Understanding the Nuance of PDF/A Archiving Formats: Spotlight on PDF/A-1 vs. PDF/A-2 in the PDF Tools Conversion Service

Understanding the Nuance of PDF/A Archiving Formats: Spotlight on PDF/A-1 vs. PDF/A-2 in the PDF Tools Conversion Service

In the digital age, archiving documents in a reliable and legally compliant manner is more crucial than ever. The PDF Tools Conversion Service, a robust tool in this regard, offers various workflows for PDF/A archiving, including the established PDF/A-1 and the recommended PDF/A-2 formats. Despite PDF/A-1 being a feature of our service for some time, its use and implications warrant a deeper understanding, especially when juxtaposed with the PDF/A-2 format.

Why Some Customers Still Opt for PDF/A-1

PDF/A-1, based on the earlier PDF 1.4 standard, is sometimes mandated for certain legal requirements or by specific post-processing software or business partners. It's a necessity for organizations bound by specific regulatory frameworks or legacy system compatibility. This situation often leaves them with no alternative but to adhere to the PDF/A-1 standard.

Limitations of PDF/A-1

However, PDF/A-1 comes with its limitations, especially when compared to its successor, PDF/A-2. The latter, grounded in the more advanced PDF 1.7 standard, accommodates a broader range of PDF features. This includes support for transparency, layers, embedded files, and a more flexible internal file structure. These enhancements in PDF/A-2 significantly reduce conversion errors, thus elevating the overall quality of the archived document.

In contrast, when a document with transparencies is converted to PDF/A-1, the Windows version of our Conversion Service resorts to rasterizing the content, treating it as images. This approach is to maintain visual consistency, though it does preserve extractable text, links, outlines, and other elements at the cost of producing a larger PDF document. Since version 4.8 of the Conversion Service users of the Conversion Service have the option of disabling this functionality in the PDF/A1 workflow, which will result in smaller PDFs at the cost of reduced visual consistency.

Our Commitment to PDF/A-1 Support

Despite these challenges, we at PDF Tools are committed to supporting PDF/A-1 in our Conversion Service. We understand the importance of meeting our customers' diverse needs, even as we advocate for the adoption of PDF/A-2 for its superior features and conversion quality.

For administrators, it's crucial to note that the PDF/A-1 workflow is not enabled by default to prevent inadvertent conversions. However, it can be activated as needed to accommodate specific requirements.


Navigating the complexities of PDF/A formats can be daunting. At PDF Tools, we strive to make this process as seamless as possible, offering robust support for both PDF/A-1 and PDF/A-2 formats in our Conversion Service. While we recommend PDF/A-2 for its advanced features and higher quality conversions, we also recognize and cater to the specific needs that necessitate the use of PDF/A-1.

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