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Difference Between PDF and PDF/ A


Adobe’s Portable Document Format, more commonly known as PDF, has become the worlds’ most used format for ensuring that a document appears as it should regardless of what computer is used to create or view it. One major use of PDF is in digital book publication where all readers support this format. There is also a different type of PDF known as PDF/A. PDF/A is a subset of PDF that is meant for archiving information. In order to preserve the information in the file and to ensure that the contents will still appear as it should even after a very long time of storage, PDF/A sets stricter standard than those used by PDF.

The first major difference between PDF and PDF/A is the latters’ restriction when it comes to certain types of content. You cannot embed audio, video, and executable files in a PDF/A since the PDF viewer would not be able to open those on its own and there is no telling whether the appropriate software for them would still be available in the future.

Pictures are allowed in a PDF/A document given that they are embedded, along with the fonts to be used in rendering the documents. This ensures that those resources are always available. In general, PDF/A does not allow the file to reference to any external resource as there is no telling whether that resource would be there or not. If the external resource referenced is not found, it can cause the document to not appear appropriately.

Lastly, PDF/A files cannot be encrypted for the very same reasons stated above. Encryption is one way used by companies to prevent any restricted material from being viewed by anyone who doesn’t have permission to. Sadly, the encryption can also be a hindrance to the viewing of an archived document if the person trying to open it doesn’t have the password or the encryption algorithms used.

As the PDF standard evolves, there may be new additions to the capabilities and restrictions in PDF/A as well.


PDF/A is a special type of PDF meant for archiving documents
PDF/A does not allow audio, video, and executable content while PDF does
PDF/A requires that graphics and fonts be embedded into the file while PDF does not
PDF/A does not allow external references while PDF does
PDF/A does not allow encryption while PDF does

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1 Comment

  1. You forgot to mention that many pdf readers can’t read pdf/a. We have a lot of network scanners and did a lot of research on this years ago and this is why we standardized on pdf vs pdf/a for our format to use.

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