How to create barcodes in Adobe Illustrator 2021 - 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 an external barcode generator to create the code and then import it into Illustrator. In this tutorial we look at the different options for adding a barcode to your artwork.
Adobe Illustrator - Create Barcode with a Plug-in
The easiest way to create a barcode in Illustrator is via a barcode extension or plug-in. A fully integrated solution saves time and reduces errors. In this and the following sections, we'll show you how to create a barcode and add it to your artwork. The screenshots show the Softmatic Barcode Extension for Adobe Illustrator 2021.
Barcode creation works in four simple steps:
1. Select barcode type, e.g. Code EAN 13
2. Enter your data, e.g. "401234567890"
3. Set properties of the code like EAN SC size, bar width reduction or toggle the display of human readable text
4. Add the barcode to your artwork; the code will be inserted into the top layer
Let's look into the individual steps in more detail:
Step 1: Select barcode type
We begin by selecting the required barcode symbology. In this example we will be creating a Code EAN 13 barcode. EAN 13 is used for retail and is one of the most used barcode symbologies. It is easily recognizable by the characteristic bar pattern and the single digit on the left side of the symbol.
Click the Code type drop-down and select "EAN 13":
Step 2: Enter your data
EAN 13 encodes 12 digits plus a mandatory check digit, hence the name. Enter our data ("501234567890") and hit <Enter> to update the preview:
Note how the extension automatically calculated and appended the check digit ("0") to the data so that the text line under the code now reads "5012345678900". As a rule, the extension will always recalculate the check digit to make sure a valid barcode can be created.
EAN 13 will only encode numeric data. Note what happens when you try to encode letters ("abcdef"):
The manual lists the data requirements for all supported barcodes.
Step 3: Set barcode size and style
EAN 13 is standardized; the extension will by default create an EAN 13 in size SC 0, resulting in a barcode that is c. 26mm high and 37mm wide (more about EAN / UPC SC sizes and dimensions). We want a larger code (SC 6) but with half height (50%). Note how the preview is updated in realtime as you set styles and size:
As an aside, with EAN and UPC the size of the human readable text line is calculated automatically by the extension to fit the text properly under the code. Hence, the option to set the font size is grayed out.
Step 4: Adding the barcode to your artwork
Once we are happy with the barcode, we can add it to our artwork. Click "Insert" to add the code to the top most layer of the document (make sure the layer is visible and not locked):
Tip: The inserted barcode is an ordinary graphic element. As such it can be freely moved around, rotated or scaled to fit your designs. We recommend setting up a dedicated layer for your barcodes and then lock the layer to prevent accidental changes to the code. See best practices further down.
All the above steps are also in this video that gives an introduction to the Softmatic Barcode Extension for Adobe Illustrator:
Adobe Illustrator - The Softmatic Barcode Extension
In addition to the standard retail barcodes, the Softmatic Barcode Extension also supports a wide range of linear and 2D matrix codes and will also let you create QR codes directly in Illustrator - ideal if you want to add codes with URLs or email addresses to your document.
In total the plug-in supports over twenty different symbologies:
Barcodes can be widely customized with options for size, readable text and bar width reduction to compensate for dot gain during printing. The extension performs all required data formatting and check digit calculation in the background - no macros or programming required.
The barcode extension works stand alone, no online access, external components or barcode fonts required. Illustrator documents with barcodes are free of dependencies and can be shared without restrictions.
Softmatic Barcode Extension - Sample Barcodes
We've provided two extensive documents that show all supported codes:
Sample with all code types: File format: AI 2021 or higher
Sample with all code types: File format: PDF
Softmatic Barcode Extension - Download
Adobe Illustrator - Using a barcode generatorA stand-alone barcode generator is preferable if you use an older Creative Suite version of AI (CS3, CS4, CS5, CS6 etc.) that doesn't support the plug-in.
Our recommendation here is Softmatic BarcodePlus V5, download here (macOS 10.15 or higher, pre 10.15: here, Windows 10 here). The app creates all common retail barcodes, like EAN, UPC or ISBN and will save codes as EPS/PDF and in various raster formats. In addition BarcodePlus V5 supports a wide variety barcodes for warehousing, pharmaceuticals and 2D symbologies like QR, Aztec or PDF417.
Barcodes in Adobe Illustrator - Best PracticesWhen working with barcodes in Illustrator, please consider the following best practices:
Verifying and scanning barcodes
We recommend test scanning or verifying barcodes before going into production. Current smartphones will be able to detect and scan barcodes with the built-in camera.
Screenshot shows the CoScan app, a PDF and barcode scanner for iPhone. The barcode is detected and decoded in the life image; the encoded data can then be copied to the clipboard for further use in Excel, Word, Notes etc.:
This app can also be used to identify an unknown barcode type; the respective symbology ("EAN 8" in this case) is written next to the data.