PDF417 Barcode

2D Symbologies

Symbology PDF417

PDF417 was one of the first publicly available high-density 2D barcodes. They are most widely used today in logistics, transportation and by governments for identification purposes.

A PDF417 barcode is a stacked 2D linear barcode that can encode large amounts of information across multiple codes in a compact space. PDF stands for Portable Data File, while the 417 signifies the code’s pattern of four black bars and four white spaces arranged in a pattern that is 17 cells long.

The dimension of a PDF417 barcode depends on the amount of data it stores. They are customizable, with adjustable length and width and can encode up to 1850 alphanumeric characters, 2710 numerical characters and 1108 bytes of information.

Characteristics of a PDF417 barcode

  • Encodes large amounts of information across multiple codes.
  • Encodes all 256 ASCII characters.
  • Adaptable in size – the minimum acceptable X-dimension for a PDF417 code is 9.5 mils or 0.0095” (0.241 mm) and the height of the bars must be 3x the X-dimension.
  • Supports variable length data content.
  • The number of rows and columns is configurable, although a PDF417 barcode is limited to 30 columns and 90 rows.
  • Different error correction levels can be defined.
  • Standardized use through the ISO/IEC 15438 international standard.

Application areas

PDF417 barcodes are used for applications that require the storage of large amounts of data. They can hold over 1.1 kilobytes of machine-readable data, making them more powerful than other 2D barcodes.

PDF417 codes are suited to various applications, including transport, logistics and inventory management. For example, PDF417 is one of the formats (as well as the Data Matrix barcode) approved by the US Postal Service for printing postage.

The airline industry uses PDF417 barcodes to create boarding passes, while governments use them on state-issued identification cards. PDF417 is the standard the US Department of Homeland Security selected for driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards.


Like QR codes, PDF417 barcodes are public domain and free to use. Any smart device with a camera can read PDF417 barcodes when supported by an app with a PDF417 barcode scanner.

Scandit’s barcode scanning and ID scanning software supports all major barcode types, including PDF417 barcodes. ID scanning solutions can not only scan the PDF417 barcodes on US driver’s licenses but detect fakes.

The Scandit SDK can decode PDF417 barcodes as well as truncated PDF417 barcodes, which use less area than a standard PDF417 barcode (the right-hand side of the symbol is removed or truncated).

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PDF417 Barcode FAQs

How do you read a PDF417 barcode?

Although it relies on an app with a PDF417 barcode SDK, you can read a PDF417 barcode using any camera-enabled device. Scandit barcode and ID scanning supports scanning PDF417 barcodes on iOS and Android platforms.

What is the PDF417 barcode used for?

PDF417 codes are suited to various applications, including:

  • In the airline and transportation industry on boarding passes and tickets.
  • In logistics to store shipping information, tracking numbers, and recipient details on postal packages.
  • By governments for state-issued identification cards and driver’s licenses.
  • In retail to track and manage stock inventory.
  • In healthcare on patient identification bracelets to store medical records.
  • In document management, meta-information is stored to index or authenticate documentation.

What is the PDF417 driver’s license format?

PDF417 barcodes store information on driver’s licenses. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) has created design standards for these documents and the information they contain. Data encoded on the back of an AAMVA license includes personal data that can be decoded using a barcode scanner, but a parser is needed to allow the software to query the data and humans to read it.

Scandit ID scanning software turns any consumer or employee smartphone into a high-performance scanning device capable of scanning and parsing the PDF147 barcodes on the back of identity documents such as ID cards and driver’s licenses and detecting fakes.

Scandit ID scanning extracts data from identity documents, converts it into digital characters and then into a readable/queryable data format using built-in and fully maintained parsing technology. It can decode 200+ different versions of ID standards across all US states and jurisdictions, including all IDs issued by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AMVAA).

How much data can a PDF417 barcode hold?

PDF417 barcodes can hold up to 1.1 kilobytes of machine-readable data, making them suitable for applications requiring the decoding of large amounts of information.

What are the advantages of PDF417 barcodes?

PDF417 barcodes have a high data capacity and the data is stored directly within the barcode. They support all ASCII characters (value 0-127) and can encode up to 1850 alphanumeric characters, 2710 numerical characters and 1108 bytes of information.

PDF417 barcodes also have built-in error correction, which enables data recovery even if the barcode is damaged or obscured. Because of their high data and complex data capacity, they are suitable for secure applications such as ID cards and driver’s licenses.

What is the limitation of the PDF417 barcode?

Despite their versatility, PDF417 barcodes do have some limitations. Not all barcode scanners can read PDF417 – you may require enterprise-grade scanning software, such as the Scandit SDK.

Unless your software has high-performance decoding, scanning may also take longer simply due to the amount of data a PDF417 barcode can store. Also, high-resolution printers are often required to print clear, readable PDF417 barcodes.

Scandit’s solutions can decode PDF417 barcodes in 1 second or less and are performant even when codes are damaged or lower resolution.

What is the minimum size for a PDF417?

Each PDF417 barcode can have between 3 and 90 rows, between 1 and 30 columns, up to 925 data codewords, and between 2 and 512 error correction codewords.

The minimum acceptable X-dimension for a PDF417 barcode is 9.5 millimeters, or 0.0095” (0.241 mm). The height of the bars must be 3x the X-dimension. For a 9.5 millimeter barcode, the bar height must be 28.5 mils.

What is the difference between a QR code and a PDF417 barcode?

A PDF417 is a 2D barcode with several linear rows of stacked codewords and can be read from left to right in linear order with a simple linear scan. A QR code is a 2D matrix barcode and requires a 2D imaging scanning device to read it. QR codes have a larger data capacity than PDF417 barcodes and can encode Kanji characters.

What are the different versions of the PDF417 barcode?

PDF417 is standard but has variants:

  • The Micro PDF147 is a shortened version of the PDF417 barcode that can encode 150 characters. It is ideal when space is limited and a standard PDF147 would be too large.
  • The Truncated (or Compact) PDF417, as its name suggests, is a compact version of a standard PDF417 barcode with a storage capacity of 1500 alphanumeric characters, compared to the standard’s 1850 characters.

PDF417 Variations:

  • Symbology Truncated PDF417 Truncated PDF417 A shortened form of the PDF417 barcode