Change PDF Versions for FDA Compliance


The Food and Drug Administration dictates the specific version of PDF that is accepted by the agency— PDF 1.4, the Acrobat 5 specification

Most operations in Acrobat produce a compliant PDF 1.4 file. For example, the PDF Makers in Word and Excel default to producing an Acrobat 5 level file.

In this article I’ll cover:

  • How to check the version of a PDF document
  • How to change the PDF version

I’ll also cover some other related topics about changing PDF version. Read on to learn more.

PDF Versions and Backwards Compatibility

Certain PDF documents may only be viewed in newer versions of Acrobat.

For example, if you send a PDF Package to a client using Acrobat 6, they will be prompted to download the latest version of the free Adobe Reader to view it.

The following chart is not comprehensive. It is intended to cover the specific instances a typical user may encounter.

Acrobat Product Version


New Features Affecting
Backwards Compatibility

Acrobat 8

PDF 1.7

  • Reader Enabled Forms
  • PDF Packages
  • PDF 1.7 XML Forms

Acrobat 7

PDF 1.6

  • Reader Enabled Review
  • Security Envelopes
  • XML Forms
  • Embedded multimedia including 3D content
  • Bookmark Compression

Acrobat 6

PDF 1.5

  • Linked multimedia

Acrobat 5

PDF 1.4

  • OCR Text Layer

Saving to a Previous PDF Version using “Reduce File Size”

This option is available in both Acrobat Standard and Professional.

  1. Choose Document—> Reduce File Size

Using thr Reduce File Size option to change the PDF version.

  1. Choose the PDF compatibility required
  2. Click OK

What “Reduce File Size” actually does is a bit of a mystery. Documents containing color images generally show the most reduction in file size.

Typical legal documents such as scanned black and white documents or simple text-only documents generated from word processing will show little difference in file size. In fact, they may grow slightly.

Saving to a Previous PDF Version using the PDF Optimizer

The PDF Optimizer is a feature of Acrobat Professional only. Using the PDF Optimizer you can:

  • Change PDF version compatibility
  • Selectively compress images to reduce the size of scanned images
  • Unembed fonts
  • Flatten Form fields
  • Remove bookmarks
  • Remove an embedded search index
  • Discard metadata

You can select and carry out multiple operations or simply change the version.

Follow these steps to reduce file size using the PDF Optimizer in Acrobat 8:

  1. Choose Advanced—> PDF Optimizer…

    — or —

    File—Save as…
    Choose “Adobe PDF Files, Optimized” from the Type menu
    Click the Settings button

    Save As Optimized PDF

  2. Set the PDF Compatibility
    PDF Optimizer Settings
  3. Click OK

Changing PDF Versions in Batch

The PDF Optimizer may be used with the Batch Processing feature of Acrobat Professional.

You could, for example, change the PDF version of hundreds of files at a time.

Additional Discussion

Acrobat cannot make every PDF readable by an earlier version, especially those that contain embedded multimedia objects. If this is the case, use the PDF Optimizer to remove embedded media.

Since older, full versions of Acrobat can co-exist on system with the latest Adobe Reader, “Open” compatibility isn’t much of an issue. Reader is free, and that’s a compelling reason to install it.

The FDA may not always require the PDF 1.4 specification.

Adobe is working with an International Standards Organization Technical Committee to submit PDF 1.7 for approval as a formal, open standard, named ISO 32000.

Government agencies are always concerned about supporting proprietary formats. If ISO accepts this submission, it may pave the way for the acceptance of PDF 1.7 by the FDA.

Further Reading

Jim King’s Inside PDF Blog

AIIM’s ISO 32000 Proposal (PDF)

Adobe to Release PDF for Industry Standardization FAQ

One Response to Change PDF Versions for FDA Compliance

  1. Sandra says:

    Quick and easy process. Thanks