Barcode Tutorial for Adobe Indesign

Many people use Indesign for making complete books. Each book needs a cover and most covers need a retail barcode like EAN or ISBN on it.

This tutorial shows you how to create an ISBN barcode and add it to a book cover created in Indesign. This tutorial is also available for Adobe Illustrator.

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 Indesign for making complete books. Each book needs a cover and most covers need a retail barcode like EAN or ISBN on it. In the following sections we'll show you how to create an ISBN barcode with Softmatic BarcodePlus and then add the barcode to an Indesign document.

Note: This tutorial is best suited if you have to work with individual barcodes in Indesign. We've also prepared a tutorial that shows how to data merge barcode images into Indesign using our batch barcode generator, Softmatic BarcodeFactory - ideal for barcodes in pricelists, catalogs, mailings etc.

What you need

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

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: SC1
Truncate: 20%
Light Margin Indicator: Yes
File Format: EPS (If you are using the trial version: PNG)
Bounding Box Markers: No
Font: ArialMT

The application window should look like this:
ISBN in Indesign

Click Save... to save the barcode to a file.

Importing the Barcode into Indesign

Already in Indesign we've prepared a simple one-page document:
Book Cover in Indesign

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. The mouse cursor changes and drags a preview of the barcode as you move it around. Move the cursor to the top left corner of the empty white box at the lower right corner of the cover. Click once to link the barcode to the document. Do not click-drag as this will scale or distort the barcode!

Tip: If Indesign renders the barcode coarse or blocky (like a low resolution photo), right-click on the canvas, and select Display Performance > High Quality from the context menu.

Use the cursor keys or the mouse to center the barcode in the box:
Placing a barcode in Indesign

Right now the barcode is not yet embedded into the document. From the View menu, open the Links panel. The panel should list the imported EPS file. In the panel, click the panel menu and select Embed Link. The status changes to Embedded.The barcode is now part of the document.

Embedding Barcode in Indesign

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

The completed Indesign CS6 document can be downloaded here. For CS4/CS5 we've prepared an IDML file.

Tips & Tricks

When working with barcodes in Indesign, please consider the following best practices:
  • Before creating the barcode in BarcodePlus, 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, 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 Indesign. 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. Rotating the barcode is ok, but only in 90 degree steps.
  • 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.

Barcode Data Merge in Indesign

We've prepared another tutorial that shows how to import large amounts of barcodes into Indesign via data merge. Click 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.

Click for price

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.

Click for price

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.

Click for price

Softmatic is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of, Inc. or its affiliates.