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General PDF guidelines

General PDF guidelines


This document is meant as a guide to producing PDF files that are optimized for Internet use. It may not be possible for your company to adhere to all guidelines but please attempt to achieve our goals of accessibility for all City residents.

Since the City of Ottawa is not the author of these documents, it will not have any involvement in the creation of the PDF files. It is the applicant’s responsibility to generate these PDF files in a format that respects the guidelines contained within this document. Additionally, because these documents constitute official public records, it would be inappropriate for City staff to edit, manipulate or re-create the PDF files that are submitted by the applicant.

General Considerations for the Internet


Not all users have high-speed Internet access so every consideration has to be taken into account to make the documents accessible to dial-up users. The general rule of thumb is to keep the file size as small as possible so that it downloads easily and quickly to the web browser.


In keeping with the rule of smaller file size, the use of bitmap images (TIFF, JPEG, EPS etc.) should be kept to a minimum. When these are necessary for renderings and photos, please consider using Grayscale versions to keep the document smaller. Please note that duo-tone/tri-tone images will be considered full colour when converting to PDF.

Whenever possible, we recommend the use of vector images (EPS, WMF, EMF etc.) instead of bitmaps as they are smaller in size, and as an added benefit, can be scaled up quite a bit while maintaining their integrity when viewing in Acrobat Reader.

Try to avoid repetitive images in documents such as a company logo on every page, graphical headers and footers, as these will only add to the total file size of the document and require more time for the end user to download.

Compression and Settings

There are different settings within Acrobat and we recommend the “Smallest File Size” option. The following are the default settings (taken from Acrobat 7.0):


The City of Ottawa has taken great strides in promoting a barrier-free city for both its employees and residents. The City is progressively moving towards becoming a fully inclusive community. Accessible, affordable programs and services, facilities and infrastructure are integral to the economic and social inclusion of residents with disabilities and we encourage all submitted content to be accessible.

Acrobat Versions

To make accessible PDF files, you will need Acrobat version 5.0 or higher (Acrobat version 6.0 and up is preferred); these versions include the option to create tagged documents.

Planning your document

There is more to making PDF documents accessible than designing a visually pleasing document. You should first consider the logical structure of the file itself. If you are working with a large file, for example, you will want to create internal navigation links so browsers can move quickly to the section or chapter for which they are looking. Similarly, you will need to take full advantage of structural elements that identify sections, columns, and paragraphs. You will save yourself a great deal of time and effort if you avoid creating text-based tags within Adobe Acrobat's tag creator. If you are using Microsoft Word to create your document, here are a few hints for using structural elements which will go a long way in making an accessible document:

  • Use real headings and not just "bold" or large fonts
  • Add bullets or numbers to any lists
  • Use regular columns (by going to "Format" in the menu bar and than choosing "Columns") rather than tabs to create columns of text.

Checking your tags

To check one's "tags" after the document has been converted you can view the "tag root" by selecting "Window" in Acrobat, and then scrolling down to “tags”. This is available in version 5.0 only. It is important to make sure that all images are properly tagged.

Additional information

For additional information on creating accessible PDF files please refer to the following resources:


When creating a PDF, Acrobat automatically inserts the document information such as “Title”, “Author”, “Subject” and “Summary”, we recommend removing any personal information contained within these areas. To do this simply open your PDF file then navigate to the document properties dialog box using “File -> Document Properties” and click on the “Description” tab and remove any private information that may be contained within the text fields.

Additionally you may want to click on the “Additional Metadata” button to check if there is any other personal information that needs to be removed.