How To Make a Portable Document Format Archive (PDF/A)

Legal Documents

PDF/A is a strict standard of Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) that federal courts in the U.S. require for the presentation and archiving (that’s where the “A” comes in) of PDF documents. Here’s a simple technique to make PDF/As that the court will accept.

The concept behind PDF/A is simple, but the instructions various vendors provide are awfully convoluted. Here’s the easy way to do it. For my example, I’m using Adobe Pro 9.3, but this works on Adobe Standard 7 and up. The higher the version, the better.

First, open the PDF you want to convert to PDF/A. On the surface, an ordinary PDF and a PDF/A will look the same. The differences are under the hood.


Choose File/Save As “Post Script.” It has the .ps extension.


Now close your PDF and open Acrobat Distiller.

Start Menu

Choose Settings/Edit Adobe PDF Settings.

Adobe Distiller Menu

Go to Fonts to make sure you embed all the fonts in your document. In this case, I’ve already embedded mine.
PDF Fonts

Now open your file. Just by opening it, Distiller will automatically convert it to a compliant PDF/A.

Windows Explorer

But is it truly compliant? Let’s check.


Open your newly created PDF in Adobe Pro (or Standard) and run Preflight by going to Advanced/Preflight.

Open Document

Now Analyze. Choose PDF/A-1b unless the court requests otherwise.


No Problems found! The federal courts will accept it. Check with your country’s government — if you live outside the U.S. — to see if PDF/A is a format its courts require.















If you or your firm does any federal work, this new requirement for filing in PDF/A will definitely impact how you create and work with PDF documents.

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