Digitisation specifications for paper records in agencies

The National Archives has developed new specifications for digitising paper records.

The specifications come into effect for government agencies on 1 December 2019 and replace our old scanning specifications.

There are two separate specifications for:

  • digitising paper records as part of your business-as-usual processes.
  • digitisation for preservation using our preservation digitisation standards. A transition period for this specification runs until 31 December 2020.

These specifications apply to paper records of any size, whether bound or unbound. Photographs in a paper file can be digitised to the same format and standards as the rest of the file.

Which specifications should I use?

This depends on whether the records you are digitising are of permanent value.

Records of permanent value are those that have either:

  • been identified as RNA (retain as national archives) in a current records authority
  • been identified for permanent retention.

If the records are of permanent value, use the digitisation for preservation specifications.

If the records are not of permanent value, use the business-as-usual specifications.

If you are digitising a series of records with both permanent and temporary value, and those records will be destroyed after digitisation, the entire series must be scanned in accordance with the preservation specifications. Please consult your agency’s information management team if this is the case.

Paper records as a business-as-usual process

The minimum specifications below apply when your agency digitises paper records as part of its business-as-usual processes. You are welcome to use higher specifications.

When you must use these specifications

You must use the business-as-usual specifications when all of the following apply:

  • Digitisation occurs as part of a business-as-usual process. For example, scanning incoming mail or invoices and capturing them in a business system such as an electronic document and records management system.
  • The records will or might be destroyed after digitisation in accordance with General Records Authority 31 (GRA 31). If disposal is not authorised under GRA 31, you must retain the source records unless the National Archives approves their destruction.
  • The source records are of temporary value.

In this case, your agency must configure scanners and multifunction devices to use the minimum specifications.

When these specifications are optional, but recommended

We recommend also using these specifications when the source records:

  • will not be disposed of after digitisation
  • do not have permanent value
  • are not on loan from the National Archives.

Minimum specification for digitising paper records as a business-as-usual process

File format and compression

Records must be digitised to one of the following formats:

  • TIFF 6.0 with uncompressed or lossless ZIP or LZW compression. JPEG compression requirements apply to TIFF files that use lossy JPEG compression.
  • PNG using lossless compression
  • JPEG using Photoshop compression level 10 to 12 (not less than 77% of the JPEG compression scale)
  • PDF/A at maximum image quality. We recommend using optical character recognition to make the scanned document easier to search.

Your agency’s equipment may not yet support PDF/A. PDF will be accepted as an alternative to PDF/A until 31 December 2020 so that agencies have time to upgrade old equipment. 


300 pixels per inch (ppi). Some manufacturers refer to this as dots per inch (dpi).

Scanning ratio

100% (original size)

Colour settings

If the source documents have coloured elements or are on coloured paper:

  • Bit depth: 8 bits per channel (24 bit)
  • Colour space: sRGB

If the source documents do not include colour:

  • Bit depth: 8 bit (greyscale)
  • Colour space: greyscale

Digitising for preservation

The National Archives’ preservation digitisation standards apply when you digitise records of permanent value. Using these standards ensures that the digital copy is an effective and long-lasting replacement for its paper original.

The standards apply to single records and groups of records, whether digitised by your agency or a contractor.

When you must use these specifications

The preservation digitisation standards must be used when one of the following applies:

  • the records are identified as having permanent value and either:
    • the source records will be disposed of after digitisation under General Records Authority 31 (GRA 31). If disposal is not authorised under GRA 31, you must retain the source records unless the National Archives approves their destruction.
    • the digital copies will be transferred to the National Archives. If so, please ensure your digitisation process also generates a checksum for each record.
  • the records are on loan from the National Archives to fulfil agency obligations under an exemption from the Agency Digitisation Service. In this case both the source records and digital copy must be returned to the National Archives.
  • the records will be disposed of after digitisation but:
    • do not have a valid disposal action assigned under an approved records authority
    • are not eligible for destruction under normal administrative practice provisions because a retention period has not been established.  

When digitising records for transfer to the National Archives, you can choose to create an additional lower-quality copy (known as a derivative access version) for use in your own agency. In this case, use the business-as-usual specifications above for your copy.

Preservation specifications for permanent value records

The minimum specifications for digitising paper documents for preservation are detailed on the preservation digitisation standards page. You are welcome to use higher specifications.

Transition period and exemptions for preservation digitisation standards

The National Archives’ preservation digitisation standards for paper records of permanent value come into effect from 1 December 2019.

A transition period runs until 31 December 2020. During this time, agencies can digitise paper records to a lower standard if one of the following exemptions applies.

Exemption 1: Existing technological limitations

This exemption applies when agencies need to purchase new hardware or software to meet the preservation digitisation standards.

During the transition period, agencies should digitise paper records to the highest standard possible. The minimum acceptable standards are the business-as-usual specifications above.

Exemption 2: Existing contractual arrangements

This exemption applies when your agency and an external provider have an existing digitisation contract that specifies lower standards than our preservation digitisation standards.

Any new or amended contracts entered into from 1 December 2019 must meet the preservation digitisation standards.

Quality assurance checks

Your digitisation processes must include quality assurance checks to ensure the digitised records meet the relevant specification. This helps ensure digital copies are fit for purpose and meet your agency’s business needs.

Agencies and their contractors are responsible for checking digitisation quality and fixing any issues. The National Archives does not do any quality assurance checks.

Suitable quality assurance checks are outlined in AS/NZS ISO 13028: 2012.

Further information

If you have any questions about these specifications or digitising paper records, please contact the Agency Service Centre.

Download quick-reference guide

This printable guide summarises the digitisation specifications for paper records.