Difference between PDF and PDF/A

PDF is Adobe’s Portable Document Format that was officially adopted in 1992 when it was standardized as ISO 32000. It is the most trusted file format by companies and individuals worldwide. It is easily accessible and supported by many devices and software, which is why it is so popular. But what is the difference between PDF and PDF/A? Read on to discover more.

What is a PDF?

A PDF is the original format used to store paper documents in digital form. It was first named Camelot, but in 1992, it was renamed PDF. PDF supports flat text and interactive elements.

What is a PDF/A?

A PDF/A is a subset of the PDF that embeds the images and fonts used to store information. That ensures the PDF/A document does not rely on external sources to render its content.

Difference between PDF and PDF/A


A PDF is the primary form of PDF format and was the first to be adopted. It is the format on which PDF/A is based. On the other hand, a PDF/A (PDF Type A) is a subset of PDF. PDF was created by Adobe’s Dr. John Warnock in 1991, while PDF/A was developed by ISO, and released on October 1, 2005. In other words, a PDF/A is a PDF document with special features that were created to enhance how a PDF functions.


A PDF document does not allow users to archive documents. That is because it does store non-static content. On the other hand, a PDF/A allows users to archive documents, because it only stores static content.

Graphical Content

The PDF architecture allows users to store graphical content that includes audio, video, and executable code. PDF/A does not support content with audio, video, and executable content. Because PDF/A does not support executable content, it is often considered safe to store documents, compared to PDF. However, PDF is still the preferred form of sharing marketing digital content files.


PDF documents do not support the embedding of fonts and graphics. That means as long as the user’s device supports the fonts and graphics used in the PDF, they can open and read it. However, if they do not have them, then they won’t be able to view the PDF. PDF/A requires fonts and graphics to be embedded in the file. Therefore users can use any device to open and read a PDF/A, even if the device does not have the fonts and graphics used in the PDF/A.


PDF allows users to encrypt their files, which is important for businesses that have to comply with privacy laws. Unlike PDF, PDF/A does not support encryption of files and documents. That makes it unsuitable for sharing private documents with personal health or banking information.

Conclusion - Difference between PDF and PDF/A

You can use PDF and PDF/A to save files that you do not want others to modify, but you still need others to be able to print and share the files. However, unlike PDF, you can use  PDF/A, to archive files. Overall, PDF and PDF/A ensure that recipients of digital content can view it the same way that they could have viewed it on paper.

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