How to convert PDF to PDF/A online

5 easy steps to make your PDFs ready for long-time archiving environment

You have a PDF document and must convert it to PDF/A, but you are unsure how it can be done and which version to choose? If the answer is yes, we are here, more than willing to guide you in converting your PDF to PDF/A file.

In this article, learn about different PDF/A versions, conformance levels, and how to transform your document into the preferred PDF/A format.

Which PDF/A Version and Conformance Level to Select

Before you convert files to PDF/A, the conversion tool will require that you choose a PDF/A standard (PDF/A-1, PDF/A-2, PDF/A-3) and a conformance level (a, b & u). They may seem similar at first glance, but the option you choose can affect the whole process of conversion and allow it to be done either very simply or with necessary modifications.

Being familiar with PDF/A versions and conformance levels will help you to improve the value of your documents, depending on your needs for them.

When you are converting a typical PDF file into the original PDF/A-1 standard, it will usually require the greatest amount of changes. The file will, for example, possibly grow in size due to the absence of newer image compression technologies.

PDF/A-1 specifies two levels of conformance:

  • PDF/A-1b – Level B (basic) conformance. Mandatory requirements: include embed fonts, color management guides, metadata. PDF/A-1b is mostly used to archive documents that are scanned or documents of existing PDF files.
  • PDF/A-1a – Level A (accessible) conformance.
  • Additional Level A requirements:

    • Language specification,
    • Hierarchical document structure,
    • Tagged text spans and descriptive text for images and symbols,
    • Character mappings to Unicode.

    PDF/A-1a file is easier to navigate, the content of the document is easier to re-use and the document is easier to read for visually impaired people. The text is usually better in terms of reproducibility. Unlike the basic, accessible conformance allows the user to search the document for a keyword.

    PDF/A-2, in comparison, requires fewer adjustments, since it allows JPEG2000 compression, transparent elements and PDF layers. As the result, your files will stay smaller. There are 3 different PDF/A-2 types: PDF/A-2a, PDF/A-2u and PDF/A-2b.

      As mentioned, part 2 of the standard offers some additional features:
    • JPEG 2000 image compression
    • Support for transparency effects and layers
    • Embedding of OpenType fonts
    • Provisions for digital signatures in accordance with the PDF Advanced Electronic Signatures
    • The option of embedding PDF/A files to facilitate archiving of sets of documents with a single file

    PDF/A-2a and PDF/A-2b correspond to conformance levels a and b in PDF/A-1. PDF/A-2u, however, represents Level B conformance (PDF/A-2b) with the additional requirement that all text in the document have Unicode mapping.

    PDF/A-3 is practically the same as PDF/A-2, but it also enables the embedding of non-PDF/A files. If you plan to use or process a lot of files with non-PDF/A file attachments, PDF/A-3 can be a good option to use. This format can be seen as a „complete one“, since PDF/A in itself keeps scanned documents readable in a long term, the MRC compression makes it very small, the OCR makes it searchable and the attachment helps with your need for exchanging documents. Choose the format that best suits your archiving needs.

    Basics of conformance levels in brief:

    • Level B (Basic) conformance is the easiest level to achieve. It requires only that documents conform with guidelines for reliable viewing. The document will look the same when it is viewed or printed, in the long term.
    • Level A (Accessible) conformance includes all Level B requirements in addition to features intended to improve a documents accessibility. It enables text that can be reliably searched and copied, and content that is more accessible to technologies like screen readers for the visually impaired users.
    • Level U (Unicode) conformance was introduced along with PDF/A-2. It guarantee that document text can be mapped to standard Unicode character codes.

    How to convert your PDF to PDF/A?

    PDF to PDF/A conversion tool can be used to effectively convert your PDF document to its standardized ISO version. There is no need to download and install new programs on your computer. Our PDF/A converter enables you to convert PDF to PDF/A conveniently, online. Follow the next few steps bellow:

    Edit PDF

    1. Click “Choose File” to select a PDF file to upload. You can also drag and drop the PDF file. Uploading a file from the Internet (Enter URL) or cloud storage services (Google Drive, Dropbox) is also possible.
    2. Choose the PDF/A format you would like to convert to: PDF/A-1b, PDF/A-2b or PDF/A-3b.
    3. Optional setting – Enable strict mode to get access to all conformance levels (a, b & u).
    4. Click on Start to begin the conversion process.
    5. Download your new PDF/A file.

    Worth considering: While higher conformance level (a or u) can certainly improve the value of your documents, they can also be quite time consuming. By selecting the B level conformance, PDF/A-2b for example, your documents will conform with guidelines for reliable viewing, without imposing extra requirements. Therefore, saving you valuable time.

    Is PDF/A searchable?

    Yes, it is! PDF/A permits text recognition processes and that is also one of the main benefits of PDF/A. The text of digitally generated content is preserved in the document. Including the text extracted with optical character recognition (OCR), meaning that even scanned PDF/A documents can be searched.

    What does „PDF/A compliant“ mean?

    PDF/A compliant simply means that your file meets the requirements of the PDF/A format. Some of the PDF/A conformance include:

    • All content is embedded (fonts, colors, text, images, etc.)
    • Audio and video content is prohibited.
    • The file is not encrypted.
    • The file does not contain references to external content.
    • The file follows standards-based metadata.
    • Interactive PDF form fields must have an appearance dictionary.
    • The file does not contain JavaScript.

    What about validation - Is it needed?

    Since it is not always easy to tell whether an existing PDF file actually meets the ISO’s PDF/A standard, it is preferable to perform a validation check which examines all relevant parts of your document.

    How to validate PDF/A files?

    PDF/A validators can be used in order to confirm that a file is actually a PDF/A file. These are online tools that verify if all the elements of the standards have been met. PDF/A files created with our online converter are ISO-compliant and they pass Vera PDF validation. Vera PDF is an open-source, file-format validator covering all PDF/A parts and conformance levels.