Barcode Software Tutorial for Adobe Illustrator

Many people use Illustrator for designing book covers or packages. In most cases barcodes have to be added to the artwork.

This tutorial shows you how the basic steps to create an ISBN 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. This tutorial is also available for Adobe Indesign.

Note: This tutorial requires Softmatic BarcodePlus, Version V4 or higher:

Mac - Softmatic® BarcodePlus (Mac, V4, 10.7.5 or higher) - Download

PC - Softmatic® BarcodePlus (Win, V4, Windows XP or higher) - Download


Many people use Illustrator for designing book covers or packages. In most cases barcodes have to be added to the artwork. In the following sections we'll show you how to use barcode software to create a barcode and then add it to an Illustrator document. Softmatic BarcodePlus creates all common retail barcodes, like EAN, UPC or ISBN, In addition the app generates barcodes for warehousing, pharmaceuticals and 2D symbologies like QR, Aztec or PDF417.

What you need

Adobe Illustrator CS4, CS5 or CS6. The screenshots below show Illustrator CS6, the latest version of Illustrator at the time of writing. All screenshots are from the Windows versions of Illustrator. The explanations, however, do apply to the Mac version as well.

A note about barcode plug-ins for Illustrator: Plug-ins for Illustrator are not compatibe across Illustrator versions or operating systems. As a consequence a barcode plug-in for Illustrator CS5 will not work with CS6, a plug-in for Mac will not work on Windows etc. This is by design and it's unlikely that Adobe will change this behaviour. Using a dedicated third party barcode software like Softmatic barcode generator is usually the way to go.

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 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.

Now make the following settings:

EAN Size: SC2
File Format: EPS (If you are using the trial version: PNG)
Bounding Box Markers: Yes

Leave the settings for EAN truncation and 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 Save... 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.

The completed Illustrator document (for CS4, CS5, CS6) can be downloaded here.

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.

Barcode Scanner

Zebra/Motorola Symbol LS2208

USB connected laser scanner. Suitable for POS, warehouse, lab etc. It has a nice working range of up to 17" (43cm), ideal if you have to scan barcodes that are out of reach, like on shelves or behind desks.

Click for price

Honeywell Voyager 1250G

USB connected laser scanner with stand for hands-free operation. Suitable for checkout, warehouse, lab etc. The scanner is triggered automatically when a barcode is in front of it.

Click for price

Zebra/Motorola Symbol LS4278

A cordless (Bluetooth) laser scanner with battery and charger / docking station. Suitable for point-of-sale, warehousing, lab etc. Very convenient, simple plug-and-play installation and operation.

Click for price

Label Printer

DYMO LabelWriter 450

Affordable USB connected thermal label printer for Windows and Mac. Cheap consumables, compatible with Word, Excel, Quickbooks, Paypal, Ebay.

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Brother QL-700 High-speed Label Printer

Very fast thermal label printer, up to 90 labels per minute. Can print long banners. Comes with convenient built-in cutter. USB connected.

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DYMO LabelWriter 4XL

Prints labels up to 4.19" (c. 110mm) wide. Very fast, prints more than 120 address labels per minute. High-res print head, ideal for barcodes.

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