Accessible PDFs are usable by visually impaired users who rely on screen readers/text-to-speech engines/vocalisation.

The two main tasks required to create accessible PDFs are marking content and defining the document's logical structure. These are detailed in the following sections.

Some other simpler tasks are also required.

This checklist covers everything that is required to create a conformant PDF/UA (PDF for Universal Accessibility) document (which is an extension of Tagged PDF):

Marked Content

Marked content sequences are foundational to creating accessible PDFs.

All marked content sequences are associated with a registered tag, such as 'Span'.

Example of marking content:

// Mark some text as a "Span"
doc.text('Hello, world! ');

Marked content is automatically ended when a page is ended, and if a new page is automatically added by text wrapping, marking is automatically begun again on the new page.

Tags to use are listed in a later section.

Marked Content Options

When marking content, you can provide options (take care to use correct capitalisation):

It is advisable not to use Span content for specifying alternative text, expanded form, or actual text, especially if there is a possibility of the content automatically wrapping, which would result in the text appearing twice. Set these options on an associated structure element instead.

Logical Structure

Logical structures defines the reading order of a document, and can provide alternative text for images and other visual content.

To define logical structure, you need to mark the structure content, keep a reference to it, then incorporate it into a structure tree.

So far, PDFKit only supports marked content in the logical structure, not annotations, forms, or anything else.

Example of marking structure content:

// Mark some text as a paragraph ("P"); the tag should match the intended structure element's type
const myStructContent = doc.markStructureContent('P');
doc.text('Hello, world! ');

Example of the simplest of structure trees:

// Add a single structure element which includes the structure content to the document's structure
doc.addStructure(doc.struct('P', myStructContent));

Tags/element types to use are listed in a later section.

Note that to be conformant to Tagged PDF, all content not part of the logical structure should be marked as Artifact.

Automatic Ending of Structure Content and Artifacts

Structure content does not nest, and is mutually exclusive with artifact content; marking structure or artifact content will automatically end current marking of structure or artifact content (and any descendent marking):

// Mark multiple paragraphs without needing to close them
doc.markContent('Artifact', { type: "Layout" });
doc.rect(x1, y1, w1, h1);
const myStructContent = doc.markStructureContent('P');
doc.text('Hello, world! ');
doc.markContent('Artifact', { type: "Layout" });
doc.rect(x2, y2, w2, h2);
const myStructContent = doc.markStructureContent('P');
doc.text('Bonjour, tout le monde! ');
doc.markContent('Artifact', { type: "Layout" });
doc.rect(x3, y3, w3, h3);
const myStructContent = doc.markStructureContent('P');
doc.text('Hello again! ');

Complex Structure

Multiple elements may be added directly to the document, or to structure elements, and may nest:

// Create nested structure elements
const section1 = doc.struct('Sect', [
    doc.struct('P', [
        doc.struct('Link', someLinkStructureContent),
const section2 = doc.struct('Sect', secondSectionStructureContent);

// Add them to the document's structure

Incremental Construction of Structure

Structure can be built incrementally. Elements can optionally be (recursively) ended once you have finished adding to them, allowing them to be flushed out as soon as possible:

// Begin a new section and add it to the document's structure
const mySection = doc.struct('Sect');

// Create a new paragraph and add it to the section
const myParagraph = doc.struct('P');

// Add content, both to the page, and the paragraph
const myParagraphContent = doc.markStructureContent('P');
doc.text('Hello, world! ');

// End the paragraph, allowing it to be flushed out, freeing memory

Note that if you provide children when creating a structure element (i.e. providing them to doc.struct() rather than using structElem.add()) then structElem.end() is called automatically. You therefore cannot add additional children with structElem.add(), i.e. you cannot mix atomic and incremental styles for the same structure element.

For an element to be flushed out, it must:

When you call doc.end(), the document's structure is recursively ended, resulting in all elements being flushed out. If you created elements but forgot to add them to the document's structure, they will not be flushed, but the PDF stream will wait for them to be flushed before ending, causing your application to hang. Make sure if you create any elements, you add them to a parent, so ultimately all elements are attached to the document. It's best to add elements to their parents as you go.

Shortcut for Elements Containing Only Marked Content

The common case where a structure element contains only content marked with a tag matching the structure element type can be achieved by using a closure:

doc.addStructure(doc.struct('P', () => {
    doc.text('Hello, world! ');

This is equivalent to:

const myStruct = doc.struct('P');
const myStructContent = doc.markStructureContent('P');
doc.text('Hello, world! ');

Note that the content is marked and the closure is executed if/when the element is attached to the document's structure. This means that you can do something like this:

const myParagraph = doc.struct('P', [
    () => { doc.text("Please see ", { continued: true }); },
    doc.struct('Link', () => {
        doc.text("something", { link: "", continued: true });
    () => { doc.text(" for details. ", { link: null }); }

and no content will be added to the page until/unless something like this is done:

section1.add(myParagraph); // Content is added now

or alternatively:

doc.addStructure(section1); // Content is added now

This is important because otherwise when the Link element is constructed, its content will be added to the page, and then the list containing the link element will be passed to the construct the P element, and only during the construction of the P element will the other P content be added to the page, resulting in page content being out of order. It's best to add elements to their parents as you go.

Structure Element Options

When creating a structure element, you can provide options:

Example of a structure tree with options specified:

const titlePage = doc.struct('Sect', {
    title: 'Title Page'
}, [
    doc.struct('H', [
        doc.struct('Span', {
            expanded: 'Portable Document Format for Universal Accessibility',
            actual: 'PDF/UA'
        }, [
        doc.struct('Span', {
            actual: 'in a Nutshell'
        }, [
    doc.struct('Figure', {
        alt: 'photo of a concrete path with tactile paving'
    }, [

Automatic Marking and Structure Construction for Text

The text() method accepts a structParent option which you can use to specify a structure element to add each paragraph to. It will mark each paragraph of content, create a structure element for it, and then add it to the parent element you provided. It will use the P type, unless you specify a different type with a structType option.

Example of creating structure automatically with text():

// Create a section, add it to the document structure, then add paragraphs to it
const section = doc.struct('Sect');
doc.text("Foo. \nBar. ", { structParent: section });

This is equivalent to:

const section = doc.struct('Sect');
section.add(doc.struct('P', () => { doc.text("Foo. "); });
section.add(doc.struct('P', () => { doc.text("Bar. "); });

The list() method also accepts a structParent option. By default, it add list items (type LI) to the parent, each of which contains a label (type Lbl, which holds the bullet, number, or letter) and a body (type LBody, which holds the actual item content). You can override the default types with a structTypes option, which is a list: [ itemType, labelType, bodyType ]. You can make any of the types null to omit that part of the structure (i.e. to add labels and bodies directly to the parent, and/or to collapse the label and body into a single element).

Example of creating structure automatically with list():

// Create a list, add it to the structure tree, then add items to it
const list = doc.struct('List');
doc.list(["Foo. ", "Bar. "], { structParent: list });

Tags and Structure Element Types

Here are the tags and structure element types which are defined in Tagged PDF. You must ensure you give them with the correct capitalisation.

Tagged PDF also supports custom types which map to standard types, but PDFKit does not have support for this.

Non-structure tags:

"Grouping" elements:

"Block" elements:

"Table" elements:

"Inline" elements:

"Illustration" elements (should have alt and/or actualtext set):