PDF version generated by macOS

I am having the nightmare of submitting an invoice to a robotic system run by a government agency. My email is rejected because the “format is not recognised” for the PDF attachment. The robot says the attachment must be in “PDF 4” format. I assume the the PDF creation function of macOS (Mojave) is not in this format.
Can anyone enlighten me on this and/or suggest a way to create a “PDF 4” version (other than subscribing to Acrobat)?

Well this is interesting. I learned some things, which I will share, but ultimately no solution, unfortunately.

I checked a PDF that I created tonight using Pages, and found that it reported itself as PDF version 1.3.

(Open a PDF in Preview.app, then go to Tools » Show Inspector to bring up the info panel.)

This was on Mojave, but Catalina does the same.

I went to Wikipedia and found this page:

It does not list a “PDF 4” – the version numbers are all 1.x.

There is a column named “Acrobat Reader version support” which has a 4.0, but that corresponds to version 1.3.

Undaunted, I kept looking, and came across this article:

What are the Different Versions of PDF/A?

which includes this:

PDF/A-4 (ISO 19005-4:2019)

Sometimes referred to as PDF/A-NEXT, PDF/A-4 is the next iteration of the PDF/A standard slated for publication in 2019. PDF/A-4 will be based on PDF 2.0, the most recent version of the PDF standard, and introduces two new conformance levels, e & f.

Aha! I wonder if “PDF/A-4” is what they meant?

But then I found Your Guide to PDF/A Compliance which says:

PDF/A-4 (still in review)

PDF/A-4 is still in the works and is expected to be released later in 2019.

However, I can find no evidence that PDF/A-4 was officially released in 2019.

Assuming that PDF/A-4 is what they meant, there is (apparently) no standard yet. My guess is that Adobe’s tools may produce something called “PDF/A-4” but as far as I can tell, nothing else does.

At this point I think your best bet is to try to find a human to talk to at this government agency (I know, but still) and see if they can give you some advice.

I’m not sure what else to suggest.


Excellent research - thank you. I also found the version listed as 1.3.
I will try to talk to a person. Interesting that the Purchase Order only has a post office box address…so I can’t deliver the invoice by hand.

As I understand it, the standards are mostly concerned with error checking (prepress-type stuff like working links and fonts). That is, they are assurances that everything works. And they are, of course, unnecessary if you know that everything’s kosher in them anyway. I work in publishing and have never used them. I wonder if there’s an online service that can run your PDF through the required checks and “certify” it. Like: https://www.ilovepdf.com/convert-pdf-to-pdfa (which service costs $6/month).

A4 is the US standard document letter size, and is also standard in many other countries. IFIRC, it is the standard in Pages, Word, Preview, and Adobe apps. If any of the margins on the document have been altered from the app’s defaults, it could cause big problems in printing on any desktop or pro printer, and most definitely on imagesetters. I’m guessing could also stymie inclusion in digital archive services:

The agency requested “PDF 4”, which as already noted, likely means the PDF/A-4 standard, not A4 page size. Also US letter size is 8.5×11″, whereas A4 is 210×297mm, or ~8.3×11.7″.

Whatever the standard size is, if the margins are not correct, It could create problems in printing or archiving.

Another problem could be that the document was saved as a read only PDF. Somebody could have turned this feature on and forgotten to turn it off.

I have managed to speak to a person and my invoice is being processed (I hope). She thought that the automated message should read “PDF format” not “PDF 4”.
Furthermore the phone number provided in the automated message did not work so it all seems to point to very sloppy software development. Doesn’t give me much confidence if I have to submit another invoice sometime.
Thank you for the tips. They are handy for future reference.

Oh… dear.


Good luck with that.