Alphabet Soup: Managing Your PDFs and ISO

A PDF is a PDF is a PDF, right?

The ubiquitous PDF—or portable document format—was first released by Adobe in 1992. It’s the standard for encoding documents in a portable “as printed” form. And it’s the way many of us save, share and distribute documents.

Yet, for manufacturers and companies who comply with global ISO standards, there’s a little more to it.

Nearly a decade ago, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted the PDF as part of its official global standard.

The PDF standards address the need to electronically archive documents in a way that reliably preserves their contents over an extended period of time, and ensures they can be retrieved and rendered with a consistent and predictable result in the future. That makes PDF a super great format for long-term storage and archival (like we do here at Dash).

Like many ISO standards, the PDF standard (for the anal, Standard 32000-1) covers various sub-divisions. Here’s a quick primer on the main standards you may encounter. To view and purchase the official standards (free headache included), go to:

PDF/A – The Go-To Standard for Digital Archiving

Government institutions, businesses, banks, universities and libraries around the world use PDF/A for recordkeeping. Document layout (such as fonts and images) remains in its original format even when accessed many years later, making it ideal for preservation and viewability.

ISO has also created a PDF/A-2 for preservation guidelines under ISO 19005-2 standards, and a PDF/A-3 for embedding other types of files (like Excel, Word, HTML, CAD or XML files) within a PDF-A format.

PDF/UA – The Standard for Users with Disabilities

PDF/UA, created in 2012, outlines the universal requirements for making PDFs accessible for individuals with specific disabilities and encompasses assistive technology, such as screen readers, speech recognition and text-to-speech software.

PDF/X and PDF/VT – Standards for Printing

PDF/X, created by the Committee for Graphic Arts Technology Standards (CGATS), ensures printed hardcopies of PDFs retain the same layout as their digital format. PDF/VT is a subset of PDF/X that sets standards for transactional printing, such as receipts and invoices.


PDF/E – The Standard for Technical and 3D Data

The design, engineering and technical sectors use this PDF standard to archive technical documents and records. This includes 2D renderings and 3D model data sheets.

ISO, So What?

The PDF has become one of the most common formats for document exchange, archiving and sharing, especially on the internet. By complying with ISO standards, you’ll incorporate universal best practices for archiving data and integrating it into your business systems.

Note that many document management software packages, like Dash DDX™, are compliant with the standards, and automatically include these “best practices” in the archiving protocol.

In blogs to come, we’ll expand on PDFs and share some features and best practices to get the most out of this versatile format.