What is a PDF file?

By now, most of us have used a PDF file but likely without understanding what it is or its advantages over other file formats. The Portable Document Format, or PDF, was introduced by Adobe Systems in 1993 and remained a proprietary format until 2008. It is now under the control and supervision of the International Standards Organization (ISO).

ISO has since introduced a series of PDF subsets designed for different types of industries. They include:

  • PDF/X: PDF for Exchange, for use with graphic technology.
  • PDF/A: PDF for Archive, designed for long-term preservation of documents.
  • PDF/E: PDF for Engineering, for use with engineering documents.
  • PDF/VT: PDF for Variable Data and Transactional Printing, also for use with graphic technology.
  • PDF/UA: PDF for Universal Accessibility, a document file format enhancement to improve users’ ability to access and engage with the documents.

5 advantages of using PDF files


PDF files have become the preferred file format for many industries and businesses because of the built-in security benefits. They can be password protected, preventing users without the correct password from opening the file. PDF files also can be set to read-only, allowing users to view the file but preventing them from making changes to it.


PDF was designed to be a vehicle for sharing documents between users of different computer platforms who may not have access to the application used to create the original document. PDF acts as a wrapper of the original document and preserves that document’s text formatting and inline images, regardless of the platform on which the document is opened. For example, a document created in the most recent version of Microsoft Word may not have its formatting preserved when opened in earlier versions of Word, or in other similar programs like OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or Google Docs. By saving the Word document in PDF format, its compatibility and formatting is guaranteed to be preserved.


PDF accommodate a variety of content, including text, images, videos, animations, and 3D models, without negatively impacting the format of the document. As a result, things like presentations, reports, and portfolios can all be packaged in PDF format, eliminating the need for different applications to handle different tasks.


PDF files work efficiently on all operating systems, including mobile ones, making the format easy to share and view. Most devices even come with built-in PDF reading apps.


PDF allows for efficient file compression without sacrificing the quality of the document. In internal testing, we routinely compress PDF files containing bi-tonal, or black and white, images by 50% of their original file size, and PDF files containing color images by 90% of their original size. For organizations that manage a large amount of data, the ability to compress using PDF will result in a significant reduction in internal or cloud network storage space, and the resulting cost savings.


History of PDF. (2021, October 17). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_PDF

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