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Difference Between PDF/A and PDF/X


PDF, or the Portable Document Format, has gained widespread acceptance due to its ability to render documents correctly regardless of the platform that it was made or viewed on. Because of its popularity, other variants of it were created that were meant to handle specific areas; two of these are the PDF/A and PDF/X. The main difference between PDF/A and PDF/X is what they handle. The former handles files that are meant to be stored for a long time or archived while the latter handles the exchange of graphics or images.

Each of the two has various nuances that optimize the file type for their intended use. With PDF/A it is possible that certain links and fonts may no longer be able in the future when the file is opened. Referencing those resources within a PDF/A file will probably result in broken links and cause the file to not render correctly. Because of this, PDF/A files require that all resources be embedded within the file itself and not just referenced. Although this might increase the file unnecessarily, especially if large images are included, it ensures that the document would always be rendered correctly even if it is opened decades later.

With PDF/X, the focus is shifted from making sure that the resources are available to ensuring that the image, especially the colors, is correctly represented from one machine to another. Because of this, PDF/X creates restrictions on what color pallets can be used for the images; and even then, each image within the document needs to have a declaration on the specific pallet used. PDF/X also requires that the document state what version of PDF/X it is using. Lastly, PDF/X does not allow active content that may interfere with the image. This includes signatures, comments, embedded media like video and audio.

To end with, PDF/A and PDF/X are two specialized sub-versions of PDF for special tasks. Each has its own niche so there is really no reason to confuse one for the other. And unless you are using the files for the purposes stated here, there is probably no need to use either type as the basic PDF file would probably be good enough for most tasks.


1.PDF/A and PDF/X are subsets of PDF
2.PDF/A is optimized for archiving while PDF/X is optimized for imaging

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1 Comment

  1. I accidentally voted 3-strars but this is the best article I found but would add that PDF/E would be for like Architect’s or Engineer’s when saving plans in Color.

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