With more businesses, libraries, and banks going digital today, electronic documents and their archiving have become increasingly important. Document archiving lets you securely access and retrieve data in years to come. This is where PDF/A comes into play.

Perhaps the spelling of the PDF/A term reminds you of PDF, a widespread file type used in everyday work. But what is PDF/A and how to create a PDF/A file? Read this article to quickly get the answers.

What is PDF/A?

PDF/A is an ISO 19005 standard PDF format for long-term e-document storage. Simply put, PDF/A is a variant of the PDF format. The letter A actually refers to archiving and thus PDF/A is a special version of PDF format for archiving documents. Both formats are denoted by .pdf. What makes the variant different from PDF is the prohibited use of certain PDF elements or features.   

For instance, PDF files can be encrypted, and contain videos as well as audios while PDF/A files can not. That is to make sure the files can be opened and displayed the same as the original after a long time, because the elements and features may be inaccessible and hinder the display of the file in the future.

PDF/A Family

There are four types of PDF/A files. Distinguished by the standards they meet, they are PDF/A-1 (ISO 19005-1), PDF/A-2 (ISO 19005-2), PDF/A-3 (ISO 19005-1-3), and PDF/A-4 (ISO 19005-4). In terms of each standard, PDF/A files can be classified by how much they comply with the requirements.


This format or standard was published in 2005, and has two conformation levels:

PDF/A-1b is the lower conformance level used for maintaining the appearance of documents and rendering PDF documents in the future. It doesn’t guarantee legibility.   

PDF/A-1a is based on but more restrictive than PDF/A-1b. To make files easily accessible to screen readers and those with visual impairments, it includes certain additional requirements for document language, hierarchical structure, etc.


PDF/A-2 defines PDF/A-2a, PDF/A-2b and PDF/A-2u, 3 conformance levels in total. PDF/A-2 files support embedding transparent objects, layers, JPEG 2000 images, and PDF/A attachments, which are forbidden in PDF/A-1 files.


This format or standard is almost the same as PDF/A-2, except that it allows the addition of any types of files (CSV, CAD, Word, spreadsheet, etc) into PDF/A documents. 


Published in 2020, PDF/A-4 complies with the latest ISO standard of PDF and introduces 2 conformance levels of PDF/A-4e and PDF/A-4f instead of using the aforementioned a, b, and u.  

The PDF/A-4e-compliant files can contain annotations, embedded files, and rich media content, making PDF files with 3D drawings appropriate for archiving. PDF/A-4f files can be embedded with files in any format.

Why Use PDF/A?

The archival format is widely accepted by the US Library of Congress, the government, and many industries. Here is a look at several benefits of it.

Long-term Preservation

PDF/A proves to be the format with the broadest acceptance for storing documents today.

When you open files in this particular type of PDF format with any PDF program, the content and layout remain intact even after years .

Operating System Independent

Like PDF, PDF/A is also a platform-independent format so that files in this format can be opened and viewed on any operating system or device using a PDF reader like SwifDoo PDF.

Easy to Convert

As PDF grows in popularity, a ton of PDF converters including SwifDoo PDF converter are developed to convert PDF from and to Word, Excel, CAD, and many other formats. That makes it easy to convert PDF/A, the standardized PDF as well.

You can use SwifDoo PDF to change your archival documents to TXT or other types of files, and employ Adobe Acrobat from the PDF format creator (Adobe Inc.) to turn your regular PDFs into PDF/A documents.

How to Create a PDF/A File

There are several ways to submit your work as PDF/A files as opposed to regular PDFs, which are as follows:

  • Export or print source files created by word processing, page layout, or some other programs, as PDF/A documents.
  • Scan paper documents and save them as PDF/A files by changing the settings of scanners.
  • If you have stored documents in PDF format, converting PDF to PDF/A format is a viable way to create PDF/A But before conversion, make sure the features forbidden by relevant standards are deleted. Or, you can validate the compliance and convert the files with software like Adobe Acrobat.

How to Validate If Your PDF Is PDF/A-Compliant

The validation of PDF/A files aims at identifying whether they conform to PDF/A standards and are suitable for archiving.

If you are super clear about the conformance requirements, visually checking is a straightforward way to validate the files.

If not, there are a number of validation software that can help test and report errors, such as the open-source validator supported by PDF Association, veraPDF. The latest version of veraPDF has been released in Jan 2022 and it covers all parts of the PDF/A standards.

In addition, you can turn to many online validation tools to verify if your documents are PDF/A-compliant.



Charlotte has been in the software industry for 8+ years. She works for AWZWARE now as a passionate writer. She is good at providing simple guides to use various video, office and entertainment software. Charlotte also recommends many other useful tools to make your work and life easier. A food lover too.