Records Managers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Transferring Permanent Records in PDF/A-1 to NARA

These frequently asked questions are provided to Federal agencies to assist them in meeting their records management responsibilities under 44 U.S.C. Ch. 31.

1. What is PDF/A-1?

"PDF/A-1" refers to ISO 19005-1:2005, Document management - Electronic document file format for long-term preservation - Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1).

  1. PDF/A-1 is an international standard that specifies a version of the Portable Document Format (PDF) designed to be more suitable for long-term preservation than traditional PDF.

  2. Vendors use PDF/A-1 to develop software tools that create, read, and otherwise process PDF/A-1 conformant files.

  3. Although never formally defined, the "/A" to most of the people involved in the standards activity represents Archive. This is accomplished by identifying a limited set of PDF objects that may be used in PDF/A, and adding restrictions to the use, or form of use, of those objects and/or keys within those objects.

For more information on PDF/A, visit the AIIM web site at:

2. Will NARA accept transfers of records scheduled as permanent in the PDF/A-1 format?

Yes, but PDF/A-1 compliance is not enough.

  1. The transfer also will need to comply with NARA's transfer instructions for records in PDF.

    For NARA's transfer instructions on permanent PDF records, visit the NARA web site at:

  2. If the PDF transfer includes scanned images, the scanned images will also need to meet NARA's transfer instructions for permanent scanned images of textual records.

    For NARA's transfer instructions on permanent scanned images of textual records, visit the NARA web site at:

3. What specific additional NARA transfer instructions apply to PDF/A-1 files?

Agencies will need to adhere to transfer instructions for:

  1. Transfer documentation

    Agencies will need to provide transfer documentation (e.g., SF-258) for PDF/A-1 transfers.

  2. Acceptable image quality specifications

    Permanent scanned images of textual records in PDF and PDF/A-1 need to adhere to the same image quality specifications as other acceptable scanned image formats for transfers of permanent records.

    For specific instructions on acceptable image quality specifications, see section 3.2 of NARA's transfer instructions for existing permanent scanned images of textual records.

  3. Restrictions on optical character recognition (OCR) processes, as applicable

    Agencies that embed searchable text in PDF scanned images should use OCR processes that do not alter the original bit-mapped image. For example: agencies should avoid OCR processes that substitute OCR'd text for bitmapped characters, and/or use lossy compression to reduce file size.

    For specific instructions on using OCR processes, see Section 3.4.2 of NARA's transfer instructions for permanent PDF records.

4. Does NARA require a specific PDF/A-1 conformance level?

No. NARA does not require a specific conformance level for permanent PDF/A-1 records. Agencies should use the conformance level that best suits their business needs.

For a description of PDF/A-1 conformance levels, see the PDF/A FAQs at:

5. Will PDF/A-1 help in complying with NARA's PDF transfer instructions?

Yes. PDF/A-1 files facilitate compliance with the following technical criteria for transfers of permanent records in PDF.

  1. PDF/A-1 is based upon PDF version 1.4.

  2. PDF/A-1 prohibits the use of security settings.

  3. PDF/A-1 requires that fonts be embedded in the file

  4. PDF/A-1 places restrictions / prohibitions on special features (e.g., attachments, multimedia) which NARA evaluates on a case-by-case basis.

  5. Transfers of permanent PDFA-1 files also will need to comply with NARA's transfer instructions for records in PDF.

  6. Scanned images of permanent records in PDF or PDF/A-1 must adhere to both NARA's transfer instructions for PDF and NARA's transfer instructions for scanned images of textual records.

For specific PDF transfer instructions on technical criteria, see sections 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 of NARA's transfer instructions for permanent PDF records.

6. What are the basic points to remember when considering PDF/A-1 for permanent records?

  1. PDF/A-1 is one file format option for electronic records.

  2. PDF/A-1 should allow PDF records to be maintained longer as PDF (e.g., within agencies) because it has fewer "bells and whistles" than traditional PDF and should minimize future migration requirements.

  3. PDF/A-1 is more open than traditional PDF because PDF/A-1 is maintained by ISO and not one specific vendor.

  4. To ensure the quality, integrity, and authenticity of information maintained as PDF, agencies should implement PDF/A-1 in conjunction with records management and quality assurance policies and procedures such as ISO 15489-1 Information and documentation - Records management - Part 1: General.

See the PDF/A-1 application notes for technical information on PDF/A-1 at:

7. Whom can agencies contact for further assistance?

  1. For assistance in scheduling electronic records contact your agency appraiser in the Life Cycle Management Division (NWML). The NWML general telephone number is 301-837-3560.

  2. For technical assistance in transferring records to NARA, contact the Electronic and Special Media Records Service Division (NWME), 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. The general telephone number is 301-837-3420.

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