PDF/A-3 – embed files into a PDF document

by Kai Jing, VP of Technical Operations


Part 1 of the PDF/A standard was created in 2005 to establish a universal standard for archiving documents. This ensures documents retain their original format even when viewed many years down the line. That’s necessary for many industries, particularly those under legal requirements to make documents available far into the future.

Along came PDF/A-2

PDF/A-2, which was released in 2011, adopted new implementations based on ISO standard 32000-1 instead of Adobe PDF. It also made use of newer versions and PDF updates. Core additions of PDF/A-2 included JPEG compression, transparency, and the ability to embed PDF/A files.

Now, meet PDF/A-3

In 2012, PDF/A-3 was released, adding a single yet noteworthy feature: it allows users to embed any file – not just another PDF – into a PDF document. This includes images, CAD, CSV, XML, and even binary executables. In essence, the PDF acts as a zip archive for other files.

The update was motivated by demand from multiple industries, most notably the medical and financing sectors that frequently rely on PDF for their logistics.

In the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, there are strict regulations regarding the storage and archiving of old patient and medical records. With PDF/A-3, documents of all types can travel together with a single PDF file acting as a transporter.

The three types of files PDF/A-3 can embed

  • SOURCE – This converts files like Microsoft Office into a PDF/A file. It also has applications used exclusively by specific industries. In the engineering and architect niche, for example, staff can use a PDF viewer like Foxit PDF Reader to display DWG files as a PDF/A.
  • SUPPLEMENT – This embeds all information pertaining to a document. This may, for instance, consist of images from a diagramming software like MindMap where the images are converted to PDF/A.
  • ALTERNATIVE – This is used for embedding XML files, such as digital invoices.

Archiving email

PDF/A is also used for archiving email messages in a storable format. All email content, including messages, images, and attachments are converted to a single file. PDF/A-3 enables all the contents in an email to retain their original form, making it especially useful.

How Foxit helps PDF/A-3 archiving

Because Foxit PhantomPDF has PDF/A, PDF/E and PDF/X compliance validation and creation to meet industry standards, you can convert your PDF documents to whichever standard you need. Simply select Convert > Compliance > Industry, then select one of the industry standards, and then click Analyze or Analyze and Fix in the pop-up dialog box. You can also create standard compliant PDFs by saving them as PDF/X, PDF/A or PDF/E directly if you use PhantomPDF Business.

Foxit PDF Reader produces a red point in the PDF that indicates the document has embedded files so users know that they can open and view the archive. In this way, Foxit enables you to use PDF/A-3 the way it’s meant to be used—as a valuable tool for creating and archiving all manner of document formats in the standard PDF format.

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