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PDF/A? What is that exactly? And what can it be used for?

PDF/A is a standard of the International Organisation for Standardization - in short: ISO - which describes the usage of the Portable Document Format (PDF) for the long-term archiving (A) of electronically saved documents.

  • ISO-19005-1 - Document management – Electronic document file format for long-term preservation - Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1)

PDF/A is designed as a series of standards. Other parts of the standard were created in 2011 and 2012 as PDF/A-2 and PDF/A-3. The new parts base upon newer PDF versions and represent an improvement of the usability of the standard in practice and implement new technical requirements.


  • ISO 19005-2: 2011 - Document management - Electronic document file format for long-term preservation - Part 2: Use of ISO 32000-1 (PDF/A-2)
  • ISO 19005-3: 2012 - Document management - Electronic document file format for long-term preservation - Part 3: Use of ISO 32000-1 with support for embedded files (PDF/A-3)

This standard guarantees a future usability/readability of your PDF/A documents.

The requirement for a later reproducibility of PDF/A-documents is that the document contains all important information. This comprises all visible texts, fonts, as well as charts (rasters, vector) and much more. References to external sources, which are required to display the PDF/A-document, are not allowed.

The standard specifies three levels of compliance (conformance):

  • Level A conformance - Both, exact visual reproduction, as well as mapping text to Unicode and content-related structuring of the document
  • Level B conformance - Only exact visual reproduction
  • Level U conformance - The same as "B" with the additional requirement that the text can be mapped to Unicode characters

The current version of n2pdf supports all requirements of the PDF/A ISO standard (19005-1:2005, 19005-2:2011, 19005-3:2012).

n2pdf supports the conformity levels "a", "b" and "u".

The activation is done via the command "N2PDFSetOption" with the parameter "N2PDFOPTION_PDF_PDFA_MODE".