BaRcodeR is an open-source program to facilitate repeatable label generation and management for labelling, tracking and curating data from biological samples.

Flowchart of major functions drawing

Cheat Sheet

A 2-page, quick-reference guide is available via Figshare


The baRcodeR package will generate unique IDs with 2-dimensional barcode tags (i.e. QR codes) in a PDF output format that can be printed using a laser printer and sticker sheets. Default spacing is provided for ULINE 1.75" * 0.5" WEATHER RESISTANT LABEL for laser printer; item # S-19297 ( Each function can be run interactively with prompts to guide generation of unique identifier codes and barcoded labels, including custom options to modify the PDF to fit any printed format.

NOTE: When printing from pdf, ensure that 'anti-aliasing' or 'smoothing' options are turned OFF, and that you are not using 'fit to page' or similar options that will re-scale the output.

Creating unique, scannable 2-D barcodes involves two steps:

  1. Generate unique ID codes with uniqID_maker() or uniqID_hier_maker()
  2. Create a PDF file containing unique ID codes coupled with 2D barcode using create_PDF()

If you already have ID codes saved in a CSV file, skip step #1 and import directly as a data.frame() object for step #2: see Create barcodes.

Required packages

'baRcodeR' requires four additional packages and their dependencies.

install.packages(c("ggplot2", "grDevices", "grid", "qrcode"))

Create simple ID codes {#uniqID-maker}

Simple ID codes can be generated using the uniqID_maker() function. One-level ID codes consist of two parts, a leading string shared by all samples and a number unique to each sample.

For example, if we want to generate basic ID codes for 5 individuals:


First, load the baRcodeR library.


By user prompt {#uniqID-maker-user-prompt}

Run the uniqID_make(r)) function in interactive mode.

IDcodes <- uniqID_maker(user = T)

User prompts will appear in the console. Inputs received from the user are passed as parameters to the uniqID_maker() to create the object IDcodes, which is a data.frame() object containing a vector of unique IDs in the first column, and additional columns for strings and individual numbers provided by the user.

> Please enter string for level:

The string entered here defines the leading part of the ID code that will be the same for each individual code. This can be the name of a population, a species or a location. In this example, the string entered by the user into the console as denoted by the > symbol is "example".

> Please enter string for level: example

The second user prompt is:

> Enter the starting number for level:

The prompt asks for the starting number to generate unique IDs. These codes do not have to start from 1.

> Enter the starting number for level: 5

The third user prompt is:

> Enter the ending number for level:

The prompt asks for the ending number. Unique IDs are generated sequentially from the starting number to the ending number. Note that a higher number can be used as the starting number to generate a reverse order. It is possible to generate IDs that are not sequentially numbered by passing a vector through uniqID_maker() (e.g. seq()) (see By arguments)

> Enter the ending number for level: 10

After the starting and ending numbers are set, the function generates a series of numbers. The user is then asked for the number of digits in the unique ID.

> Number of digits to print for level:

This number must be >= the maximum number of digits in the unique ID code and will add leading zeros as needed. This is particularly useful for generating a smaller number ID codes that are expected to be part of a much larger sample set.

> Number of digits to print for level: 3

By arguments {#IDcode-maker-arguments}

It is also possible to create unique ID codes directly, without user prompts, by defining parameters in uniqID_maker. The interactive example above can be reproduced a single line of code:

IDcodes <- uniqID_maker(string = "example", level = 5:10, digits = 3)

More complicated, non-sequential ID codes can be generated via the levels parameter:

number_sequence <- seq(1, 10, 2)
IDcodes <- uniqID_maker(string = "example", level = number_sequence, digits = 3)

The output will then be:


ID codes can be saved to a text file for use with other programs (e.g. spreadsheet):

write.csv(IDcodes, "IDcodes.csv")

Create hierarchical ID codes {#uniqID_hier_maker}

uniqID_hier_maker is used to make unique ID codes that follow a hierarchical (i.e. nested) structure, for example we might sample B individuals from A populations at each of C time points. Similar to uniqID_maker, this function can be run interactively or by directly defining parameters. In contrast to uniqID_maker, uniqID_hier_maker is used to generate nested pairs of strings and unique ID codes. Below is an example of a list of hierarchical identifier codes with three levels (a, b, c) and varying numbers of individuals for each level (a=3, b=2, c=2).


By user prompts {#uniqID-hier-maker-user-prompt}

To create hierarchical ID codes in interactive mode, start with the argument user=T in the function.

IDcodes <- uniqID_hier_maker(user = T)

The first prompt that appears in the console is:

> What is the # of levels in hierarchy:

In this example, we have levels a, b, and c; so three levels in total.

> What is the # of levels in hierarchy: 3

The second prompt asks if a string should be appended to the end of the IDs.

> String at end of barcode? (y/n):

There are only two possible responses to this question as indicated in the parenthesis. If the answer is yes, then a new prompt will appear.

> Please enter ending string:

In this example, there is no ending string.

> String at end of barcode? (y/n): n

A series of prompts will repeat for each level, allowing the user to set the leading string, the starting number, and the ending number. These are similar to uniqID_maker(see uniqID_maker for step by step instructions). The number of digits to print can also vary for each level.

By argument

Instead of interactive mode, it is possible to define arguments directly into uniqID_hier_maker. Unlike uniqID_maker, a list object is required to specify the parameters in each level of the hierarchy. First, define a vector for each level with three parameters: the leading string, the start value, and the end value. Second, combine vectors into a list object in the order of their hierarchy. For the example below, 'c' is nested within 'b' within 'a'.

level_one <- c("a", 1, 3)
level_two <- c("b", 1, 2)
level_three <- c("c", 10, 12)
hier_list <- list(level_one, level_two, level_three)

You can specify a custom suffix string for all ID codes using the end argument, and the number of digits to print for all levels through the digits argument. It is not possible at this time to vary the number of digits printed for each level, however this can be done using interactive mode (i.e. user=T).

The list can then be passed into uniqID_hier_maker to generate the unique ID codes.

IDcodes <- uniqID_hier_maker(hierarchy = hier_list, digits = 1)

The output will be:


The data frame contains ID codes in the first column, and a separate column for each level of the hierarchy, with the user-defined string as the header; as shown under 'Preview'. This can be saved to a CSV:

write.csv(IDcodes, "IDcodes.csv")

This file is useful for archiving ID codes and as a starting point for data entry. For example, it can be opened in a spreadsheet program to add data measurement columns. It is also the input for creating printable, QR-coded labels with create_PDF.

Create barcodes {#create-barcodes}

2D barcodes (i.e. QR codes) paired with ID code strings are created from an input vector of text labels. Users can manually create their own ID codes as a vector, as the first column of an existing data.frame() object, or as a data.frame() from <-uniqID_maker or <-uniqID_hier_maker.

The function create_PDF() produces a pdf file containing barcodes that fit to the dimensions of ULINE 1.75" * 0.5" WEATHER RESISTANT LABEL for laser printer; item # S-19297 ( If needed, the page setup can be modified using advanced options in custom_create_PDF.

The first step is to read in the vector of ID codes, in this example from a CSV file:

# Reading in from a csv file

By user prompt {#create-barcodes-user-prompt}

In the following example, the IDcodes data.frame object is used to create a PDF file called "example.pdf", with a font size of 3.5, and an error correction level "Q" meaning the barcode can tolerate up to 25% damage. The parameter user=T will prompt the user to guide creation of the pdf file containing scannable barcodes.

If IDcodes is a vector, the vector will be directly used to generate barcodes. If IDcodes is a data frame, the function will use the column called label or else the first column in the data frame.

create_PDF(user=T, Labels=IDcodes)

A user prompt is printed into the console. For example:

> Please enter name for PDF output file:

Any combination of letters and numbers can be used for the name of the pdf file. Here, the file name is set to "example."

> Please enter name for PDF output file: example

The next user prompt is to set the size of the text printed on each barcode.

> Please enter a font size (2.2-4.7):

This user input has to be a number between 2.2 and 4.7. In this example, the font size will be 3.5.

> Please enter a font size (2.2-4.7): 3.5

The last basic parameter to set is the error correction level. There are four possible levels: L, M, Q, and H.

Level "L" - up to 7% damage -- ideal for very small labels (large pixels) Level "M" - up to 15% damage Level "Q" - up to 25% damage Level "H" - up to 30% damage -- good for bigger labels (small pixels)

The user prompt for error correction level is similar to previous prompts.

> Specify an error correction - L, M, Q, H:

This example uses an error correction level "Q"

> Specify an error correction - L, M, Q, H: Q

The last user prompt asks whether the user wants to modify the advanced parameters.

> Edit advanced parameters? (Y/N):

In this example, no advanced parameters are modified. Using advanced parameters are covered in advanced options

> Edit advanced parameters? (Y/N): N

By arguments

The same example above can be reproduced directly with the following parameters:

create_PDF(Labels = IDcodes, name = "example", ErrCorr = "Q", Fsz = 2.5)

Advanced Options for pdf output {#custom-create-pdf}

There are advanced options for the pdf output which can be accessed interactively or by specifying additional arguments in create_PDF. The user prompts are similar to the ones shown above but allow customization of the output document for other printing formats. Documentation of the advanced options can be found using through the man page ?custom_create_PDF.

Arguments can be passed from create_PDF to custom_create_PDF as create_PDF is just a wrapper for custom_create_PDF.

## This will create a pdf sheet where the labels are printed in columns then rows. It will skip 3 rows from the top and 1 column from the left. 
create_PDF(Labels = Labels, name = "example_advanced", ErrCorr = "Q", Fsz = 2.5, Across = F, ERows = 3, ECol = 1)

Formatting of text labels

Trying to format text labels in the baRcodeR GUI is not recommended.

New Lines

It is possible to force formatting of labels by inserting \n as line breaks.


Using \t will create error due to the underlying qrcode library used in this package. One solution is to use the space character in place of tabs.

# original label
X <- "text\ttext"
cat(gsub("\\t", "\x20\x20\x20\x20", X))

When reading from file

R automatically escapes the escape characters when reading from file. For example, text\ntext will be read in as text\\ntext from read.csv.

Use a global substitution to replace the double slashes.

X <- "text\\ntext"

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baRcodeR documentation built on May 1, 2019, 10:05 p.m.