British thermal label specialist Peninsula Group develops one of the few barcode apps available for Mac users. It’s called Barcode X and you can create most of the currently existing barcodes with it — 170 different types to be exact — without risking to make errors. I had the opportunity to test the latest version.
Mac users with a designer’s heart will need to look deeper than the interface to find the gem Barcode X undoubtedly is. The looks and design of the app are due to be upgraded and to be honest, it’s not a minute too soon. It’s my only serious criticism, but if you see through its old-fashioned and (too) small interface, you’ll agree with me this is by far the best barcode software for the Mac.
The first thing you will notice when you try or use Barcode X is the huge number of barcodes this software supports. The two barcode types I couldn’t find support for are Dotcode and Maxicode. All other symbologies are supported in multiple variants. For example, British military code LOGMARS is fully supported. All of the Marks & Spencers barcodes are fully supported. So are Peacock store codes and many others.
I was particularly interested in the software’s support for two-dimensional barcodes like PDF417 and Aztec. Barcode X handled them fine, although I had to manually adjust the height of the PDF417 code to about 15% of its default setting. But that adjustment was a breeze and it’s the next thing that sets Barcode X apart from the competition. Not only can you create almost every existing barcode, you can also design the looks of a barcode exactly the way you need.
It starts with the file formats the app exports to. The Mac Illustrator EPS file format is supported in versions 1.1, 88, 3, 5 and above. PDF is an obvious export format, as is TIFF — at 600dpi. You can also export into several types of Postscript files and even a Type 3 font, although it exported on my system as an EPS file. Colours are available as well. In fact, there’s support for several PANTONE, TOYO, FOCOLTONE and Trumatch libraries, as well as custom spot colours. Of course, you can define your own colour in CMYK as well.
A great many options let you save to different folders, set Barco style margin indicators, have a high-resolution preview of the EPS files — as far as I could see, this is always the case on macOS Sierra — and print with different settings.
The creation of barcodes is in most cases really simple. What I mean with that is that it’s virtually impossible to make mistakes or barcodes that simply don’t work because you’re not adhering to standards. For example, when I tried to enter an ISBN number, warning messages popped up whenever I tried to create a code that wouldn’t be standard. In other cases, like when I tried to create a medical code that should have six digits exactly, the app wouldn’t let me type in more. Typing less than six digits resulted in the warning message.
You could argue, as I initially did, that it would be more efficient to guide people through the barcode process. However, this software has not been developed with laymen in mind. It’s clearly aimed at professionals who deal with the same type of barcodes on a daily basis. They know how many digits a code must have, or whether you can use alphanumeric characters.
On the other hand, if you’re a freelance designer who creates package design, for example, you can’t always know about some barcode types’ requirements. After playing around with Barcode X a bit more, I concluded the message-after-the-fact approach isn’t so bad after all. If you know the barcode, you can go quickly without having to go through what you will consider to be silly steps. If you don’t know it, you are still forced to set things right and you’re not left in the cold, as the messages offer clear guidance.
With this fool-proof approach, it almost goes without saying that Barcode X automatically calculates check digits where needed.
Other professional features
Barcode X lets you create barcodes from a CSV file, either with or without a dialogue panel opening with each barcode being output. Barcode X has a unique indicator to see whether a code will scan properly when you choose a colour for your barcodes that isn’t black on white.
I found out that when you drag a barcode file made with Barcode X back onto the app icon in the Dock, you can make a new one or check its settings such as height, scale and bar thickness (which depends on the printer you’re using).
Barcode X is also capable of automatically making GS1 128 (EAN-UCC 128) barcodes without a special editor. I could enter the alphanumeric code — the app’s ID’s are automatically interpreted and the correct format output in the barcode.
Finally, Barcode X has a wizard for easy creation of DataBar Coupon codes. The wizard covers all the fields that can be encoded into a Databar coupon, while still disallowing you to create a barcode that would not comply with standards.
No, it won’t win a beauty competition, but it does the job just fine. In some areas, I did find the application lacking a user guide. For example, the ability to create barcodes from a CSV file is quite powerful, but you’re pretty much on your own when finding out how it works exactly. Given the responsiveness of Peninsula’s people, you won’t have to wait long for help, but a brief description of how to make the most out of this feature would be nice.
These, however, are all minor flaws in view of the power of this app when it comes to creating barcodes that just work. If you’re a packaging graphics designer or you’re regularly creating designs that require you to incorporate barcodes, this is it. There’s nothing like it.
A 1-Mac licence will cost you about €245.