Create barcodes in Illustrator - Tutorial

Many people use Illustrator for designing book covers, blisters or packaging. In most cases barcodes have to be added to the artwork. There are two ways to create barcodes in Illustrator: You can use an integrated solution, like a barcode extension or plug-in or you can use external stand-alone software to create the code and then import it into Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator - Barcode Extension, Barcode Plug-in

The easiest way to create a barcode in Illustrator is via a barcode extension. A fully integrated solution saves time and reduces errors. The Softmatic Barcode Extension for Adobe Illustrator 2021 creates all common linear and 2D barcodes directly in your AI document. Supported are the following symbologies:

  • EAN 8
  • EAN 13 (with optional add-on)
  • ISBN 10 (with optional add-on)
  • ISBN 13 (with optional add-on)
  • ISSN (with optional add-on)
  • UPC-A (with optional add-on)
  • UPC-E
  • Code 128 A, B, C
  • Code 128 GS1
  • Code 2/5 Interleaved
  • Code 2/5 Industrial
  • Code ITF-14
  • Code 39 / 39 Extended
  • PZN 7 / PZN 8
  • Laetus
  • Codabar
  • Datamatrix (2D)
  • Datamatrix GS1 (2D)
  • PDF 417 (2D)
  • QR (2D)
  • Aztec (2D)

Here it is in action:

Besides a wide range of standard linear barcodes, the extension also supports 2D codes like Datamatrix or PDF417 and can be used to create QR codes directly in Illustrator.

The Softmatic barcode extensions for InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop are available on the Adobe Exchange. You can also find them in the Creative Cloud app by searching the marketplace for "softmatic":

Adobe Barcode Extension Illustrator InDesign Download

Adobe Illustrator - Using external stand-alone barcode software

A stand-alone solution is preferable if you use an older version of AI or need to create a barcode symbology that is not supported by the plug-in.

The following tutorial shows you the basic steps to create a barcode and add it to an Illustrator document, like a book cover. We also provide a list of useful best practices when dealing with barcodes in AI.

Note This tutorial is also available for Adobe InDesign.

What you need

A recent version of Adobe Illustrator. The screenshots below show Illustrator CS6.

Softmatic BarcodePlus V5, available as a free download on the Mac App Store. The app creates all common retail barcodes, like EAN, UPC or ISBN. In addition BarcodePlus V5 supports a wide variety barcodes for warehousing, pharmaceuticals and 2D symbologies like QR, Aztec or PDF417.

Creating the Barcode

In this tutorial we'll create an ISBN 13 barcode for use on a book cover. First step is to create the barcode. Launch Softmatic BarcodePlus V5 and select Code ISBN 13 from the list of codes.

Enter the following ISBN into the Data to Encode control: 978-1-935182-47-4. Hit <Enter>. You'll see the barcode in the preview window. Enter the pricing information 54999 into the Add On control. Hit <Enter> to update the preview.

Now make the following settings:

EAN Size: SC2
File Format: PDF (If you are using the non-Pro version: PNG)

Leave the settings for EAN height at "100%" and the bar width reduction at "0". See notes at end of page for info on bar width reduction.

The application window should look like this (click to enlarge):

ISBN in Illustrator

Click Export to save the barcode to a file.

Importing the Barcode into Illustrator

Already in Illustrator we've prepared a simple book cover:
Book Cover in Illustrator

We want to put the barcode onto a separate layer (see below for best practices). Create a new layer and name it "Barcode".

Now select File > Place... and navigate to the folder where you saved the barcode. Click Place. The barcode will be placed somewhere near the center of the book cover. Move it to the lower right of the cover:
Placing a barcode in Illustrator

Right now the barcode is not yet embedded into the document. In the toolbar above the document, click Embed. The barcode is now part of the document. From Illustrator's perspective, the barcode is just lines and text.

If you don't need or want the bounding box markers (see below for best practices), you can select and remove them:
Barcode Bounding Box in Illustrator

As a precaution you should lock the layer to prevent accidental changes to the barcode.

Tips & Tricks

When working with barcodes in Illustrator, please consider the following best practices:
  • Before creating the barcode, talk to your print shop about the requirements with regard to bar width reduction.

    Reasonable values are:
    • Offset printing: 1-2%
    • Laser printing: 1-2%
    • Thermo-, thermotransfer printing: 0%
    • Inkjet printing: Plain paper - 5%, Inkjet paper - 1-2%
    • Pad printing: up to 10%

  • Place the barcode artwork on a separate layer. Lock the layer against accidental changes.
  • Leave space of at least 5mm around the barcode. If you created the barcode with bounding box markers (recommended), the area enclosed by the markers is off limits for other artwork. Once the artwork is completed you can remove the markers or put them on a non printable layer.
  • Never modify the actual barcode within Illustrator. Don't scale it, don't stretch it, don't change the fill or stroke, don't change the text. If the size is not right, discard the code and create a new one.
  • If at all possible, make a test scan of the barcode before going into production. A simple CCD hand held barcode scanner will not cost more than about $50. That's a good investment if you have to create barcodes regularly.
  • For detailed information about the placement rules for Bookland / ISBN codes on book covers, see here.