ISBN Barcodes Explained

ISBN Barcode Example

An ISBN (for International Standard Book Number) uniquely identifies a book or other printed matter. Until 2007 ISBNs were ten digits long (ISBN 10), today they are thirteen digits long (ISBN 13). The ISBN itself is composed of the following components:

  • GS1 prefix: three digits, usually 978 or 979 *

  • Group identifier: a single digit that identifies the country or language group, examples:
    • 0 or 1: english speaking countries, e.g. USA

    • 2: french speaking countries, e.g. France

    • 3: german speaking countries, e.g. Germany, Austria

  • Publisher identifier: a variable length number that identifies a publisher in that country or language group

  • Item identifier: a variable length number that identifies a certain book

  • Check digit (see below)

* Traditionally called the "Bookland" prefix

What barcode type is used for ISBN?

EAN 13 is used to represent an ISBN in a machine-readable fashion. To aid data entry in case the barcode scan fails, it is standard practice to add the ISBN above the barcode, the text reading "ISBN", followed by the individual components separated by a hyphen ("-"). An example is shown above.

The following sections mainly deal with barcode-related topics, for a more general introduction to ISBNs see the Wikipedia piece on ISBN.

ISBN add-on barcodes, price

ISBN barcodes can carry an add-on barcode, sometimes also called a satellite code. The add-on, also known as "EAN-5", contains another five digits of data and is used to encode the price of a book.

The first digit of the five digit add-on encodes the currency of the price, e.g. "5" represents the US Dollar. Following are four digits that encode the actual price, e.g. "7499". The full string then reads "57499" for US$ 74.99. Example:

Sample ISBN Barcode with Price

If no price is to be specified with the ISBN, either leave out the add-on entirely (not recommended) or use the string "90000", a "null"-value which per convention declares that no price is encoded.

Note: Encoding a price into the add-on is common practice in the USA but seldom used in Europe. Here, the price of a book must include the VAT but the price a customer eventually pays depends the respective country's VAT rate. For instance, both Germany and Austria belong to the language group "3" but have 7% and 10% VAT on books, respectively.

ISBN barcode SC sizes

EAN standard SC sizes also apply when ISBNs are encoded in an EAN 13 symbol (see these references for specifications). The module width and height are only allowed to vary within certain limits. The default, or 100%, size is called SC 2, resulting in a code that is roughly 26mm (c. 1") high and 37mm (c. 1.5") wide. It is permitted to vary the size down to 80% and up to 200%. In addition it is permitted to reduce the height to some degree, this is known as truncation.

The example ISBN barcode above was created with a SC 6 size and reduced height of 60%.

Checksum for ISBN barcode

The ISBN 13 already contains the standard EAN 13 check digit, please see our page on EAN check digit calculation.

How to get an ISBN barcode

ISBN are issued by the ISBN agency of the respective country. ISBN.org maintains a list of agencies. After obtaining the numbers, the Softmatic barcode generators can create standards compliant ISBN barcodes, see below for options.

Sample ISBN 13 barcodes

First sample shows an ISBN barcode from a german publisher (language group / country code "3") without add-on:

ISBN 13 Sample Barcode

Second sample shows an ISBN barcode from a US publisher (language group / country code "1") with price add-on (US$ 74.99):

ISBN 13 Sample with Price Add On

Create ISBN Barcodes in Illustrator, InDesign

Easy to use barcode plug-ins and extensions for Adobe InDesign, Illustrator und Photoshop. For more videos, see the Softmatic Youtube Channel

The Softmatic barcode plug-ins and extensions for InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop are available on the Adobe Exchange.

ISBN Barcode Generator

Softmatic BarcodePlus V5 creates Code ISBN 10 / 13 and will export the barcode as PDF / SVG (resolution-independent vector) oder raster image (PNG, TIFF). The app will automatically calculate the symbol check digit if the data was provided without one:

ISBN Barcode Generator

Bulk Generator for ISBN Barcodes

Preferred by publishers, print shops and book stores, Softmatic BarcodeFactory V5 is our time-tested bulk barcode generator. The software will create thousands of ISBN symbols in seconds, with data coming from the built-in serial number generator, the clipboard or via import from Excel, Numbers or CSV text files. Ideal for stock production of barcodes for packaging, book or magazine covers etc.: