PDF in the Modern World buyers guide

The Portable Document Format (PDF), originally created by Adobe, was designed to be a platform independent file format which could hold text, graphics and images in a form that could accurately duplicate a paper layout. Created as long ago as 1993, by Adobe’s co-founder John Warnock, it was a proprietary standard until Adobe released it in 2008, when it was also adopted as an ISO standard.

Since then, Adobe and other software makers have worked hard to improve the way PDFs can be created and to expand the uses to which they can be put. The ability to save a document in PDF format has been added to many applications, for example, including Microsoft Office from version 2007 SP2 on. Other forms of the PDF standard, such as PDF/A and PDF/X, have also grown up to address specialist needs.


PDF/A, where the ‘A’ stands for Archive, is a subset of the PDF standard. The key goal for this version of the format is that the file should be completely self-contained. This means all elements, including fonts, have to be embedded within the file.

Document exchange

PDF/X is designed primarily for document eXchange and is formalised into two ISO standards, 15929 and15930, though 15930 is the only current one. There have been eight revisions to this standard so far, with the latest based on PDF 1.6. It’s likely there will be further releases of this standard, designed to take advantage of updates to PDF itself.

New facilities

Three important improvements to PDF have been electronic signing, form filling, and the ability to access and edit the contents of a PDF file directly.

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