Certified PDF

Most companies who process PDF files on a regular basis (publishers, printers, trade shops,…) obviously expect these PDF files to be print-ready. A lot of companies publish specifications that supplied PDFs should adhere to. Others rely on industry standards such as GWG, a policy that seems to make more sense to me.

Even if designers or advertising agencies claim to follow those recommendations, how can you be sure that this is the case? How can you be certain that they did not preflight the file and then made a modification in Acrobat which causes a new problem?

Certified PDF tries to solve these concerns. A Certified PDF is a regular PDF, with a few bits of extra information:

  • It contains information about the preflight profile that was used to check the file.
  • It contains logging information that tells you if the preflight was successful and if any errors or notifications were generated.
  • If a user attempts to modify the PDF, a warning is displayed. If the file is modified, this breaks the certification. All the changes in the PDF are logged and there is a possibility to undo changes.

When this technology was introduced around 2003, it generated quite some interest in the printing and publishing industry. Some associations promoted it heavily and even tried to make its use mandatory. Because it is a proprietary technology that never got incorporated in the official PDF specifications, industry support has gradually declined. Nowadays Certified PDF still exists but is ignored by even those users who are aware of its existence.

Products that support Certified PDF

Certified PDF was developed by Enfocus Software (now a part of Esko). Enfocus have integrated Certified PDF technology in their own products such as PitStop, a PDF preflighting and editing tool.

They have also licensed the technology to other companies, such as Quite and Callas Software. As far as I know, these companies no longer support Certified PDF in their products.

Workflow systems or other applications such as web portals that use one of the above products can also support Certified PDF. In the Apogee Prepress workflow, which is the production system I am most familiar with, it is possible to define that for a job all pages have to be Certified PDF files that match a certain preflight profile. If files are supplied that do not meet this standard, the workflow automatically flags them with a red icon and stops processing those files until an operator either accepts or rejects the data.

How to create Certified PDF files

Use one of the above-mentioned products to preflight and certify a PDF.

How to check certification

Use of the above products or the free StatusCheck plug-in that Enfocus offer. It can be used with Adobe Acrobat.


2 thoughts on “Certified PDF

  1. If an attorney sends me a subpoena via certified.pdf am I required to acknowledge receipt?

    Thank you.

    1. There are two meanings to “certified.”

      On this web site (prepressure) “certified” means that a PDF file conforms to certains standards required by a printing press, so that the printed file looks the way you expect it to look. Remember that before the file is printed, it’s only been seen on a computer monitor or a computer printer, not a printing press. This kind of certified PDF must meet specific standards relative to the printer. It has nothing to do with legal documents.

      Your question refers to “certified” in the sense of legal documents. Very different technology! If someone alters a paper document, it’s usually easy to determine the change by testing the paper or ink. But many electronic documents can be altered wihout leaving a trace. When a PDF is certified in this sense, a digital signature is included. Any alteration to the file invalidates it. So, you can be sure that all copies of the electronic file are identical.

      Neither this site, nor its readers, can answer your question about certified legal documents. That’s a matter of law, which may very from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

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