by Ben Noebels

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Have you ever seen a PDF/A option when scanning a large format document and wondered what it means? PDF files now come in many flavors: PDF/A, PDF/E, PDF/X, PDF/VT and more. At least eight types of PDF files exist, each with its own standards and purposes. In this short article, we are going to review PDF/A.

Regular PDF is a standard for encoding documents in an “as printed” form that is portable between systems and does not concern itself with archiving. PDF/A was developed for archiving information.

Most new wide format printers now support PDF/A scanning, which designates that the file is meant for long term electronic storage and print repeatability. PDF/A is not as open as regular PDF because of the need to keep the information/content unchanged and 100% self-contained.

All the instructions and information needed to correctly use the file is embedded in the file. Thus, features such as font linking, encryption, audio and video are not possible because it could adversely impact opening, viewing and printing the file accurately tomorrow or years from now. It does this by identifying a profile for electronic documents that ensures the documents can be printed exactly the same way year after year.

PDF/A is not limited to AEC documents. Many office copies also provide PDF/A scanning. One application for PDF/A is archiving emails. As you can imagine this is a very difficult task to achieve due to the massive number of different file formats that a company has to deal with. You start off with the email itself and quickly realize all the various attachments (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) need to be included as well.

Because PDF/A is archiving the email and associated files, the PDF/A viewer must be available for use during the time the emails are stored.

If you are curious and want more information on PDF/A I recommend checking out the PDFA.org.

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