How to make a PDF expire

How to put an expiry date on a PDF & automatically expire PDF files & documents.

Here we cover how PDF expiry works, adding an expiry date to a PDF document, and automatically expiring PDF files after a number of days, opens, and prints.

  Can you make a PDF expire?

Whether you’re a publisher, large organization, or small enterprise, the time may come when you will need to know how to make a PDF expire.  An expiring PDF grants several advantages, including the ability to limit third-party sharing, offer limited-time products, and eliminate publication of obsolete document versions.

Although you may expect most PDF security solutions to have an expiry feature, it’s not the case.  Currently, Adobe PDF offers no native way to make a PDF expire.

PDF expiration date scripts

The only methods to make a PDF expire involve unsanctioned community scripts, such as a PDF expiration date script that utilizes JavaScript.

PDF expiration date scripts are completely useless:

  1. they are easily bypassed by users not enabling JavaScript in their PDF Reader application
  2. they are not supported by some PDF readers (especially on mobile devices)
  3. the JavaScript code does not work in Mac Preview so Mac users can continue viewing the PDF files after they have expired
  4. users can edit the PDF document and remove the PDF expiration date script
  5. even if you apply PDF password protection to restrict editing, users can remove the restrictions in seconds using PDF password recovery software

So, why doesn’t Adobe Acrobat PDF password protection have PDF expiration features built-in?  Though it is a popular solution, fundamentally it’s not DRM software.  Its focus is primarily on convenience and easy editing, not security.  As such, it offers little other than basic, easily bypassed password protection.

You’ll be unsurprised to hear, then, that the only reliable way to make a PDF expire is through a fully-fledged PDF DRM solution like Safeguard PDF Security.

  How does PDF expiration work?

PDF expiration relies on strong encryption.  After a document publisher creates their PDF, they encrypt it with PDF DRM software that only allows those with a valid key to decrypt it.  The PDF file and/or the key to decrypt it can be set to expire based on the following factors:

  • The date
  • The number of days from first use
  • How many times the document has been opened
  • How many times the user has printed the document

These controls can typically be applied on a document-wide, publication-wide (a group of protected PDF documents), or per user basis.

Expired PDF files cannot be opened – once a PDF has expired, the user will be shown a message (this can be customized) to tell them the PDF file has expired.  PDF expiry however can be changed by the document Publisher after a PDF has been distributed as they may want to shorten or extend access.

Let’s now take a look at how to make expiring PDF files and how you can apply PDF expiry in different scenarios.

  How to put an expiry date on a PDF

A PDF expiration date is one of the most common DRM controls and one of the easiest to set. Right-click on a PDF file and select ‘Make Secure PDF’.  Then after opening Safeguard PDF writer, follow these steps:

  1. Select the “Expiry & Validity” tab
  1. Tick “at” under the “Document Expires” heading
  1. Customize your expiry date

    Click the calendar icon next to your date and select any day from the pop-up calendar.

  1. In the Verify Document Access section, select your document validation options

    Safeguard PDF Expiry software has four options and these determine how quickly any changes you make to the expiry date (after the document has been published and distributed) are picked up:

    • Never:  The software will never check with the Safeguard Administration system.  The user can therefore view the document offline since they never have to connect to the Internet.  If you change the PDF expiry date on the Safeguard Administration system, the new PDF expiry date will not be implemented since there is no connection to the server.  While the user can re-activate their Viewer license to pick up the new expiry date this will only likely happen if you have extended the expiry period (since they will want to gain additional access time).
    • Each time the document is opened:  The user’s right to access the document will be validated when they try to open it.  They have to be connected to the Internet each time they open the document.  If you change the expiry date on the Safeguard Administration system the new PDF expiry date will be implemented immediately.
    • Only when an internet connection is available:  The user’s right to access the document will be validated when they try to open it only if they are connected to the Internet. If you change the expiry date on the Safeguard Administration system the new PDF expiry date will only be implemented when the Safeguard Viewer next connects to the Internet.
    • Every x days:  The user’s access will be checked at a specified time period in days, with a configurable grace period after opening the document.  A change in expiry dates can then be enforced.
    • After x days and then never again:  After a pre-defined number of days, the software will check if a user still has access to a document.  It will never check again.  This is a useful option if you want to make sure a chargeback has not occurred.  You could set the initial expiry date to say 60 days and then extend it before the validation check is made assuming no chargebacks have occurred.  The new expiry date will then be enforced going forwards.

    Choose the option that makes the most sense for your scenario and then publish the document to apply the changes to it.

  How to make a PDF self-destruct after a number of days

In some situations, it may make more sense to have a document expire a number of days after it is first opened rather than a set date.  This is particularly useful if you’re unsure when the recipient will read the document for the first time and want to give users a set amount of time to view the document.

Follow the steps below after opening Safeguard PDF expiry software to enable the option:

  1. Select the “Expiry & Validity” tab
  1. Tick “after” under the “Document Expires” heading and enter the number of days
  1. Choose your document verification options

    Choose the verification option that makes the most sense for your scenario (refer to the document validation options in ‘How to put an expiry date on a PDF’) and then publish the document to apply the changes to it.

  How to put an expiry date on a PDF for a specific user

If you want your expiry date to apply to a specific user rather than having the PDF document expire on a fixed date or after a number of opens, you can do so through the Safeguard Administration system.

Choosing to not make a PDF expire but access to it expire for individual users however is useful for subscriptions where the PDF document will always remain valid but access to it will be limited for each user.

You can also set the PDF file to expire on a fixed date or after a number of days, opens, or prints as well if you prefer.  What every expiry option is reached first will cause the PDF to expire.

Making a PDF expire on a user basis

  1. In Safeguard Writer protect the PDF for individual user access

    Select the Document Access tab and choose the option “Selected customers (must be individually allocated)”.  Then publish the document by selecting the ‘Publish’ button.

  1. Log in to Safeguard Admin
  1. Open the “Documents” tab and press the “Details” button next to your document
  1. Click on the “Grant or revoke access” link

    Click the calendar icon next to your date and select any day from the pop-up calendar.

  1. Set a PDF expiry date for the customer

    Select the customer(s) you’d like to set the expiry date for, then change “With all checked:” to “Grant Limited Access”.


    Set your “From” and “Until” values to the relevant dates to define your expiry periods and press “OK”.

  Make a PDF expire after printing

If a set expiry date or number of days expiry doesn’t make sense for your situation, you can instead make a PDF expire after printing, based on the number of times each user prints it.  You can think of this as a sort of “self-destruct” mechanism.

Here’s how you can make a PDF file expire after a number of prints:

  1. Select the “Printing & Viewing” tab
  1. Tick “Allow Printing”, “Limit number of copies to:” and “No access after print copies depleted”

    Don’t forget to specify your number of prints next to the “copies to:” option.

    After defining any other controls you want on your document, you can publish and share the protected PDF file with your recipients.

  Make a PDF Expire after a number of opens

There will probably be occasions for very sensitive or confidential documents where you only want to allow a limited number of opens before the PDF self-destructs.  For example, you might want a user to be able to open the document once only so that it limits exposure to the document content.

Here’s how you can make a PDF file expire after a number of opens:

  1. Select the “Printing & Viewing” tab
  1. Tick “Limit number of views to:”

    Define the number of times each user can open (view) the document in the box next to the option and publish your document to apply the changes.

  Expired PDF files and PDF expiry messages

Users cannot unlock or open expired PDF files.  Once a PDF file has expired the following message is displayed:

You can customize the expiry message with your own text from the Messages tab in Safeguard Writer or have the user directed to a web page instead.

Publishers selling PDF documents may find this useful in soliciting for additional business.

  PDF Expiry Software & making PDF files expire

As you can tell, dedicated PDF expiry software from a DRM provider will offer many more options than traditional PDF solutions, secure document sharing, or secure data room systems.

The flexibility, and security that print-based, view-based, day and date-based expiry offer makes it the best choice for those who truly want to protect and securely share their content while ensuring it cannot be viewed (both offline and online) after a specified period of time or actions.

PDF expiry can be a great addition to traditional document security controls, enabling you to enforce document retention periods or ensure that document sharing with third parties is tightly controlled within a limited time period.  For publishers selling PDF documents, it gives you flexibility over how you price content or make training courses or reports only available for a limited amount of time.

If you want to make PDF files expire then take a free 15 day trial of our PDF expiry software.