What is PDF/A Format? Learn All About Its Importance

We come across so many documents in our everyday work routine which we access through some specialized software. So, it’s crucial to make sure documents stay readable and accessible for a long time. For this purpose, PDF/A comes in handy that addresses this need by embedding all necessary information within the document itself.

Using PDF/A is not just a technical choice but a smart strategy for any organization that wants to preserve its digital documents. To learn all about what is PDF/A and how it impacts digital content creation, this guide will cover everything for you.

Try It Free

* Moblie version is coming soon

Part 1. What is PDF/A Format?

PDF/A stands for Portable Document Format/Archive, a specific version designed for long-term archiving of electronic documents. It keeps all the essential parts of a document within the file itself, ensuring it looks the same no matter when you open it.

Unlike regular PDFs, PDF/A avoids features that could make it hard to open in the future, like audio, video, and links to external files. Overall, the need for a reliable and consistent format for the preservation of digital documents led to the development of this unique format. Now that you know what is a PDF/A format, let’s explore its key features.

Key Features

  1. ISO Standard:This special format is ISO-standardized, ensuring a consistent and reliable approach to archiving electronic documents.
  2. Self-Containment:All necessary information for displaying the document is embedded within the file, ensuring the accurate reading and printing experience.
  3. Enhanced Accessibility:The files of this format cannot be encrypted, ensuring that they remain accessible to anyone with the appropriate software.
  4. Transparency and Layers:Later versions of PDF/A support the use of transparency and layers, allowing for more complex document designs.
  5. Compression Ability:Advanced image compression techniques are supported in later versions, allowing for efficient storage without compromising the quality of the document.

Part 2. What Are the Different Types of PDF/A Standards?

There are several types of this specialized format, each fulfilling different needs and incorporating distinct features. These types are defined by the parts of the ISO 19005 standard, which has evolved over time to address the requirements of archival professionals. This section will enlist them all with comprehensive details about their features:

  1. PDF/A-1:This is the first type of this standard and mainly focuses on ensuring the long-term preservation of documents. For instance, it ensures that the document's visual appearance is preserved along with its logical structure and reading order. It is the minimum level of compliance required for a document to be considered PDF/A.
  2. PDF/A-2:The 2nd type includes several enhancements and supports more advanced features like JPEG2000, allowing improved image compression. Also, it features the use of transparency effects and optional content groups (layers), enabling more complex document designs. Plus, the enhancement of digital signatures and embedding of the files is also possible.
  3. PDF/A-3:This one is the extension of its predecessor, retaining all its features while adding the capability to embed arbitrary file formats. It is particularly useful for including supplementary data that can be preserved alongside the visual representation of the document.
  4. PDF/A-4:It is the most recent version and aligns with the latest PDF 2.0 standard. Here, it offers to embed rich media content and 3D annotations. Moreover, you are allowed to merge any other file format within the PDF with this type.

Part 3. Top Benefits of Using PDF/A for Document Preservation

You can expect many benefits from this PDF format regarding long-term preservation and the versatility of the document functions. Go through this section to learn about what is a PDF/A mode and how it revolutionizes the document-handling experience:

  1. Software Independence:This modern format is designed to render across different devices and platforms, making it independent wherever you use it.
  2. Digital Signatures: You can creatively use digital signatures in your document, verifying the authenticity and integrity of the document. This is particularly important for legaland official documents where authenticity is crucial.
  3. Regulatory Compliance:Many industries, including financial and governmental sectors, have strict regulations for document preservation. In this case, this secure format helps organizations meet these requirements, ensuring compliance with archival and record-keeping standards.
  4. Compliance with Standards:It is an ISO-standardized format, which means it adheres to internationally recognized guidelines for document archiving and preservation.
  5. Support for Advanced Features:By incorporating advanced features like transparency and layers, you can make use of more complex and detailed document designs.
  6. Long-Term Preservation:It ensures that documents remain readable and maintain their appearance over long periods, regardless of changes in software. Thus, it becomes an ideal format for archiving important documents.

Part 4. Top 5 Industries Leveraging PDF/A for Secure Document Storage

This ISO-standardized format is widely used across various industries to ensure the longevity and accessibility of digital documents. Walk through this section to the end to know what is PDF/A offering in different industries and assisting them:

1. Legal Industries

Courts and legal professionals use this format to archive their case files and other rulings documents. In this way, they make sure these records remain unchanged over time, which is critical for maintaining the integrity of their proceedings. Moreover, firms and departments often store their contracts and binding documents in PDF/A to ensure they can be reliably accessed and validated in the future.

2. Government and Public Sector

The use of this advanced PDF format is even more crucial in official records and historical documents to archive laws and policies. Government agencies also have to comply with regulations requiring long-term document preservation. So, PDF/A helps meet these requirements by providing a standardized and reliable solution.

3. Financial Services

These institutions archive audit reports and transaction records to comply with regulatory requirements that empowers the preservation of financial documents for several years. Other than this, PDF/A assists them in storing their client-related documents and investment portfolios to ensure secure and accurate long-term access.

4. Healthcare

Hospitals and clinics take help from this reliable format to archive patient records and treatment documentation. In this regard, they make patient information accessible and unaltered, crucial for ongoing patient care and legal compliance. Besides, medical researchers and institutions archive research papers and clinical trial data in PDF/A format to preserve scientific integrity and future accessibility.

5. Education

Universities and academic institutions make use of this consistent PDF format to archive thesis and research papers. By doing this, they ensure that scholarly works remain accessible to future generations and students. Furthermore, educational organizations store their curriculum outlines and compliance reports in PDF/A to meet regulatory and accreditation standards.

Part 5. Major Differences Between PDF and PDF/A

Now you know what is a PDF/A format and how it’s making our document management more secure and reliable. However, let's compare it to the simple PDF version to get a better understanding of their differences and advantages. This section will share with you a comprehensive comparison table between both for your clarification.





General document exchange and display

Long-term archiving and preservation


Not specific to a single standard

ISO 19005


May reference external resources

Must be fully self-contained

Font Embedding



External References

Can include links to external content




Not allowed




Compliance Levels

No specific levels

Different levels (e.g., PDF/A-1a, PDF/A-1b)

Transparency and Layers


Supported in PDF/A-2 and PDF/A-3 types

File Embedding

Supports embedding various file types

PDF/A-3 allows embedding of other file formats within the PDF

Digital Signatures


Supported but must comply with PDF/A standards

Color Profiles


Mandatory inclusion

Part 6. How to Open and Edit a PDF/A File?

After learning all about this special document format, let's talk about how you can open and read it. For this purpose, you need b and reliable software that supports PDF/A and can do much more to give you a satisfying reading and editing experience. You can get assistance from Afirstsoft PDF, which provides users with the ultimate solution for every document management need.

Using this tool, you can not only read your PDF files in the most optimized way but also edit them with maximum customization. It even allows you to add annotations to your document wherever you want to make it more personalized and convenient to understand. Moreover, you can convert your files to almost any format, including images, to use them for multiple purposes.

Step-by-Step Guide to Open and Edit PDF/A File Through Afirstsoft

As simple as the tool's interface is, the use of it is even simpler, meeting the capabilities of a beginner. Just go through this straightforward guide, and you will easily be able to perform all functions within seconds:

Try It Free

* Moblie version is coming soon

Step 1. Launch Afirstsoft and Open Your PDF/A File

First, download and install this AI-powered PDF editor on your computer and launch it. Then, click the "Open" button from the left sidebar of its interface to select the document you want to access from your computer.

press the open button

Step 2. Edit the PDF/A Document with Customizations

Afterward, go to the "Edit" tab and select the "Edit" feature to turn your PDF into a completely editable form. Perform as many edits as you want in the text or image and customize them according to your needs.

edit your pdf file

Step 3. Annotate and Save the New File

Now, access the “Comment” tab and tap on any annotation feature to highlight your content, add comments, or even stickers. Once you are done with all the annotations, go to the “File” tab and click “Save” to save your newly edited document.

make annotations to your document


In conclusion, we have explained what is PDF/A throughout the article and its benefits in various fields of everyday life. We have also shared detailed information about its multiple types and uses. However, to use this advanced format optimally, you need a versatile PDF editor like Afirstsoft.

This all-in-one PDF tool can offer much more than you can imagine in managing your documents and making them customizable. If you are interested in upgrading your PDF handling experience, just try the Afirstsoft PDF yourself, and thank us later.

Emily Davis


Emily Davis is one of the staff editors of Afirstsoft PDF Editor team. She is a dedicated staff editor with a keen eye for detail and a passion for refining content.

View all Articles >