The modern barcode system that we use today first originated in the late 1940’s. Its initial debut on the market occurred in the summer of 1975 and was used as a way to monitor inventory control and increase worker productivity. In today’s day and age we see barcodes present on almost every product for sale, giving the symbol an automatic association with capitalism, consumerism and labor. As people begin to reject consumer culture and further celebrate individuality, we see new trends emerging in the realms of fine art, music and tattooing alike. The barcode tattoo is one of these artistic statements, working as a way to take a stance against the status quo of our modern corporate-driven society.
If you feel drawn to the barcode tattoo, read along and explore the potential meanings behind it, best placements, barcode tattoo ideas and more!
Things to Know Before Getting a Barcode Tattoo
Before taking the jump into your badass barcode tattoo, make sure that you do your research and find an artist skilled in precise line work. Always make sure to check an artist’s portfolio before booking an appointment, so that you can better understand what they specialize in, and whether or not they’d be a good fit for your vision. Try to conceptualize beforehand what you’d like to include within your barcode piece, such as birthdate numbers, letters and the barcode itself.
To help you out along your journey there are several free barcode generators online that allow you to create your own design. When deciding how to add further elements to the barcode, such as imagery or variation in design motif, consult your artist and listen to their recommendations.
FAQ’s About Barcode Tattoos
What do barcode tattoos mean?
When contemplating the barcode tattoo’s meaning, it becomes apparent that the main themes behind the tattoo typically revolve around individualism, warnings against becoming a product or “slave”, stances against capitalism and consumerism, and protests against corporate greed.
For those using their barcode tattoo as a symbol of dissent, the generalized ideology behind it is that the majority of us are laborers working to survive, but ultimately serving the ultra-elite who control the majority of resources, goods and opportunities. Although beliefs and stances on capitalism vary, people who choose the barcode symbol as a form of protest tend to believe that capitalism is a system based upon greed and disregard for equal opportunity. Those without access to decent education or adequate resources tend not to thrive in systems such as this. Additionally, those suffering from physical and mental ailments, as well as the elderly, are also typically unable to compete in a capitalist society. For these reasons, amongst many others, people believe that capitalism and consumerism aids in creating human suffering and that the rewards reaped from this type of system do so at the expense of the “underclass”.
In this way we can view the barcode tattoo as an ironic symbol, giving a head nod to the disposable condition of the modern worker, and the aspiration for something better to replace the current system.
For some who choose to adorn their body with the barcode tattoo, the statement has less to do with commentary of the state of society or industry, and more to do with commemorating special dates, marking hidden meanings, or celebrating individuality. Just as a particular barcode is used to identify an individual product, so too can a barcode tattoo work to represent an individual person. Many have chosen to incorporate sentimental dates, names, or single words into their unique barcode tattoos. Others have worked in elements of animals, city skylines, zip codes and just about any personalized imagery or symbols imaginable. Although the barcode tattoo can be used to signify feeling like a cog in a machine, it can also work to represent a fierce sense of individuality and a rejection of conformity and “sameness”.
Regardless of your personal connection to the barcode symbol as a tattoo, it is entirely possible to customize the piece to fit your beliefs and intended meaning.
Photographer: Peter Coulson
Can you scan a barcode tattoo?
Many often wonder, will a barcode tattoo scan? And the answer is yes! As long as the artist has been precise with their line work, your personalized barcode tattoo will be able to be picked up by a traditional scanner. Though as a warning, make sure you are aware of what your barcode will scan for before getting your tattoo. If you don’t want to be scanned as a bag of flaming hot Cheetos, or feminine hygiene products, make sure that you create a custom barcode, or choose one that you don’t mind wearing!
Can you create your own barcode tattoo?
Yes, it is possible to create your very own personalized barcode tattoo! When contemplating your particular barcode tattoo design, think about the elements that you want to incorporate and how you’d like them to be placed. There are no rules when creating your permanent piece of art, so whether you’d like to create a barcode birthday tattoo, use bold or rainbow colors, or have the barcode melting or morphing into something else, all is possible!
For best results it is recommended to bring any reference material such as UPC barcodes and additional imagery to your artist to allow them to bring your vision to life!
How to generate a barcode for your tattoo
There are several barcode generator websites available which allow you to easily create your own barcode design; incorporating numbers, characters, letters, or specific single words. Some people select numbers representing anniversaries, birthdates, or significant life moments. Others prefer to use this feature to adorn their skin with a partner or loved one’s initials or name.
Scott Blake, an artist who specializes in barcode tattoos, suggests that your design should contain about 42 vertical lines per inch of space, and a combination of black and white bars. Ideal size for a scan ready barcode tattoo should be about 2.26 in to 2.5 in to allow space for the necessary line work.
If you don’t want to use an online generator you can always gather examples of UPC barcodes that appeal to you and provide them to your artist as reference material.
What information can a barcode tattoo hold?
Your barcode tattoo can hold a great deal of information, some personal only to you, and some that will ring up and be displayed at your local grocery or convenience store. Barcodes are traditionally used to identify specific products and their prices, so depending upon which barcode you choose, you could ring up as Oreo cookies, or a new pair of shoes, it’s all up to you.
When using numbers at the base of your barcode, you can include sequences that hold sentimental meaning to you, allowing the tattoo to have an element of hidden or unexplained meaning.
Ideally, many would love to receive barcode tattoos that could be easily scanned to reveal work history, medical history, or other pertinent individual information. While there are not yet tattoos of this kind available now, the possibility seems closer than ever. A patent has recently been filed by Thomas Heeter to create a barcode tattoo that would allow customers to scan their skin at the register instead of utilizing cards or cash. The barcode tattoo is connected to the person’s bank account, automatically withdrawing the money upon a scan of the tattoo. While some people are excited at this prospect, others fear that it may be a biblical warning about the state of society, and could be similar to the “mark of the beast” as described in the Bible’s Book of Genesis.
What are the numbers in a barcode?
The numbers in a barcode work to identify particular aspects of a product. The first digit is used to identify the numbering system, the next five digits identify the manufacturer, and the following five digits represent the individual item. The 12th and last digit in the barcode is traditionally used as a “check digit”.
Barcode Tattoo Designs
When designing your unique barcode tattoo, there are plenty of resources for inspiration and aesthetic options. You can keep your design simple and classic, or add unusual components to paint your own picture. With barcode tattoos now gaining visibility in popular culture many are interested in finding a design of their own. Video games have helped to popularize this tattoo, particularly the game series “Hitman”, featuring the protagonist “Agent 47”, who sports a barcode tattoo on the back of his neck. Many have asked what the hitman barcode tattoo means, only to discover that the barcode represents the cloning facility in which he was manufactured, hence giving him the name of “47”. Popular barcode references like this seem to resonate with the ideology expressed by many wearing the barcode as a tattoo, such as feelings of limited freedom, “sameness” and a culture of disposable work.
Although the barcode tattoo can represent the ills of materialism and corporate greed, it can also be used as a symbol of individuality. Depending on the design elements you add to your barcode tattoo, you can easily construct a meaningful and personalized piece alongside your trusted artist. Designs can easily vary from lighthearted and playful, to sentimental in nature. Some have chosen to make the barcode the focal point of their design, while others prefer to add the barcode as an addition to a larger piece. Whatever your preferred style or aesthetic, rest assured that you can create a highly symbolic barcode tattoo to represent your intended meaning.
Best Body Placements for Barcode Tattoos
Barcode tattoo on the neck
The barcode tattoo works beautifully on the back or side of the neck. Many inspired by the Hitman video game series have chosen this placement to pay homage to the games main character, “Agent 47”. Others enjoy the visibility of a barcode tattoo on the neck, feeling that it is a prime place to display their art. The small size of the barcode tends to work nicely in this space and can complement a larger piece on the back or shoulders.
Barcode tattoo on the wrist
For those who want to easily scan their art, the barcode wrist tattoo is an accessible and fun placement. The small size of the barcode works great in the space provided by the wrist and can be used as the beginning of a highly personalized sleeve.
Barcode tattoo on the hand
If you’re looking for a truly unique piece, a barcode tattoo on the hand can be a super cool placement. The hand allows maximum visibility for your tattoo, while also allowing you to scan yourself with ease. There are many variations of barcode tattoos on the hand, including palm tattoos and wide array of additional design elements.
Barcode tattoo on the back
If you’re looking to create a large scale piece, a barcode tattoo on the back might be the best placement for you. With the amount of space that the back has to offer, your artist can easily incorporate many additional design motifs and expand the size of the barcode. While a larger barcode will probably not scan, if you’re more interested in the symbolism and art than functionality, the back is an excellent option.
Why are Barcode Tattoos Not Always a Good Idea?
There are several factors that can lead to barcode tattoos not being the best option for you. For starters you should make sure that you know what your barcode scans for ahead of time, to ensure that you haven’t permanently placed something you may later find degrading on your skin. There have been stories of well-intended people ending up with barcodes for all sorts of undesirable things, so it is imperative to do your research first.
If you’re someone who wants your tattoos to age well, barcode tattoos may not be for you. Due to the close proximity of the intricate lines and the skins tendency to sag and change with age, these tattoos can end up appearing muddled and less legible over time. If you are unable to find an artist skilled with precision line work these tattoos can tend to appear blurred, blown out or messy. There are many artists with the skill level and ability to create these looks, just make sure to take a look at their existing work before booking an appointment!
QR Code Tattoos
QR code tattoos are comprised of 2D barcodes that hold what is known as “alphanumeric” information. When electing to get a QR code tattoo, make sure that the content your code will generate is permanent. If you insert a link to a website in your code, it’s possible that years down the line the site will be inactive and the code will become somewhat useless. Many suggest choosing something that will remain “static” for your QR code, such as a favorite quote, the name of a loved one, or a personal mantra.
When designing your QR code tattoo, consult an experienced and skilled artist to bring your vision to life!