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What is a PDF?

PDF stands for the Portable Document Format, used to display documents in an electronic form independent of the software, hardware or operating system they are viewed on. Originally developed by Adobe® Systems as an universally compatible file format based on the PostScript format, it has become an international de-facto standard for exchanging documents and information.

In 2008, Adobe relinquished control of PDF development to the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and by this PDF became an “open standard”. The specifications for the current PDF version (1.7) are documented under ISO 32000. ISO is also in charge of updating and developing future versions (for example PDF 2.0 under ISO 3200-2 which is expected to be published in 2015).

PDF Advantages

  • Graphic Integrity: A PDF displays the exact same content and layout no matter which operating system, device or software application it is viewed on.
  • Convenient: PDFs are easy to create, read and use by everyone.
  • Secure: Offers options to set up different levels of access to protect the content and the whole document, such as watermarks, passwords or digital signatures.
  • Compact: Although PDFs can theoretically contain unlimited amount of information, they can be compressed into a file size that is easy to exchange while retaining full control over the level of image quality.
  • Multi-Dimensional: The PDF format allows you to integrate various types of content — text, images and vector graphics, videos, animations, audio files, 3D models, interactive fields, hyperlinks, and buttons. All of these elements can be combined within the same PDF file and organized as a report, a presentation or a portfolio.  

PDF Limitations

  • The PDF was developed as an exchange format for documents. The original goal was to preserve and protect the content and layout of a document - no matter what platform or computer program it is viewed on. This is why PDFs are hard to edit and sometimes even extracting information from them is a challenge.
  • Not all PDFs are alike when it comes to working with them. Different types of PDFs require different ways of working with them, for example when searching or extracting information.

Read more about the different types of PDFs ›