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Topics include validation, challenges with creating a perfect PDF/A document and more. Also examines that a PDF/A file is a formally correct file, that however may not necessarily reflect the original. If, when a PDF/A file is created, fonts are replaced or colours are converted, then the result may well be a technically correct PDF/A file, but a change has been made with respect to the original file. This aspect is just one of many topics that will be addressed at the 3rd International PDF/A Conference in Berlin.

PDF/A Competence Center Newsletter: Issue 9

Table of Contents

  • Current News:
    • Digital-born PDF – Challenges with creating a perfect PDF/A
    • Trust is good, validation is better!
    • No PDF/A – and now what?
    • Ecosystem PDF/A
  • PDF/A Competence Center Members Introduce Themselves:
    • Actino Software
  • New Members






Michael Karbe

Dear readers,

The past few weeks I have followed with interest a discussion on the status of PDF/X in the graphics industry. In-between all of the (occasionally) amusing comments and also personal attacks, it provided an interesting view into the status of the standard in practice.

In the forum, one could not ascertain if really all of the users wanted to use or apply PDF/X without restrictions. This is partly to blame on the complexity of the standard itself. By comparison, PDF/A is fortunately much simpler and enjoys a higher level of acceptance amongst the customers, despite it being a relatively new standard. To make my point clear: I view PDF/X as correct and very good, but it can be put on record that PDF/A has found its way to the users much quicker.

This is good news and we hope that it continues so with PDF/A-2, since PDF/A is in my opinion something akin to “PDF-pure” or “PDF-unplugged”. It deals, in contrast to the use of interactive functions, with the precise reproduction of content in a portable format – and this equates to the original thought behind PDF.

At the same time it is a new quality benchmark that forces vendors to generate proper PDF files, and not only for archiving. Even with the normal transmission of documents the reproducibility should, in my opinion, be guaranteed. For years we’ve been grappling with customer questions about corrupt and bogus PDF files from come-and-go vendors that cannot be properly processed or handled. The biggest “shortcoming” of the Adobe Reader is, in my opinion, its’ tolerance in compensating for structural errors in PDF files and opening (almost) all files. This is of course great for the user, but the customer often thinks that everything is in order and will end up having problems sooner or later.

With all of the enthusiasm for the standard one should keep in mind that a PDF/A file is a formally correct file, that however may not necessarily reflect the original. The subject of “digitally-born PDF” addresses this issue. If, when a PDF/A file is created, fonts are replaced or colours are converted, then the result may well be a technically correct PDF/A file, but a change has been made with respect to the original file.

This aspect is just one of many topics that will be addressed at the 3rd International PDF/A Conference in Berlin. Even a “simple” PDF/A requires exact consideration, if the different processes are to be cleanly and effectively imposed. The educational work of the PDF/A Competence Center should not be underestimated – a great deal of effort is invested in identifying grey areas and practical problems in order to ensure and increase the acceptance of PDF/A. The feedback we have received to date from users confirms this, and we are proud of the way we have helped the market to further develop.

We wish you success with your implementation of PDF/A and look forward to seeing you in Berlin.

Michael Karbe
President Actino Software GmbH
PDF/A Competence Center Member


Digital-born PDF – Challenges with creating a perfect PDF/A

Ever since PDF/A has existed, we have been assisting businesses and institutions with evaluating and implementing the ISO standard into existing PDF environments. As we ourselves are not a DMS vendor, we have dealt less with processes and databases and have focused solely on the actual existing files and their correct (or incorrect) technical structures. PDF was created before PDF/A, but now the sapling can be separated from the tree. This is valid both for typical PDF printers as well as for programming libraries that generate dynamic PDF files.

Trust is good, validation is better!

“Approved by Adobe Reader” is no longer sufficient. Whereas in the past the statement “…but the Reader can open the file without problem” was a valid quality criteria, today the conformity is confirmed through a separate preflight, an independent control program. This is, by the way, also valid for other tools that presume to create valid PDF/A files.

Our customers often encounter an interesting learning process as part of their PDF/A project, where they find out numerous things about PDF that they were completely unaware of before. This repeatedly leads to surprises and questions with regard to the verification of PDF documents, to which the answers seem extremely complicated for normal users as well as system administrators. But a bit of learning never hurt anyone.

This process repeats itself with every PDF tool that a company employs, so that we can only recommend to reduce the number of applications to the absolute minimum possible. As in software debugging, the PDF/A errors must be painstakingly eliminated one by one, until a zero-error process has been defined for the application or workflow, or until you give up and select a different PDF tool.

But one not only has to fight with the PDF file. The user may question why Adobe Acrobat 8 accepts a file as PDF/A, but Adobe Acrobat 9 rejects the same file. Something can’t be right here, can it? These fine differences also exist between different PDF/A vendors, so we are very thankful for the PDF/A Competence Center’s Isotar Test Suite, as this is the most up-to-date measurement tool for validation and conversion applications. By the way, in the above mentioned example which dealt with validation in Acrobat, the recommendation is to trust Adobe Acrobat 9.

No PDF/A – and now what?

When the result of the validation shows that your file is not a true PDF/A document, then the advanced user can jump in and begin the task of optimizing based on the validation report. Key areas to focus on are the original file, the application used for creating the PDF, and eventually employing a PDF to PDF/A converter.

The causes for failure can weave all through the PDF specification, whereas based on our past experiences errors with fonts and metadata are the most common sources of unsuccessful PDF/A creation. The problem however could also be due to the fact that the user did not think about interactive documents, since hyperlinks, levels and movies are seldom found in invoices and contracts. With digital handbooks and similar documentation it’s a different story though.

Tagged PDFs for barrier-fee documents presents the greatest interactive challenge, which is also a requirement for PDF/A-1a. The tags, which are a content structure, dictate the order of content, describe images, and as such enable the specific reproduction of content geared towards small screens and the audible reproduction of text and image information. This variant of PDF/A, which is more complex than PDF/A-1b, is presently experiencing a renaissance, since the modern eBook hype and especially SmartPhones like the iPhone and Blackberry require structured documents.

For the PDF/ A Conference in Berlin we have created a “Top 10” list of problems with digital-born PDF and will demonstrate in a workshop how individual errors can be corrected. We will also present samples of several help programs that can be used to prepare the documents, either automatically or with manual intervention.

Ecosystem PDF/A

Now that OpenOffice supports the creation of PDF/A and even Microsoft provides a free PDF/A plug-in for Office, the standard has firmly established itself.

A comparatively large ecosystem of applications that runs across all platforms has already developed, in which not only vendors of DMS and archiving systems (who have to support the standard anyways) can be found, but also a whole line of desktop and server products from all segments.

Users must pay attention that they navigate and remain within this ecosystem, since if a PDF/A file is opened with a non-PDF/A tool and is then resaved (even without being changed), then the file will almost certainly no longer be PDF/A. It happens that quickly.

We see the growing list of PDF/A tools on the market as a good sign for the development of the ISO standard and we hope that this trend continues globally. Our motto is: only a PDF/A file is a good PDF file.
-Actino Software, Euskirchen, March 26, 2009


Actino Software

Actino Software GmbH has set a goal of assisting businesses and institutions with the implementation and use of PDF standards. The company has developed and marketed programs for creating and processing the portable data format since the beginning of the PDF revolution in the early 90’s. As a distributor, Actino is a representative for the world’s leading suppliers of PDF products, from uses in prepress to archiving, from office to web services and from documentation to software development. Our philosophy has remained “Keep it Simple”. Thanks to years of experience on countless projects and our work with renowned partners, Actino can help with (practically) every PDF question you might have, communicate ideas and provide recommendations. In addition to desktop applications, special attention is paid to the generation and processing of PDF files with server applications, with which PDF can be created, controlled or certified on demand.

More information can be found at: www.actino.de


We welcome the following companies as members in the PDF/A Competence Center:

Tags: 3rd International PDF/A Conference, challenges of PDF/A, validate
Categories: PDF/A, PDF/X