ISO: the gold standard for how PDF handles documents

When Adobe first released the Portable Document Format—aka, PDF—in the mid 1990s, it wasn’t a standard, of course. It was emerging technology.

But by 2008, with PDF a go-to technology for industries far and wide, Adobe handed the company’s latest PDF version, PDF 1.7, to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to manage its standards. ISO is a self-governing group of subject matter experts—in this case, document management, as there are ISOs for other topics as well. They come together through ISO’s Technical Committee TC 171, Administered by ANSI and AIIM.

Let’s take a look at the varieties of PDF available under the current PDF 1.7 and ISO standard 32000-1, the industry standards for document handling.

PDF/A – preserving digital documents over the long term

PDF/A-1 is used by government, libraries, banks, insurance companies, and others for preserving documents in long-term archives. PDF/A is essentially a subset of PDF that prevents dynamic content in order to better preserve document viewability. This ensures the viewed document remains exactly the same (such as in font and layout) as when it was originally created and will remain the same when viewed years later.

There is also a PDF/A-2, which further ensures document preservation according to ISO 19005-2 requirements. Furthermore, there is PDF/A-3 that allows you to embed files in the documents.

PDF/UA – creating accessible PDF for all types of users

Released in 2012, PDF/UA defined the requirements for making PDFs universally accessible. This includes assistive technology, such as text-to-speech software, speech recognition, and screen readers for making documents usable for individuals with specific disabilities.

PDF/X and PDF/VT – setting standards for the printing industry

PDF/X was developed by the Committee for Graphic Arts Technology Standards (CGATS). PDF/X ensures that printed documents retain as much of their original form as possible from their digital format. This means the document retains its text, font, images, etc.

PDF/VT is similar to PDF/X. The PDF/VT subset is geared towards variable data printing and is normally used for transactional printing, such as invoices and bills of lading.

PDF/E – developing technical documents and 3D data

PDF/E is intended for use of archiving technical and engineering documents. The format is especially suited for recording of sophisticated 2D sketches and 3D engineering model data.

With all these standards, you may be wondering which ISO standards you need. And more to the point, do you need to save your PDF documents in more than one? It depends upon your requirements, but as long as you have a good PDF tool like Foxit PhantomPDF that supports all of these standards, you only need a single version of your document, as it’ll be compliant with PDF/X and PDF/A at the same time.

If you’d like to read up on the details of the PDF standard itself, you’ll find them in ISO’s very own INTERNATIONAL STANDARD ISO 32000-1 manual. There, you’ll be able to preview the contents of the full document, including syntax of objects and filters, file structure, file specifications, handling of graphics and text, transparency and more. (To really read it, you’ll need to buy the full version.)

Also, rest assured that Foxit, along with its partners Debenu and LuraTech, only provides products that are compliant with the ISO 32000-1/PDF 1.7 standard, making them compatible with existing PDF documents and forms.

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