PDF standards at a glance

One of the biggest advantages of PDF documents is certainly that they can be used flexibly for many different purposes. They are ideal for exchanging information within a company or with business partners.

For this reason, binding statements are necessary to ensure interoperability, which the PDF format brings as a great benefit. Thus, standard formats have been agreed upon for the creation of PDF documents in order to define the quality requirements and simplify their compliance.

More detailed information on PDF standards and more technical background can be found here: https://www.pdfa.org/

Binding PDF ISO standards

The ISO standards ensure that reliable (and valid) PDF processing is always guaranteed, despite the many different programs available for PDF creation.

Since PDFs have many uses, there is not a single standard, but several, so that users can work with the format as easily as possible and a good PDF is created for their purposes. For this reason, the standards for high-end printing, long-term archiving or accessibility, for example, differ. This ensures that users always receive the PDF that is best suited for their specific purpose.

An overview of all important PDF standards:

  1. ISO standard PDF 2.0: Current ISO standard for PDF. Issued in 2020 in a new version with detail improvements and clarifications. Details on the current standard: https://www.webpdf.de/blog/en/revision-of-pdf-2-0-all-about-pdf-a-4/ + https://www.webpdf.de/blog/en/the-new-pdf-standards-2020/
  2. PDF/X: This is the standard for the printing industry. The requirements here differ from pure display on the monitor or specifications that are more relevant for archiving or accessibility. The aim here is to optimize materials for the print sector. The PDF/X standard is established in the printing industry and is supported by many software solutions. Here, too, there are regular further developments and improvements. PDF/X-6 was only published in 2020 based on PDF 2.0.
  3. PDF/A: This format was developed for the long-term archiving of documents. It is used everywhere where document management is important. Companies and public institutions in particular use PDF/A to archive digital documents permanently and in a legally secure manner. All earlier versions from PDF/A-1 onwards are valid for this purpose, although it is recommended to always use the current standard. This is also very important when using digital files or ZUGFeRD invoices, for example.
  4. PDF/VT: This is the standard for variable data printing and transaction printing and offers a good alternative to the formats PCL, PPML, AFP and more. The current version is PDF/VT-3, which is based on PDF/X-6 and PDF 2.0:2020. You can also read more about personalized printing and digital printing on our blog: https://www.webpdf.de/blog/en/personalized-print-iii-pdfvt-2/ + https://www.webpdf.de/blog/en/iso-16612-2-pdfvt-for-personalized-print/
  5. PDF/UA: A very important standard besides printing and archiving is the standard for accessible documents. UA in this case stands for Universal Accessibility. A PDF/UA-compliant file must be such that the texts, images, forms, etc. are machine-readable and can also be read and used by all people (including those with disabilities). The background to this is the legal requirement that electronic information offerings must be accessible to everyone without restriction. This applies above all to public institutions, insurance companies and banks. Of all the standards, this one places the highest demands on generation. More about PDF/UA: https://www.webpdf.de/blog/en/pdfa-the-format-of-the-future-part-4-pdfua/

More about the Matterhorn protocol (as an aid for users of the PDF/UA format): https://www.webpdf.de/blog/en/matterhorn-protocol-1-1-available/

Index overview from pdfa.org

pdfa.org has also published a detailed overview listing all ISO publications as an index with all ISO standards related to PDF. It also provides a mapping between ISO document numbers, parts and publication years and PDF nomenclature commonly used in the industry. Current ISO work and those yet to be published are also listed here. Take advantage of this helpful tool: