This may border on the 'too technical' side of graphic design but I'll give it a try. We have a contract with a printer who requires a barcode on the interior and cover of our books so that they can match the two together at the printing block. Our clients find the barcode unsightly (dare I say ghastly) when they are applied to our galleys (which are not sellable books anyways and do not require an ISBN) So, we've been generating dummy 'ISBNs' for our galleys for the printers and then getting yelled at by the clients for the ugly barcodes.

Is there a way to create a barcode that is scannable to a barcode reader but invisible to the naked eye?

If not, what are some design suggestions to mitigate the ugliness of the barcode while having it retain its functionality?

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    I'm going to go out on a limb and say "no." Would be cool if it were, though. Aug 27, 2014 at 19:45
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    You may be better served by asking the printer exactly how big their bar code needs to be. While I don't think you can use "invisible" ink. You may only need a .25" tall barcode as opposed to a full 1" tall (ISBN standard) barcode.
    – Scott
    Aug 27, 2014 at 19:57
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    can the barcode be in the area outside your final size. No the barcode must be visible (Altough, if you know the exact brand of barcode reader it might be possible to engineer an exploit, but that would be more expensive than your likely be able to raise with very weak returns). Ps the barcode does not need to be black and white.
    – joojaa
    Aug 27, 2014 at 21:05
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    How about one of those QR codes that look like something hongkiat.com/blog/qr-code-artworks
    – Mark Read
    Aug 27, 2014 at 23:03
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    Why not put the barcodes in the slug area? Come to think of it, since anything in the slug area is going to be cut off and is visible to the printer only, you could forego the entire scanning thingy and just write the name of the client in there.
    – Jongware
    May 18, 2015 at 21:17

3 Answers 3


Ask your printer as Scott mentions what size the barcode needs to be. If its a purely graphical scanner system then you should be able to make it whatever color you want and fairly small.

Can you use invisible ink?

No you cannot use invisible ink. Barcodes are an optical system. Most have now gone "cheap" using basically 2D image processing to scan the image. Traditional barcodes use infrared lasers that have to measure the amount of light reflected back to the reader. In either case though this cannot happen if the ink is invisible.


Your best bet is to discuss with the client AND printer at the same time. See what options they recommend while the client is on the phone. If terms can't be agreed then find a new printer for that client. Bill accordingly.

  • I edited my question to solicit more design oriented advice - thanks for breaking down the specifics of the barcode readers anyways, this was helpful.
    – maxwell
    Aug 28, 2014 at 19:42
  • It is possible to use UV ink and a blacklight during the capture process. I routinely use UV photography and a 3200ISO to shoot artwork with a consumer camera. The real question is: can the printer's existing equipment be used with UV illumination? (google: oil painting UV conservation)
    – Yorik
    May 19, 2015 at 16:56

This is a very nice question ... and guess what!? there is an invisible ink !! and it could be done in various ways.

The First method is selecting some color combinations. If you couldn't change the design at least you could select some other color combinations to dissolve the barcode between your design.

The following example are scannable. The best contrast is obtained when the background reflects all the light and the bars reflect none.

Scannable Color Combinations

That's mean that you could select two color combinations that is highly contract to the scanner and hard to be recognize to the eye. like the brown on red combination. the infrared scanner will reflect from brown the green after absorbing the red. and green over red gives you good contrast. and of course the red background will reflect nothing.

the next examples are Non-Scannable Color Combinations

Non-Scannable Color Combinations

The second method is using an invisible ink as you request.

Inks that are invisible to the human eye have been available for years. Only in recent years has there been an interest in using these fluorescing or invisible” inks for printing machine readable marks, Just using a clear, “invisible” ink that has specific fluorescing properties.

It has frequently been tendered that it would be nice to print the “invisible” code over normal pictures or text on a package. This can be done, but it frequently required significant attention to the inks used in the background.

When ink fluoresces due to the excitation by the scanners, the ink fluoresces in all directions, both down toward the background media as well as up to the scanner’s optics.

A select example of successful print behind a readable UV fluorescing bar code

enter image description here

The only disadvantage of using the invisible ink, it will be so hard to the cashier to see the bardcode to scan it. :)


Hsawires gave an excelent explanation about colors. I'm adding my 2 cents. You can play with the size and proportion of the barcode.

There are some limits on the offical guidelines of barcodes. But In my opinion are very square. You can reduce the size of the barcode lets say 75% and reduce the height of the bars in 50%-70%. and can be read by a linear barcode reader quite well.

And the best part... You can be creative! Just take a look at this google search (images): https://www.google.com/search?q=creative+barcode

Combine that with the colors you can use and you will have a great work.

An aditional note

Barcodes are ment to be seeing. They normally are not for an "all automated" process, it must be findable by the cashier.

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