Barcode Tutorial for Adobe InDesign

Many people use InDesign 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 InDesign: 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 InDesign

Adobe InDesign- Barcode Extension, Barcode Plug-in

The easiest way to create a barcode in InDesign is via a barcode extension. A fully integrated solution saves time and reduces errors. The Softmatic Barcode Extension for Adobe InDesign 2021 creates all common linear and 2D barcodes directly in your INDD 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 InDesign.

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 InDesign - 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 InDesign document, like a book. We also provide a list of useful best practices when dealing with barcodes in ID.

Note This tutorial is also available for Adobe Illustrator.

What you need

A recent version of Adobe InDesign. The screenshots below show InDesign 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 InDesign

Click Export 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 IndDesign

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.

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.