Digital Certificate vs. PDF Certificates: Which is Better?

Confused about the difference between digital certificates and PDF certificates? This article explains everything you need to know. Read on.

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Sergey Butko

Updated: March 26, 2024

10 min read

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As technology continues to advance, everything nowadays is tending to become digitized, and the need to strengthen data transfer security has increased.

In the world of certificates, we have two main options: PDF certificates and digital certificates.

Nowadays, digital certificates are the ones that are most in demand, leaving PDF certificates far behind. But are they safe enough?

In this article, you will find out about digital and PDF certificates, the underlying differences between them, and recommendations about what to choose. 

What is a digital certificate?

A digital certificate, also known as a public key certificate, is an electronic credential (like a password) used to confirm online identities. It allows individuals and organizations to exchange data in a fixed and safe manner over the Internet with the usage of public key infrastructure (PKI).

Moreover, a well-trusted institution known as a Certificate Authority (CA) issues digital certificates. Because such organizations store and sign these certificates, excellent data protection against cybercrimes (e.g., unauthorized access by hackers) is provided.

A digital certificate involves transferring public keys used for validation and encryption algorithms. During this process, the owner's digital identities and access to the public key are verified.

Not only does a digital certificate issued by a certification authority guarantee the sender's identity, but it also contains the public key along with other information concerning the sender in order to enhance security.

What is a PDF certificate?

A PDF certificate is a document that has been converted to a Portable Document Format (PDF), which differs significantly from a digital credential. The former is usually a physical document (such as a degree, diploma, undergraduate certificate, or master’s certificate) that is created manually without the help of an external company.

A PDF certificate file does not have a public key and can easily be counterfeited or shared. It is often issued first as a paper document that is then scanned by the user and converted into PDF format or created digitally from scratch. Such certificates in the form of PDFs can be distributed by, e.g., email attachment.

⚠️ Because of the lack of a security code, PDF files can get into the wrong hands and be used for scams. PDF certificates have a lot of weaknesses, one of the biggest of which is the unrestricted possibility of editing their content using any PDF editor. Consequently, PDF certificates are not as reliable as digital certificates issued by entrusted institutions.


Digital certificate vs. PDF certificate: the differences

If we take a closer look, there are many fundamental differences between digital certificates and PDF certificates.

In this part of the article, we are going to discuss the most noteworthy ones.

Moreover, this will be especially relevant if you are going to face a choice of the future format for your certificate.


⏳ Preparation process & time consumption

To start with, we will describe the preparation process for both digital and PDF certificates. This analysis will show us which ones are simpler and more convenient to prepare.

Preparation of a PDF certificate is usually extremely time-consuming and certainly more challenging to do on your own. The process frequently requires the management of various programs such as Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, etc. It usually takes a dozen steps, during which it is easy to get confused.

Additionally, the file, after its creation, has to be printed, signed by hand, then scanned, and re-converted to PDF or a digital signature added. However, it should be noted that this type of file is not the original document that is often asked for in higher institutions (e.g., universities, banks, or offices). So even after delivering the file via email, it may still be necessary to provide the document in person.

Meanwhile, preparing a digital certificate is straightforward. Using our certificate creator, you can complete the entire process in a few simple steps starting with creating a design. Moreover, the platform Certifier enables the use of advanced tools to create a format from scratches.

Apart from that, there is an opportunity to use a range of templates that can be easily adapted to the needs of various certificates. The user then creates a group and names it before adding the data of certificate recipients manually or attaching them as a list.

Next, one only needs to save and publish the certificate in order for the recipients to receive certificates directly to their email inboxes. Thanks to the Certifier platform, the user does not have to worry about using additional programs. The entire process of building certificates requires a minimal amount of time in comparison to creating a standard PDF document.


🔒 Verifiability & safety procedures

The credibility of the document is one of the most vital components of the successful preparation of a certificate. Without it, the document does not possess any value.

To begin with, PDF certificates are generally not issued by any institution. They do not possess a public key and, therefore, are not protected from fraud. For this reason, PDF certificates can be easily edited and forged.

Moreover, PDF certificates are commonly shared by unauthorized people and modified. As a result of a large number of scams, an increasing number of institutions are now changing traditional PDF certificates to more secure alternatives such as digital credentials with electronic signatures (that are in line with document signing regulations).

In contrast, digital certificates are issued on secure platforms, so they cannot be altered. Once an institution issues an electronic document, it will be present in its register and can be easily tracked. Moreover, anyone with access to the certificate can verify it immediately. Apart from that, nobody can issue a fake certification that will pass as legitimate.

🔑 Accessibility

Another crucial difference that we can distinguish between digital and PDF certificates is their availability. Despite the widespread belief that PDF files are the most accessible document format, it turns out that the time needed for their preparation often exceeds that required to create the more flexible option of a digital certificate.

What’s more, the electronic file is always present in the user's email inbox and ready for download after they have been made available, whereas, with PDF documents, there is more confusion. The problems start in particular when it is necessary to scan a regular document that has to be converted into a PDF file later.


Digital certificate vs. PDF certificates: what to choose?

When making choices, we always have to weigh everything carefully so as not to rush into making the wrong decision. This is especially important when thinking about the development of your business and its reputation.

However, after a thorough examination of the topic, we possess the opportunity to choose the most profitable option. In this case, we highly recommend following technological progress and trying out digital certificates.

Nowadays, everything is rapidly developing, so we need newer and newer technical solutions. Currently, both certificate formats are available on the market, but we can assume that it is only a matter of time before only digital certificates will remain available.

This is down to issues such as safety, comfort, and time-saving needs. Thanks to digital certificates, customers can save precious time and, in the blink of an eye, generate hundreds of safe types of certificates for school children, students, or participants of webinars.

Apart from that, digital certificates are also a good choice for people who like being creative. We offer modern design tools to create professional-looking digital certificates. With our tool, it is possible to create masterpieces. Additionally, our templates will remind you to include all of the necessary information.


Why should you use Certifier for creating your certificates?

At first glance, the question may seem puzzling, yet there is a perfect solution for you to dispel any doubts. Our well-qualified company, Certifier, supports users from around the world in a simple and accessible way to prepare credible digital certificates.

Thanks to our advanced tools, we help customers create graphically attractive digital certificates. After refining all of the details, our company deals with their distribution to your target group.

Moreover, when creating your digital certification on our website, you will never be left without a helping hand. If you have any questions about our services, you can contact our qualified experts, who will be happy to advise you or help solve any problematic issues.

The process may seem complex, but everything happens smoothly with the use of our online platform. All you need is some time to enter your data and select a template. After that, Certifier will take care of the rest.

In the meantime, you can appreciate the amount of saved time, get some rest, and rest assured that your client certificates will be safely and quickly delivered to the target group of your choice.

See how to create a digital and PDF certificate in one with Certifier:


Digital credentials are a breakthrough discovery, much needed in today's world with constantly evolving technological possibilities. They offer many options and are worth considering when choosing which type of certificates will be issued by your company.

Digital certificates are professional tools that are simple to create. They ensure the security of the data provided, are easily accessible, and are time-saving, unlike standard PDF certificates.

If you want your business to operate dynamically and build customer trust, digital certificates would be a reliable solution. Thanks to this choice, you will not only save time, but also you will do your students, trainees, or even colleagues a favor.


Digital certificates vs. PDF certificates FAQs

Which is better, a digital certificate or a PDF certificate?

After reading this article, you should have no doubts that digital certificates are a better choice today. Thousands of companies improve their workflow daily by creating organization certificates right from their major browsers. They can quickly create self-signed certificates – with Certifier, you can import certificates' recipients and send digital documents automatically.

See more about sending certificates through email here ➡️ How To Send Certificates Through Email

What are the benefits of a digital certificate?

A digital certificate has several benefits over a PDF certificate. First, it is more secure, as it is much harder to forge or tamper with a digital certificate. Second, it is more convenient, as you can easily share and view it online. Finally, it is more eco-friendly, as you do not need to print out a physical copy. 

Which type of certificate is right for me?

The type of certificate that is right for you depends on your needs. If security is your primary concern, then a digital certificate is the better choice.

Sergey Butko avatar

Sergey Butko

Tech entrepreneur. Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe. At Certifier, Sergey’s work focused on revolutionizing the way credentials, certificates, and badges are issued and managed through cutting-edge APIs and software infrastructure.

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