The ability to add 2D barcodes to forms was added to Adobe Reader and Adobe’s server products in 2004 as part of Acrobat and Reader 6. QR and Data Matrix codes were added in Acrobat and Reader 8. The licensing was tied to Adobe LiveCycle, so it was perceived as difficult to install and operate and expensive to acquire. While LiveCycle gives a very robust and powerful process management capability to document workflow and processing, I will explain how a larger class of people can take advantage of this technology.
This dynamic barcode generation capability will enable Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) forms, processed by Adobe Reader on the Mac or Windows to be enhanced with dynamic 2D barcodes. These barcodes help reduce the costs, errors and time to process fill-and-print paper forms, allowing you to eliminate manual data entry, which can be costly, error prone and time-consuming.
This bridges the gap between paper and digital processes by enabling your organization to realize the benefits of electronic forms and workflows—even when a digital process form breaks from the electronic environment and reverts to paper for convenience or ink signature reasons. It enables efficient capture of paper-based form data with near-100 percent accuracy and export the information into your core systems. As users move to electronic submission of data, you can equip the same forms with electronic submit buttons that will transmit the same data to a web server.
There are very good web tutorials available on barcoded forms. I suggest taking a look at
- Adobe’s basic barcoded form and best practice tutorial at PDF417 barcode
- Adobe TV’s “Capture electronic data from printed forms (using LC Designer)“
- Infinite Skills has a for-pay video in their Acrobat series titled Adobe Acrobat X Tutorial – Creating A Barcode Field
You can also load a simple demonstration form from Adobe’s website. Fetch this form, save to your local disk and then open in Adobe Acrobat (not Reader, as the form is not reader-extended… that will be coming soon).
Common usage scenarios
Acrobat and Reader have different capabilities and licensing for dynamic barcoded forms. If you add a Paper Forms Barcode object to a fill-and-print PDF form using either Designer or Acrobat and the value of the barcode will change while opened within the free Adobe Reader, then the PDF form you are distributing needs to be licensed with an Adobe® LiveCycle® Reader Extension for barcoded forms. This is available from Adobe or with the PDF Java Toolkit from Datalogics.
Here are a couple of scenarios that may help you understand this concept further:
Scenario 1 (most commonly used for testing and development):
- A PDF Form with a dynamic 2D barcode (also known as the Paper Forms Barcode) is filled-in and printed with Adobe Acrobat Standard or Adobe Acrobat Professional
- The user of the PDF form changes a field value that causes the value of the barcode to change. They then print the PDF on Windows or the Mac.
- The 2D barcode is not compressed
- Reader Extensions through PDFJT is not required as the 2D barcodes printed by Acrobat Standard or Acrobat Professional are not encrypted or hidden and can be read by a barcode decoder capable of reading 2D barcodes.
Scenario 2 (most commonly used for wide deployment):
- A PDF Form with a dynamic 2D barcode is filled-in and printed with the Free Adobe Reader
- The user of the PDF form changes a form value that causes the value of the barcode to change. They then print the PDF on Windows or the Mac.
- The 2D barcode is not compressed
- The PDF must be Reader-Extended through LiveCycle Reader Extensions or Datalogics PDF Java Toolkit or the 2D barcode printed by the free Adobe Reader will be encrypted or greyed out (Reader 8.x and higher) and cannot be decoded by any barcode decoder. Reader Extensions can also allow the form to be saved with the data so that the user has a local record of the electronic form and can change the data, reprint and resubmit the form. Reader-extending with Acrobat Pro is insufficient, as the Acrobat does not have the capability to add barcode rights to PDFs)/
There are a few things to note. You can compress the data, although that’s generally not recommended as barcode data is expected to be plaintext. But, if you do compress the barcode, special code must be used to remove the first two bytes of the returned sting and then use FLATE decompression to bring back the native uncompressed text.
When you buy LiveCycle with Reader Extensions, you get a few things: (a) the ability to reader extend files for barcodes in the clear, (b) a service that decodes the barcodes from a TIFF or image PDF, turning this into variable data to start a process and (c) a full process management and workflow system, built on the LiveCycle foundation and J2EE application server. This is a very large, but complete, processing solution. PDFJT with Reader Extensions and the integration of commercially available barcode decode libraries gives a smaller and simpler solution that may integrate into your environment more easily.
Remember that the only programs that can print a dynamic barcode are Adobe’s Acrobat and Reader on the Mac and Windows. Other programs, whether Adobe’s Reader for the iPad or Android, or other PDF viewing applications from Readdle, Foxit or others will not calculate a dynamic barcode or display it.