ActivePDF Blog

What's the difference between a good PDF and a bad PDF?

One of the challenges of converting digital documents often comes from preserving data when transitioning from one file format to another. A low-quality PDF that doesn't fully render each piece of information from the original source can impact regulatory compliance and lead to human error. Your files should retain their original quality when converted to another format. Knowing the difference between a high-quality and low-quality PDF can greatly impact what conversion tool you use. High-quality PDFs retain all the necessary content from the source material.

Defining quality and fidelity in a PDF setting
Document fidelity is a defining measure of quality when you convert files to PDF. It refers to the visual quality retained in a document when it moves from one file format to the next. The preservation of the visual presentation and text can greatly vary from one program to the next. 
At the same time, the look of the file doesn't necessary mean it's a good one. PDF files marked for specific purposes such as archiving or the exchange of graphics must follow their associated ISO standards, such as ISO 19005 for PDF/A. A good PDF follows these guidelines to the letter, while bad PDFs overlook many of these details, even if they look like the original document.

What are some common examples of low fidelity in PDF conversions?
There are plenty of errors that can appear when a document is converted to a PDF on a less-than-stellar solution. Here some basic examples:

Style and formatting
In a high-fidelity PDF, fonts and colors should look as they should from the original source. Common errors in low-fidelity files include:

  • Missing or incorrect typeface
  • Incorrect font sizes
  • Wrong colors
  • Inappropriate conversion of the original's color profile, which may be different from Adobe sRGB

High-fidelity PDFs preserve not only all the information on each page, but also the way it's presented. When low-fidelity conversions occur, you often see errors such as:

  • Images that fail to go past the margins into the bleed area
  • Lower resolution images based on dots per inch
  • Missing text
  • Text extending past the margins, cutting off several words

Linking systems
An interactive table of contents with clickable links to key chapters makes it far easier for employees and clients to review content. This additional layer of fidelity is particularly useful for large-scale documents, though not always necessary to maintain compliance with the PDF/A standards. High-fidelity PDFs can preserve these links, while low-fidelity PDFs have problems like:

  • A non-functioning table of contents
  • Improper pagination, with actual page numbers not matching those on the document

Additional material
As digital files get more sophisticated, so do PDFs. Compression technology mitigates this problem when used effectively, making PDFs truly portable. A low-fidelity PDF, however, will likely possess a very high file size due to improper compression.

With so many factors that can affect the document fidelity of a converted PDF, it is necessary to have a high-quality conversion tool. You'll yield files that are compliant, accessible and usable.

Posted: 10/14/2015