Understanding the PDF/A Format

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 26, 2020)

4

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDF/A

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

https://www.pdfa.org/

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 PDF/A Compliant (ISO 19005-1) 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, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365.

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 eight more than 6?

2021-04-12 06:33:01

Peter

Is there also a way to save a Word (or any MS Office) file as ISO19005-4 (the most recent PDF/a specification)?


2020-12-09 04:39:53

Paul Kelly

Is there any way to set the Default PDF saving options. e.g. the output quality is always high unless overridden


2016-03-14 18:14:54

Mary

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


2015-05-01 16:00:18

Firdaous

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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