What is PDF/A-3 and what is the difference with PDF/A-2?

The PDF/A-3 standard is an in 2012 published standard. PDF/A-3 is completely based on the guidelines which are decided by ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) in ISO standard 19005-3.

What is the difference between PDF/A-3 and PDF/A-2?

It is possible to attach 'attachments' to a PDF (see the image). However, it is not allowed to use this functionality in a PDF/A-1 document.

attachment in pdf

From PDF/A-2 you are allowed to attach exclusively PDF/A files as an attachment.

The difference between PDF/A-3 and PDF/A-2 is, that it is allowed to attach files that are not a PDF/A file.

Is PDF/A-3 an improvement?

On the first notice PDF/A-3 seems like an improvement because it is allowed to attach files that are not an PDF/A file. For example, you are now able to convert an e-mail to PDF/A and add your original e-mail as an attachment of the PDF/A file. 

But this has created the discussion, that it is possible to add normal files to an 'archived' file (A file with PDF/A). These normal files won't guaranty that you will be able to open your files over 20 years. Moreover, this is exactly one of the main reasons to choose for a PDF/A file. A PDF/A file contains the following characteristics: 

  • Independence: A PDF/A file contains all the necessary information you need. A file will show exactly the same as when the file has been created 20 years ago. 
  • Substantive: PDF/A uses software parts that are standard available on every device (certain RGB and CMYK color profiles), because of this, files are independent from the device on which they are pictured or printed. 

By accessing non PDF/A files, you can't guaranty these characteristics. With only PDF/A files these characteristics are guaranteed. 

pdfa-2x

What should you do now?

On short term it would be smart to convert the source file (for example an e-mail) to PDF/A, and add the original source file (for example the original e-mail) as an attachment to the PDF/A (this will take more space). But don't convert the body of the e-mail to PDF/A and add the attachment as a normal file (for example a normal PDF) in the PDF/A. When you do this, it is not guaranteed that you will be able to open your file in 20 years. 

So.... everything that you save digital, you have to save as a PDF/A file and you are able to add the source files to the PDF/A file.

Which PDF/A standard would you advice?

To avoid unclarity, we always recommend to use PDF/A-2. By this standard you are always sure that your archive is technically good.

Converting files to PDF/A-1, PDF/A-2 or PDF/A-3

With PDFen.com you are able to convert multiple and different files to PDF/A-1, PDF/A-2 or PDF/A-3. 

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