Understanding the PDF/A Format

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 18, 2015)


Roy knows that in Word he can save a file to PDF format. He recently was informed at a Federal Court that he had to save his documents in "PDF-a" format. Roy hasn't heard of the "PDF-a" format prior to this encounter, so he wonders if Word can save documents in "PDF-a" format and how the format is different from the regular PDF format.

Most everyone is familiar with the standard PDF file format. The PDF-a format (sometimes noted as PDF-A or, more commonly, as PDF/A) is a variation that is optimized for long-term storage of the documents. Essentially, the format has everything embedded in it, rather than allowing internal links to external information. In addition, some objects aren't even allowed in a PDF/A document at all. They cannot contain the following:

  • Audio or video content
  • JavaScript or executable files (or links to external executable files)
  • Encryption of any type
  • Embedded files, such as other PDF files
  • Transparent objects (graphics) and layers

The purpose to these limitations is to make sure that the PDF/A file contains everything within itself that is necessary to fully display the file contents at any future date, regardless of how the technology may change. Further information about the PDF/A standard can be found in a variety of places, including Wikipedia:


The definitive place for information on PDF/A can be found at the PDF/A Competence Center:


By default, Word saves documents in regular PDF format. If you want to force Word to save in PDF/A format, you can follow these steps:

  1. Press F12 to display the Save As dialog box.
  2. Click on the down arrow next to the Save As Type drop-down list and choose PDF as your file type.
  3. Click on the Options button. Word displays the Options dialog box.
  4. Make sure the ISO 19005-1 compliant (PDF/A) check box is selected.
  5. Click OK to close the Options dialog box.
  6. Enter a name for the PDF/A file in the File Name box.
  7. Click Save.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (10728) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is five more than 3?

2016-03-14 18:14:54


Excellent information on how to use Word to save as PDF/A. Thank you!

2015-05-01 16:00:18


Hi. The steps to save a word doc as a PDF/A is a bite ambiguous. You mentioned that Word docs are saved as PDFs by default; however, when I tried to follow the announced steps to do so, I figure out that the ISO 19005-1 is already checked by default as well. Is that confirm/refute your steps because it looks like there is no need to save as PDF/A as it is set up by default. Thanks!

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