What is a PDF417 Code?

What are PDF417 barcodes

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In today’s digital age, barcodes play a vital role in various industries, enabling efficient data storage and retrieval. Among the many barcode types, PDF417 stands out as a versatile and powerful option.

PDF417 is a two-dimensional barcode that can store large amounts of data in a compact format. Unlike traditional linear barcodes, PDF417 utilises a stacked, grid-like structure, allowing for the encoding of text, numbers, and even binary data.

In this blog post, we will explore why businesses and consumers alike should consider leveraging PDF417 barcodes for their needs. Join us as we uncover the secrets behind these powerful symbols and unlock their potential in various industries.

What is a PDF417 Bar code?- A Brief Discussion

PDF417 barcode

The PDF417 code was created in the early 1990s by Ynjiun P. Wang. The name PDF stands for “Portable Data File”, while 417 represents the pattern of 4 bars and spaces and a 17-part codeword. 

PDF417 barcodes are a highly reliable 2D barcode standard that is widely used across multiple sectors worldwide. It offers great versatility and has a very high data density. PDF417 uses a pattern of bars or spaces that vary in width to store encoded data, which sets it apart from other 2D barcodes like a QR code and Data Matrix code that use a matrix of dots or squares. 

Check out our article on QR code vs Data Matrix code for a complete comparison between the two barcode symbologies. 

PDF417 is a great choice for storing different types of data, including fingerprints, signatures, and photos. It is often used to create secure documents like driver’s licenses, identity cards, and passports.

The PDF417 barcode symbology is sometimes referred to as a “stacked linear symbology”. This is because the PDF 417 code consists of multiple barcodes stacked vertically within a single symbol. 

PDF417 can encode up to 1850 alphanumeric characters, 2710 digits or 1108 bytes of data in a single symbol. One PDF417 barcode can hold up to a maximum of 929 codewords. 

The ISO/IEC 15438:2001 acts as the main normative standard for the PDF 417 barcode symbology.

Why Do We Need PDF417 Barcodes?

The PDF417 is a type of two-dimensional barcode (like QR codes and Data Matrix codes) that finds its primary usage in transport, identification card, and inventory management applications.

Although barcodes had been around for almost 40 years earlier than PDF417, they were limited to storing small amounts of data. PDF417 offered to encode a larger amount of data in a compact space.

Unlike traditional 1-D barcodes that only hold alphanumeric data for product classification, PDF417 can store complex data strings such as binary code and special characters.

PDF417 is not limited to the retail industry but found applications in diverse fields. It has become an important tool for industries such as logistics, travel, postal services, and government identification.

How To Recognise a PDF417 Barcode?

To identify a PDF417 code, it is important to look for its distinct rectangular shape with multiple linear barcodes stacked above each other. PDF417 codes store data using bars and spaces instead of black or white squares.

Additionally, all PDF417 codes contain a start and stop pattern in which the first two bars are longer than the others, and the last two bars are also much wider than the rest.

By looking at all these patterns, one can easily distinguish a PDF417 from other barcode symbologies.

How to Identify a PDF417 Barcode

Anatomy of PDF417 Code

Detailed anatomy of PDF417 barcode

The PDF417 barcode consists of the following elements per row.

  • Leading quiet zone
  • Start pattern
  • Left row indicator
  • Data code word
  • Right row indicator
  • Stop pattern
  • Trailing quiet zone

Start & Stop Pattern

PDF417 barcodes begin and end with specific patterns called start and stop patterns. These patterns indicate the start and end of the barcode, and help scanners decode the barcode correctly. 

The PDF417 contains identical start and stop patterns on every row.

Left Row Indicator & Right Row Indicator

The row indicators in a PDF417 symbol are the two codewords next to the start or stop pattern in a row. These row indicators provide information about the number of rows and the error correction level. 

Additionally, the row indicators help the decoder identify the location of each row within the barcode.

Data Codewords

The PDF417 barcode encodes user data into codewords. The codewords consist of four bars and four spaces, which add up to a total of 17 module widths and 1 module height. The codewords represent integer values between 0 and 928. Additionally, each codeword begins with a bar and ends with a space. 

The PDF417 barcode’s middle section contains the data codewords, which comprise the following sections:

  • Length indicator cluster
  • Actual data
  • Error correction cluster
  • Padding cluster

Length Indicator Cluster

The length indicator cluster is used to indicate the overall length of the data code words. It consists of 17 modules.

Actual Data

This section displays the initial data encoded by the user.

Error Correction Cluster

The error correction clusters assist the decoder in data recovery from the code.

AIM standards suggest a minimum error correction level of 2.

Padding Cluster

If the data code words don’t fit perfectly into the rectangular matrix, padding clusters are added to fill the empty gaps.

Quiet Zone

PDF417 barcodes have quiet zones, which are blank areas surrounding the barcode on all sides. This blank area provides a clear space for barcode scanners to properly read and decode the barcode.

Data Compaction of PDF417 Code

Points on three modes of data compaction of PDF417 code

To improve encoding efficiency, the PDF417 barcode employs data compaction schemes. The PDF417 barcode can be optimally encoded for various types of data based on the chosen compaction mode.

The PDF417 barcode supports the following compaction mode.

  • Text Compaction mode
  • Byte Compaction mode
  • Numeric Compaction mode

Text Compaction Mode

The text compaction mode enables the encoding of all alphanumeric and punctuation characters in the ASCII character set. In this mode, the maximum number of characters that can be encoded is 1850, and each codeword can contain a maximum of 2 characters.

Byte Compaction Mode

The byte compaction mode allows the encoding of data bytes. This mode can encode up to 1108 bytes with a maximum of 1.2 bytes per codeword.

Numeric Compaction Mode

The numeric compaction mode enables the encoding of numeric digits. It allows up to 2710 digits to be encoded with a maximum of 2.9 digits per codeword.

Variants of PDF417 Code

Two types of PDF417 barcode

The PDF417 barcode has two different variants.

  • Macro PDF417
  • Compact PDF417

MacroPDF417 Barcode

Macro PDF417, also known as Macro Portable Data File 417, has the same features as the PDF417 barcode.

A Macro PDF417 barcode is an extension of the PDF417 barcode symbology that allows for the encoding of significantly larger amounts of data. It is designed to handle data sets that exceed the capacity of a single PDF417 barcode.

Macro PDF417 symbols differ from ordinary PDF417 symbols in that they contain control information in a zone called Control Block. The Macro PDF417 divides large files into multiple segments and encodes them into separate symbols. The Macro PDF417 scanner can reconstruct those files accurately by referring to the Control Block, regardless of the scanning order of the symbols.

The Macro PDF417 barcode is useful in applications such as shipping labels, government identification cards, and other documents that require extensive information storage.

Check out our article on what are MicroPDF417 barcodes to learn more about this barcode symbology.

Compact PDF417 Barcode

The Compact PDF417 format, also known as Truncated PDF417, shares the main features of the PDF417 standard. This type of barcode is helpful when it’s important to save space, and there’s little chance that the barcode image will get damaged.

Compact PDF417 barcodes do not have the right row indicator, which is present in PDF417 symbols. Additionally, the stop pattern in a Compact PDF417 barcode is just a one-module width bar. This configuration decreases the non-data overhead from 4 codewords per row to 2 codewords per row. However, it may lead to some compromises in the scanning speed and robustness of the barcode.

Uses of PDF417 Barcode

List of six uses of PDF417 barcode

PDF417 barcodes find application in a wide range of industries and scenarios due to their ability to store significant amounts of data. 

Here are some of the different uses of PDF417 barcodes.

ID Cards

PDF417 barcodes are often found on ID cards like driver’s licenses and employee badges. They store personal information and other important data. These barcodes are used on driving licenses and Real IDs issued by The Departments of Homeland Security in the US.

Transportation and Logistics

Companies like FedEx use PDF417 barcodes on packing slips and labels to automate delivery and tracking.

Ticketing and Event Management

PDF417 barcodes are utilised in ticketing systems for concerts, sports events, public transportation, and other gatherings.

Healthcare and Medical Applications

In the healthcare sector, PDF417 barcodes are used on patient wristbands, medical prescriptions, and laboratory samples. They can store patient information, medication details, test results, and other data.

Government and Official Documents

PDF417 barcodes are included on official documents such as passports and visas to make it easier for authorities to verify them. Countries such as Israel use the PDF417 code on their visas.

Aviation Industry

In the aviation industry, PDF417 is utilised for encoding information on a boarding pass and ticket.

How to Get a PDF417 Barcode?

Generating a PDF417 barcode is a straightforward process that allows you to create versatile barcodes for various purposes.

Here is a step-by-step process to generate a PDF417 barcode.

  1. Choose a PDF417 barcode generator: There are several online barcode generator tools available that allow you to create PDF417 barcodes for free. Find a reliable and user-friendly generator that suits your needs.
  2. Enter the data: Enter the data you want to encode into the barcode. This can include information like text, numbers, or even website URLs.
  3. Generate the barcode: Once you have entered the data and adjusted any desired settings, click on the “Generate” or “Create Barcode” button. The barcode generator will process the data and generate a PDF417 barcode.
  4. Save or download the barcode: After the barcode is generated, you can save it as an image file or download it directly to your device.
  5. Test and use the barcode: Open the saved barcode image or print it out to test its scannability. Use a barcode scanner or a barcode scanning app on a mobile device to verify that the barcode can be successfully read.

Following these steps, you can generate a PDF417 code that encodes your desired information and can be easily scanned.

There are many options available online for generating PDF417 codes. However, it’s important to consider that free barcode generators may come with limitations, even though they seem like a cost-effective solution.

If you want more flexibility and customisation options along with better security measures and customer support, then paid PDF417 code generators are a better choice than free ones. By investing in a paid barcode generator, you can manage and create PDF417 codes more effectively and efficiently.

One paid software we highly recommend to our customers is Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software, the world’s premier label design and printing software.

The BarTender Software by Seagull Scientific not only allows users to create attractive labels but also automates and manages the entire labelling process effortlessly. It incorporates barcodes and RFID tags and is a revolutionary tool in label design, management, and printing software.

At Triton, we understand the value of having the right software for your business needs. That’s why we offer all four editions of BarTender Software, including Starter Edition, Professional Edition, Automation Edition and Enterprise Edition. We also offer the latest addition to the Bartender family, BarTender Cloud. Choose Triton and get ready to revolutionise your label printing experience with BarTender Software!

To learn more about Seagull Scientific BarTender Software, contact us via the live chat widget below or fill out a form here.

How to Design a PDF417 Barcode?

To ensure proper barcode labelling operations, it is important to create efficient barcodes and labels through proper guidelines. This reduces errors and maximises the benefits of using them. To achieve this, it is crucial to follow established standards and best practices.

The most important factors to consider when designing PDF417 codes are the barcode height, the X-dimension and the quiet zone.

Design rule for X-Dimension of PDF417 Barcode

X Dimension

The X-dimension for a PDF417 symbol is measured by the width of its narrowest bar. This measurement is typically displayed in mils, inches, or millimetres.

The PDF417 symbol must have a minimum X-dimension of 9.5 mils or 0.0095 inches (0.241 millimetres).

Barcode Height

In a PDF417 code, the height of the bars should be three times the X dimension. For example, for a symbol with an X-dimension of 9.5 mils, the height of the bars should be 28.5 mils.

Design rules of barcode height of PDF417 Barcode
Point on design rule of quiet zone in PDF417 Barcode

Quiet Zone

The quiet zone is the area around a barcode symbol that is left blank without any printing or marks.

To properly size the PDF417 barcode, the quiet zone must be at least two times the X-dimension of the symbol.

For example, if the symbol has an X-dimension of 9.5 mils (0.0095 inches), then a minimum quiet zone of 19 mils (0.019 inches) should be left blank around the barcode (on all sides).

How to Print PDF417 Barcode? - Printing Best Practices

Four points on printing rules of PDF417 barcode

To ensure the correct scanning of PDF417 codes, it is important to take into account the quality of printing.

Here are some general guidelines on how to print PDF 417 codes.

  1. Use Sufficient Contrast: Ensure that there is enough contrast between the background and the barcode to ensure accurate scanning. Use dark-coloured bars on a light-coloured background or vice versa.
  2. Optimal Size: Determine the appropriate size for the barcode based on the capabilities of the barcode scanner. Avoid making the barcode too small, as it may affect readability.
  3. Maintain Adequate Quiet Zones: Leave enough blank space around the barcode to prevent any interference from nearby text, images, or graphics.
  4. High-Quality Printing: Use high-resolution printers to ensure that the barcode is printed clearly and legibly. Low-quality printing may result in smudging or distortion, making the barcode difficult to scan.
  5. Use Correct Aspect Ratio: Maintain the correct aspect ratio of the barcode to ensure accurate scanning. Distorted or stretched barcodes may lead to scanning errors.
  6. Test and Verify: Before mass printing the barcodes, conduct tests to ensure that the printed barcodes can be accurately scanned by different barcode scanners. Verify their readability to avoid any issues during actual usage.

If you’re running a business that depends heavily on PDF417 barcodes, then you definitely want to get your hands on a thermal printer. These printers are not only accurate and precise but also relatively affordable because they don’t require ink or toner. In addition to these benefits, thermal printers are surprisingly efficient. You’ll be able to accomplish more tasks while requiring less maintenance. 

At Triton, we have everything you need for thermal printing. We offer a wide selection of thermal printers from trustworthy brands like Honeywell, Zebra, TSC and OKI. Our inventory includes a variety of printer models, such as direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers, barcode label printers, desktop printers and industrial printers. With such a wide range of thermal devices, you are sure to find the perfect solution for your needs. 

We also offer high-quality print consumables that work well with thermal printers and provide long-lasting adhesion and optimal print quality. Our consumables range includes thermal transfer ribbons, thermal labels, thermal carton labels, thermal carcase tags, and food-compliant thermal inserts, all of which meet strict quality standards. 

At Triton, we guarantee top-quality products at competitive prices. You can always reach out to our customer service team via the live chat widget for any inquiries or issues you have. Choose Triton and experience unparalleled quality and reliability in thermal printing.


In conclusion, PDF417 barcodes have revolutionised data storage and retrieval, providing a powerful solution for businesses in need of compact yet extensive information encoding. With its ability to store large amounts of data, including text, numbers, and binary information, PDF417 offers a versatile and efficient means of capturing and accessing vital information.

Whether it’s in identification or other industries, PDF417 barcodes have proven their value in enhancing efficiency and improving customer experiences. As technology continues to advance, PDF417 barcodes will continue to play a crucial role in data management.

We hope this article has helped you gain a better understanding of PDF417 code barcodes. Thanks for reading!

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