The Skinny on Bar Codes

This might be the least exciting blog post I ever write, but people always ask, so here it is:

How small can bar codes be? How do you ensure they scan?

Read on, and I will reveal all.

First, while Bookmobile cannot supply you with the ISBN, we can create the bar code for you, and the cost is $16.00. Just let us know that you need a bar code created when you ask for the estimate or place your print order. We will need to know the ISBN and the retail price, and we will create and add the bar code to your cover for you to approve with proofs. (We do not create just bar codes—we need to be providing the printing and binding as well. For printing and binding estimates, get a quote here.)

As part of our cover preflight process, we scan the bar codes to make sure they work—even if we did not create the bar code. If we have issues when scanning, we will either correct the bar code (if we created it) or let you know we had issues when we send you the proofs (at which point you can either supply us with a new bar code, or ask us to create one for you instead).

Now, to get to the size; lately, we’ve seen a lot of interest in making the bar code as small as possible on the back cover of a book. The standard bar code size, including the five-digit add-on, is 2-3/16″ x 1″. We can successfully reduce that by 80%, to about 1-3/4″ x 13/16″ and the bar code will still be legible and scan.

Other factors to consider with bar codes are the colors of the bars, the background color, and whether the bar code is bitmap or vector. Ideally, the bar code should be black bars on a white background, and made with a vector program.

Many of our clients provide us with bar codes that are smaller than the above, or on a colored background, or bitmap, or all of those things combined, and the bar codes scan just fine. But we strongly encourage you to keep in mind that the smaller the bar code gets, the less space there is between the bars—and those white spaces are just as important as the black bars themselves.

Want to know more about ISBNs and bar codes? is the best resource. Questions about printing? Let me know!