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PDF barcode form fields

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    9. PDF form field basics
    10. PDF barcode form fields
    11. Collect and manage PDF form data
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Before you begin

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About barcodes

Barcode fields in forms convert user entries into scannable patterns that can be interpreted and stored in a database. They are particularly useful when users submit forms on paper or by fax.

Benefits of using barcodes include saving time, avoiding manual reading and recording of responses, and reducing data-entry errors.

Here's a typical barcode workflow:

  1. Form creation: The form author ensures "Automatically Calculate Field Values" is selected in the forms preferences and creates the form in Acrobat with other fields as usual.

  2. Barcode addition: The form author adds the barcode field to capture the required data.

  3. Form distribution: The author enables the form for Acrobat Reader users to save a filled-in copy or if it contains barcode fields and then distributes it to other users.

  4. User submission: Users fill in the form electronically or on paper and submit it.

Received barcode data can be interpreted in the following ways:

  • Forms faxed to a fax server: The form receiver uses Adobe Acrobat Capture® to collect TIFF images from the fax server and place them in an Adobe LiveCycle Barcoded Forms Decoder watched folder (if they own those products).

  • Forms delivered on paper: The form receiver scans paper forms and uses an application like LiveCycle Barcoded Forms Decoder to decode the barcodes within those forms.

Using barcodes streamlines data handling and improves efficiency in form processing.


Acrobat Capture and LiveCycle Barcoded Forms Decoder are stand-alone products appropriate for enterprise workflows and are sold separately from Acrobat.

Design tips for barcodes

Designing and placing barcodes requires considering usability and available space. For best results, follow these guidelines:

  • Positioning: Place the barcode where it won't get folded in an envelope, and ensure it's far enough from page edges to avoid clipping during printing or faxing.

  • Visibility and Scanning: Position the barcode for easy visibility and scanning. Avoid barcodes wider than 4 inches (10.3 cm) if using a handheld scanner; tall, narrow barcodes work best in this case. Avoid compressing barcode content when using a handheld scanner.

  • Barcode Size: Ensure the barcode size accommodates the data to encode. If the barcode area is too small, it may turn solid gray. Test the completed form before distribution to ensure the barcode area is large enough.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure effective barcode usage and avoid potential issues during form processing.


Create, test, and edit barcode fields

To enhance a PDF form barcode, you can create custom scripts using JavaScript. Basic JavaScript knowledge and familiarity with Acrobat-specific JavaScript are necessary for this task. For detailed guidance, learn about Developing Acrobat® Applications Using JavaScript™. Additionally, you can explore various resources available on basic JavaScript to build your understanding further.


After inserting a barcode of maximum size, changing the cell size or decode condition may cause the barcode to cross the page borders. Avoid this behavior by selecting the appropriate cell size and decode conditions for the barcode.

Add a barcode field

  1. Open the form in Acrobat and then go to  > Preferences > Forms. Then, select the Automatically calculate field values checkbox and then select Ok.

  2. From the All tools menu, select Prepare a form.

  3. From the left panel, select  Barcode.

  4. Drag a rectangle to define the barcode area, and then double-click the barcode field.

    It opens the Barcode field properties dialog box.

  5. Select Value tab and then do one of the following:

    • Select Encode using, and then select a format (XML or Tab Delimited). Next, select Pick and select the fields that you want to be encoded in the barcode field. If you don’t want to include the field names in the barcode data, deselect Include Field Names.

    • Select Custom calculation script and then select Edit. Next, enter your custom JavaScript code in the JavaScript Editor dialog box.

  6. Under the Options tab:

    1. Select a Symbology option: PDF417, QR Code, or Data Matrix.
    2. Select Compress Data Before Encoding To Barcode option if you want to apply this compression.
      Do not select this option if a handheld scanner is used to capture data from returned forms.
    3. In Decode Condition, choose the type of hardware to process returned forms: Handheld Barcode Scanner, Fax Server, Document Scanner, or Custom.
    4. If necessary, select Custom and enter values for X Dimension, Y/X Ratio, and Error Correction Level.
  7. Make any other changes in the General and Actions tabs. Then close the Barcode Field Properties dialog box.

    JavaScript code is generated automatically to encode the selected fields in the XML or Tab Delimited format. The Barcode Field Properties dialog box closes, and the barcode for which you specified values appears on the form.


    If you add a new field to a form after you have created the barcode, it is not automatically included in the data for existing barcodes. However, you can manually include additional data fields in the barcode.

Test a barcode field

  1. Click the Preview button in the toolbar.

  2. Fill in the form. Use sample data that represents the maximum amount of information for each field or that you expect users to enter.
  3. If the barcode field is grayed out, follow either the procedure for resizing the barcode field or for adjusting the content data. 

    Ensure that the barcode field area is large enough to contain the entire incoming data. 

  4. To remove the sample data, from the right panel, select More > Clear form.

  5. Select  > Save.

The barcode form field is now ready for distribution.

Include more data fields in the barcode

  1. From the All tools menu, select Prepare a form.

  2. Double-click the barcode field.
  3. In the Value tab, do one of the following:

    • If Encode Using is selected, select Pick, and select additional form fields to be encoded.

    • If Custom Calculation Script is selected, select Edit, and write more JavaScript to include the additional fields.

After including new data fields in the barcode, ensure that the barcode area is large enough by testing sample data. If the barcode area is grayed out, adjust the barcode size, or text field properties so that the content fits into the barcode area.

Adjust data content to fit in a barcode field

  1. From the All tools menu, select Prepare a form.

  2. Double-click the barcode field, and do any of the following:

    • In the Options tab, select Custom and enter lower values for Error Correction Level and Y/X Ratio.

    • If you are using an Adobe software decoder (available separately), go to the Options tab and select Compress Data Before Encoding To Barcode, but only .

    • In the Value tab, select Tab Delimited rather than XML as the data-encoding format. XML requires more barcode area to encode information than Tab Delimited does.

    • In the Options tab, select a different Symbology option.

    • In the Value tab, click the Pick button, and deselect any fields that don’t need encoding. For example, don’t include fields with redundant information.

    • In the Value tab, enter a custom script that converts user-entered text to either all lowercase or all uppercase characters during the encoding process.


    The National Association of Computerized Tax Processors (NACTP) guidelines, used by the United States Internal Revenue Service and state tax agencies, recommend using all uppercase characters for 2D barcode data.

  3. To minimize the amount of barcode area for containing the data, double-click the barcode field, and in the Value tab, write a custom script that restricts data to alphanumeric characters and to a single case. (Text that is either all uppercase or all lowercase requires less barcode area than the same text written in a mixture of uppercase and lowercase characters.)

Consider creating extra barcode fields in the form and mapping different data to each barcode field.

Set form field navigation

If a PDF document doesn’t have a specified tab order, the default tabbing order is based on the document structure unless the user has deselected the Tab Order option in the Accessibility preferences.

You can change the tabbing order after you create the fields. If you're in form editing mode, you can order the tabs by document structure (default), row, or column. You can also choose the order manually by dragging fields to the Fields panel. If you're not in editing mode, you can change the page properties to order the tabs by row or column. However, you can’t customize the tab order manually.

Set tabbing order in edit mode

  1. From the All tools menu, select Prepare a form.

  2. In the Fields panel on the right, select Sort By > Tab order.

  3. To view the tabbing order for the fields, in the Fields panel, select  > Show tab numbers.

  4. Select one of the following Tab Order options:

    • Order tabs by structureTabs based on the document structure, and follows the order that is set up in the tagging.
    • Order tabs by rowTabs from the upper-left field, moving first left to right and then down, one row at a time.
    • Order tabs by columnTabs from the upper-left field, moving first from top to bottom and then across from left to right, one column at a time.
    • Order tabs manuallyAllows you to drag and drop a field where you want it within the Fields panel. You can’t move a field to a different page, a radio button to another group, or a field to a radio button.
    • Order tabs unspecifiedSpecifies that no tab order is specified. The page properties determine the tab order.

Set tabbing order in Page Properties

  1. If you're in the form editing mode, select the cross button toward the right in the toolbar to exit the mode.

  2. Select  Page thumbnails.

    Or go to  > View > Show/Hide > Side panels > Pages.

    It opens the Page thumbnails panel. 

  3. Right-click a page icon and then select Page properties

  4. Under Tab Order, select one of the following options:

    • Use Row Order: Tabs from the upper-left field, moving first left to right and then down, one row at a time.
    • Use Column OrderTabs from the upper-left field, moving first from top to bottom and then across from left to right, one column at a time.
    • Use Document StructureFor forms with tagged fields, follows the order set up in the tagging.
    • UnspecifiedUses the existing sequence.
  5. Select OK.


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