Ready for CM/ECF Changes: Conforming Existing PDF files to PDF/A

The Federal Courts recently posted notice of the CM/ECF Transition to PDF/A on the PACER website.PDF/A Badge Logo

The PACER announcement offers minimal information. Many questions are left unanswered.

As I mentioned in my recent post Federal Courts Moving to Require PDF/A, creating and conforming PDF/A files may require substantial changes in your workflow.

While traveling in Washington, DC last week, I met with some court employees. It looks like the court is going to require PDF/A-1b, the less restrictive flavor of PDF/A. That’s good news, but is still unofficial.

PACER already accepts PDF/A files. I recommend testing your document processes now before the court mandates the change.

While creating PDF/A files from an electronic source isn’t too hard, conforming existing files can be a challenge.

PDF/A requires all fonts to be embedded in the document. If you have an existing PDF with an original electronic source, it is very possible, perhaps even likely that the fonts are not embedded.

Both Acrobat 9 Pro and Acrobat X Pro can embed fonts and conform existing files to PDF/A, assuming you have the source fonts on your computer.

I’ve found Acrobat X to do a more reliable job re-embedding fonts compared to Acrobat 9. In this article, I cover the method to conform an existing PDF for both Acrobat X Pro and Acrobat 9 Pro.

Conforming existing Files to PDF/A-1b

Here’s how to conform an existing file to PDF/A-1b in anticipation of the CM/ECF transition to PDF/A.

I’ve included instructions for both Acrobat 9 and Acrobat X.

  1. Open the PDF you wish to conform
  2. Open the Preflight Window

    In Acrobat X, click the Options flyout of the Tools Panel and show the Print Production, then choose Preflight from the panel
    Image of the Acrobat X panel and where to pull down the Print Production panel.

    In Acrobat 9, choose Advanced> Preflight

  3. Click the Show All button and choose PDF/A Compliance from the list:
  4. Choose PDF/A-1b from the list and click the Analyze and fix button.
    Converting the document to PDF/A-1b

28 Responses to Ready for CM/ECF Changes: Conforming Existing PDF files to PDF/A

  1. Leonard Rosenthol says:

    Even easier is to just “Save as PDF/A” – (File->Save As->PDF/A).
    — Rick’s Reply —
    Noted! Thx, Leonard.

  2. Ken Hawkins says:

    Does PDF-A-1b preserve redactions made to documents within Acrobat Adobe Professional 9.0?
    — Rick’s Reply—
    PDF/A has no effect on redactions. You will need to redact then conform to PDF/A.

  3. Susie says:

    What is the difference in the PDF/A-1a and 1b. A friend I have at Federal Court said that a lot of the PDF/A documents are not searchable which makes it hard for them.
    —- Rick’s Reply —-
    PDF/A or not does not affect searchability. If a scanned document has an OCR text layer it will be searchable.

  4. Brian says:

    Rick thanks for this article. It has been difficult to find good info on this topic.

    Would you mind providing some feedback or suggestions on how to batch convert exsisting PDF documents to the PDF/A-1b standard unsing Adobe Acrobat Professional 9?

  5. Linda Clark Benedict says:

    Each month I archive the email that has been sent to our faculty list. Before Acrobat 9 I did this by printing to Adobe PDF with Properties set to PDF/A. When finished I was able to access Preflight to verify.

    In Acrobat 9, the “print” job hangs up and never finishes. I tried going the the menu for Adobe PDF and don’t find an option for PDF/A.

    Can you help me with a new procedure to archive emails from Microsoft Outlook as PDF/A?

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Acrobat’s folder archiving creates a PDF Portfolio which is not compatible with the PDF/A specification. You’ll need to change the preferences in the Outlook PDF Maker to an Acrobat 5-level file then conform to PDF/A.

  6. Sue says:

    Confirming that this only applies to Acrobat 9 Pro, and not Acrobat 9 Standard, correct?

  7. Barbara says:

    Several days ago, I upgraded my free Adobe reader to version X. Since that upgrade, I am not able to open any document links in the federal court’s CM/ECF email notices OR on pacer. Telephone support was no help.

    I have tried the “repair download” link, to no avail.

    Is anyone else having this problem? Any suggestions? My PC runs Windows XP Home ed. 5.1. Suggestions greatly appreciated.

    ——————– Rick’s Reply ———————-
    You might try turning off Protected Mode in Reader X. Choose Preferences and go to the General Category. At the bottom, deselect “Enable Protected Mode” and restart Reader.

  8. Frankie says:

    Which, if any, of the earlier versions of Acrobat have the capability to conform/create PDF/A and run Preflight?

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Acrobat 9 Pro has Preflight and Save As PDF/A. Acrobat 8 and earlier only could create PDF/A.

  9. Toni Farrar says:

    Is there a way to set the “PDF/A” or “PDF/A-1b” as the default format for a pdf in Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro?
    —- Rick’s Reply—-
    No, and I wouldn’t advise that you would. You can set the PDF Maker Preferences and PDF Printer preferences to always create PDF/A files.

  10. Amy Howen says:

    Help – we have Word 2003 and Word Perfect 12 and Acrobat 6 Standard – are we even capable of creating a PDF/A document?

    ———— Rick’s Reply ————
    Sorry, no. You’ll need to update your Acrobat.

  11. John says:

    By Susie – 8:57 PM on December 15, 2010 Reply
    What is the difference in the PDF/A-1a and 1b. A friend I have at Federal Court said that a lot of the PDF/A documents are not searchable which makes it hard for them.
    —- Rick’s Reply —-
    PDF/A or not does not affect searchability. If a scanned document has an OCR text layer it will be searchable.

  12. Edward says:

    I recently tested a PDF/a 1b compliant final report in Adobe 9.0 preflight successfully, but in Adobe X it failed the preflight with “CIDset in subset font is incomplete (7 matches on 3 pages) Metadata does not conform to XMP” Has there been an adobe preflight change in Acrobat X? Is this a valid error?

  13. Barbara says:

    I have been tasked with converting existing PDFs to PDF/A-1B using Preflight and am getting the following error:

    Font not embedded (and text rendering mode not 3)

    Any ideas on how to fix this problem?

    • Rick Borstein says:

      You’ll probably need to print the job to the PDF Printer to fix that one. It means the font was not embedded properly to begin with.

  14. Fluggy says:

    I work in the California bankruptcy courts and their own forms are a mess. Almost impossible to convert, with many errors. “Font not embedded,” “Form field does not have appearance dict,” “Form field’s AP contains only N entry is not true.” No idea what all this is.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Yep, not every PDF can be converted to PDF/A and many courts did not anticipate the change. Forms are not a good candidate for PDF/A anyway since they are editable. Flatten the form then try converting to PDF/A.

  15. Joanna says:

    What is the impact of error messages on the process of converting regular PDF files to PDF/A? If you receive an error, is the document still converted? I want to make PDF/As out of construction drawings.

    Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.


    • Rick Borstein says:

      Error messages might indicate that the conversion did not take place. You should always verify the PDF conforms. Acrobat 11, fyi, makes the conforming process a lot easier and pretty much foolproof. If it can’t conform the file normally, it will re-Distill the document.

  16. Gladys says:

    It’s hard to come by well-informed people about this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking
    about! Thanks

  17. Joyce says:

    Do you have any tips regarding converting to PDF/A by printing to the pdf printer and keeping as small a file size as possible? It seems to greatly increase my file size when doing this. CM/ECF has a 5 or 10 mb file size maximum, so increasing the file size is often not helpful. Thank you.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      I haven’t seen that happen, but you might check that the Advanced settings of your print driver aren’t set to “Print as Image”. That would turn every page into a rasterized page making it larger. Other than that, the best advice I can offer is to try Acrobat XI which offers superior PDF/A conforming.