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Create QR Codes in Adobe Illustrator 2021

Create QR Codes in Adobe Illustrator 2021

Fast and easy creation of custom QR 2D barcodes with the Softmatic QR Designer for Adobe Illustrator 2021 or higher.

Choose from eight different code styles and millions of colors. Customize the QR barcode for your brand by adding logos or icons to the symbol.

Supported data types:

  • Plain text
  • URL, web address
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • SMS number
  • Wifi access data
  • VCard / business card

The extension features one of the fastest QR generation algorithms with the code updated in real time as you type or change styles and colors. The designer is fully Unicode capable with support for accented characters, umlauts and non-Latin scripts.

The Softmatic QR designer extension works stand alone, no online access, external components or barcode fonts required. The code is created as a high-quality vector graphic; AI documents with QR codes have no dependencies and can be freely shared.

A sample AI document showing some of the supported QR styles and content types (download):

Illustrator QR Code with logo

Current version:

V1.2.0 02/22 (previous versions)

System requirements:

macOS 10.15 or higher
Windows 10 or higher
Adobe Illustrator CC 2021 (Version 25) or higher

Installation

Purchase through Adobe Exchange

The extension is listed on the Creative Cloud Marketplace.

It is also available in the Creative Cloud App. Select the Stock & Marketplace tab, section Plugins and search for "softmatic":

Adobe Creative Cloud Softmatic Barcode Extension Illustrator InDesign

The extension should automatically be downloaded and installed in your local extensions folder. The extension can then be found in the Illustrator menu Window > Extensions.

If the automatic install fails, you can anytime install manually: In the Creative Cloud app navigate to Stock & Marketplace > Plugins > Manage Plugins. The extension should be listed in this panel. Close Illustrator and then click the "Install" button next to the listing. After installation, reopen Illustrator.

Note that the extension is tied to the Adobe ID that was used for downloading.

Purchase through the Softmatic Online Store

Follow the instructions here for installation; on first launch the extension will prompt you for the license key which you should have received after checkout in the store.

Creating a QR code in Illustrator

Creating a QR code in Illustrator works in four easy steps:

  1. Select the data content of the QR code: Text, URL, phone no., email address, VCard, Wifi access data
  2. Set the color and style of the code and the finder patterns; set the ECC (error correction) level
  3. Embed a logo or image by dragging it over the QR code (optional)
  4. Set the size of the code, then add the QR code to your Illustrator artwork

Let's look at those steps in more detail:

Shown is the extension's panel with the default settings:

Illustrator Create QR Code with plain text

Select the content type from the drop down in the top left corner. Available are:
  • Plain text, e.g. "QR Text" (the default). Note that the extension is fully Unicode-capable; you can directly enter accented or diacritic characters (e.g. "ÄÖÜ") or non-latin scripts (e.g. "日本語")

  • URL, e.g. "https://example.com"

    If neither "http://" or "https://"" are entered, the extension will add "http://". This post has more info on creating QR codes with URLs and web links

  • Email address, e.g. "mailto:info@example.com"

    If the data does not begin with "mailto:", the extension will add it

  • Phone number, e.g. "tel:+18005551234"

    Always enter your data with a leading "+" and country code; if the data does not begin with "tel:", the extension will add it. This post has more on creating QR codes with phone numbers

  • SMS number, e.g. "smsto:44044"

    If the data does not begin with "smsto:", the extension will add it

  • Wifi access data, with SSID, encryption method and password

    The extension will format the data according to this specification, e.g.:

    WIFI:S:My Network;T:WPA;P:My Password;;

    The password is optional. This post has more on creating QR codes with Wlan access data

  • VCard / business card, with name, address, contact data etc.

    Last name and first name are mandatory; all other fields are optional. The extension will format the data according to VCard Version 3 specs.

More on VCard data

With VCard content type selected, you can enter all relevant data manually. However, it's much faster to simply drag a VCF file with contact data over the panel, like so (note the highlight green frame):

Illustrator Create QR Code with VCard business card

This will automatically fill in all the data. This post has more on VCF files and creating QR codes with VCard & business card data.

Data input

The code will updated in real time as you type. You can also paste text from the clipboard into the respective input field; if the preview doesn't update automatically, type a space or hit <Enter>.

QR code styles and colors

The extension lets you choose between four different shapes and two different styles for the dots. Click the color wells to select colors or type a color name, e.g. "green", into the edit field. You can also paste HEX codes into the field (e.g. "#FF0000" for red) and update the color with <Enter>.

Make sure to select colors that provide some contrast between the background and the code. Avoid very light colors as they can reduce the readability of the code.

Per default the code has a white background. As an additional option, you can create the code with a transparent background, this is useful if you want to place the barcode on an existing document, e.g. a book cover or packaging. Again, make sure to have contrasty color combinations. Do not create "inverted" codes (e.g. yellow on a black background) as most barcode reader apps won't scan such codes.

Note: The three finder patterns in the corners of the QR code are always drawn solid to ensure that the code will scan properly.

Setting the size of the QR code

Use the slider in the design panel to set the desired size of the code. The approximate final size of the code is indicated unter the preview window. If the selected dot size results in a code that won't fit into the preview, the display will be scaled down accordingly.

Setting the error correction level (ECC) of the QR code

The QR barcode supports four levels of error correction capability:
  • Low (L) - can reconstruct a symbol with ~7% of the area missing or damaged
  • Medium (M) - can reconstruct a symbol with ~15% of the area missing or damaged
  • High (Q) - can reconstruct a symbol with ~22% of the area missing or damaged
  • Best (H) - can reconstruct a symbol with ~30% of the area missing or damaged
For most purposes the preset error correction level of "Medium" will be the right choice. If you plan to add images or logos to the code, set the level to "High (Q)" or "Best (H)".

Adding an image or logo to the QR code in Illustrator

One outstanding feature of QR is the very capable error correction. When set to the highest level, even codes where 30% of the area are missing or damaged can still be recognized. This can be exploited for so called "vanity codes" by overlaying a company logo or icon or other imagery over the code.

To add an image, simply drag it from the desktop or the file manager over the preview. Here we drag the file "logo.png" over the QR code; note the highlighting (green frame):

Illustrator Drag Image in QR Code

The QR Designer supports embedding logos & images in all common image file formats (TIFF, PNG, JPEG) and will honor transparency if present in the image. Please consider the following best practices when embedding an image:
  • Always use ECC settings "High" or "Best" for maximum protection
  • Although the code is verified with the built-in reader, always test the final code against a variety of online and offline reader apps, see last section in the manual
Once loaded, the code will be updated:

Illustrator QR Code Embed Icon

By default the image is centered within the QR code. Use the arrow buttons above the preview to change the position of the image. Adjust the size with the slider, delete the image with the "x"-button.

Tip: If you want to embed your logo later, simply use a white square as an image and adjust it to the proper size. This will leave an empty space in the center of the code where you can then place your artwork.

Add QR code to Illustrator document

Once you are happy with your design, click "Insert QR Code" to add the barcode to your Illustrator document. The barcode will be added to the top most layer of the currently active document. Make sure that this layer is not locked or hidden or the barcode can not be placed.

Do not scale or stretch the QR after it was placed as this may render the code invalid. If the code has the wrong size, simply delete it and create a new one.

Tip: To prevent accidental changes, consider locking the barcode object or keeping it on a dedicated layer and then lock the layer.

Verifying the QR code

The extension comes with its own integrated QR reader to verify the code. This is especially useful if you embed images into the code. In this example, the embedded logo is too large at 106 x 106px. The code is not verified, even with the ECC setting to "Best":

Illustrator QR Reader Verifier fail

Scaling the logo down a little to 84 x 84px. results in a code that is valid:

Illustrator QR Reader Verifier pass

However, the reader has two shortcomings which you should keep in mind:
  • It can't detect low contrast color combinations and will verify codes that would likely fail in real life, e.g. light gray dots over a white background.
  • When embedding logos, the verifier can not detect transparency in the image. Even if large parts of the logo were transparent and let the QR code shine through, the reader would not verify the code if it deems the image too large.

It is therefore highly recommended that you test the code with a dedicated scanner app. On iOS you can use the stock camera app which can detect and read QR codes. For Android, we recommend the free Google ZXing app. Google ZXing is also available as an online service. This post has tips on scanning QR codes.

Download

The Softmatic QR Designer for Illustrator can be downloaded from the Creative Cloud Marketplace. We also provide barcode extensions for Photoshop and InDesign, see here.

Softmatic QR Designer for Illustrator - Version history

TBD: V1.3
  • Support for content type VEvent
  • Support for URL shortener (Bitly)
  • New styling options for finder patterns
  • Improved encoding of parameterized URLs
  • Missing a feature? Mail us at webb AT softmatic.com
January 2022: V1.2
  • Support for content type WiFi access data
  • Support for content type VCard / business card
  • Improved rendering and code quality
  • Improved code preview
  • Improved compatibility with AI 2022 (V26)
August 2021: V1.1
  • Corrects an issue with the built-in code verifier
June 2021: V1.0
  • Initial release

New to QR codes?

Make sure to see our introduction to QR codes.