What the difference is, between a Native and a Scanned PDF File.

As the subject line suggests, this posting will just define the subject of Native versus Scanned PDF Files.

I have encountered people who simply regard PDF Files as a convenient way to scan a stack of images – from paper – and to store those images. The resulting Scanned PDF Files do have advantages over certain other image formats, such that:

  • They can be password-protected, locked, ‘DRM’ed, etc.,
  • They keep track of a document consisting of more than one actual image, aka page.

But their main disadvantage is, that because they were scanned, they are also rasterized, which means that they have a fixed resolution in pixels. (‘Rasterized’ images are also referred to as ‘Pixel-Maps’ or ‘Bit-Maps’.) I supppose that if a paper document is being scanned, this is not a big deal, because the original document had a limit in its physical level of detail. (:1) But as an alternative, Native PDF Files also exist.

In order to understand what those are, the reader needs to be aware that a form of graphics exists in general, which is an alternative to pixel-based graphics, and that is called ‘Vector-Based Graphics’. What this form of graphics entails is, that there exists a Mathematical definition of a curve, which is often also referred to as a ‘Path’, the parameters of which can be changed from one path to the next. Those parameters need to state in floating-point numbers, where the endpoints of the path are, and, preferably, define what the derivative of the curve is at both endpoints. The most standard type of Mathematical function that does this is a Cubic Spline, but that is by no means the only function available.

A vector-based image consists of a collection of paths, each of which has a different set of these numerical parameters, even in cases where the function is always the same. Also, there often needs to be a stored detail, of how to render such paths, such as to fill in the area inside a closed path with a fill colour, etc..

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