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Simply put, the use of barcode tattoos in futuristic settings, particularly of the dystopian flavor. Maybe it's to mark them as being property of some Mega-Corp or a Nebulous Evil Organization. Maybe they're clones, slaves, or prisoners. Maybe it just looks cool. Whatever it is, barcode tattoos are appearing more and more often in fiction.

Most often these tattoos are on the nape of the neck, but they can be in other places, as the picture shows us.

This can be a Truth in Television: A lot of these people actually think that these tattoos look cool or badass. Anyone who's ever used an actual UPC scanner knows they sure aren't feasible; even minor printing errors render barcodes printed on paper, plastic or metal unscannable, and tattoos tend to dissipate with age. Even fresh ones would be distorted whenever skin is stretched by movement. Although this practice has seen a slight revival, now replacing barcodes with QR codes instead. Mainly thanks to the fact that phones scanning QR codes being widespread.note 

A related trope in futures that are more Zeerust than dystopian is the barcode license plate, often an accompaniment to flying cars but seldom accompanied by the owner-applied markings on nearly every vehicle that would be necessary for owners of popular cars to find them in crowded parking lots without special equipment. No one explains why law enforcement doesn't object to license plates which human eyewitnesses to crimes can't possibly read. Real Life Automatic License Plate Readers have made barcode license plates unnecessary.

See Slave Brand for a more primitive version and Android Identifier if a barcode is used to mark Artificial Humans.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Big O. It gets kinda hard to tell.
  • These are standard on one specific moon in Cowboy Bebop; in "My Funny Valentine", Faye identifies an old "friend" by recognizing his.
  • The eponymous Nora has one - inside an inverted pentagram, no less - to indicate that he's a member of the Dark Liege's Army. Interestingly, the DLA is actually the good less-bad of the two demon factions.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Stiyl Magnus, under the eye.
  • "Barcode Kougaiji" in Saiyuki after he's reprogrammed by Goukumen and Nii.
  • Wild ARMs: Twilight Venom - Sheyenne Rainstorm has one on the sole of his right foot. (It's not, strictly speaking, his right foot, though....)
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Criminals in Neo Domino City — including The Hero, natch — are marked with barcode tattoos so they can be tracked after they're released from prison. Marked criminals become societal outcasts, with no choice but to live in the Satellite (if they weren't originally from there already, which is highly likely).
  • In Tonogai Yoshiki's horror manga, Doubt, the kidnapped teenagers find themselves being tattooed with a barcode that they can use to unlock doors in the buildings they are trapped in. However, there are only five of them, and each barcode can only be used on one lock, so they must be careful in how they use their tattoo to escape the place.

    Comic Books 
  • Robin (1993): One of Tim's classmates at Brentwood Academy has a barcode tattooed on his foot. It's one of the first hints that there's more to his backstory than he's saying since he's connected to Kobra.
  • In X-Statix, the villainous cult leader Mr. Code has a blank mask with a barcode printed on it.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Parodied in Hitman Miami. In one of the missions, 47's barcode will set off an alarm as he leaves a supermarket, subjecting him to a traumatizing cavity search; to avoid this, he must rub his head across a cashier's barcode scanner, which then displays "GNTCLY ENGNRD CLONE: $12.32".

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The future convicts in 12 Monkeys are marked with barcodes on the neck. Cole's tattoo is scanned when he is brought in front of the scientists.
  • Alien³: The convicts all have barcodes in the neck, and Ripley identifies the doctor as being one of them, rather than someone employed there, by the fact that he's got a barcode, too. He later tells her that he is actually a previous convict.
  • Fortress (1992): People in this future have their ID in the form of a tattoo barcode on their forearm, as shown in the opening scene.
  • The Girl From Monday: Every citizen in the US now uses a barcode tattoo on their wrists for economic transactions. It also lets them be tracked whenever they use it by the government.
  • Gleefully turned into a gag in Idiocracy, where the protagonist triggers alarms every time his wrist comes anywhere near a laser scanner after he's arrested, tattooed, and escapes.
  • The Island (2005). The clones have a bar code on their wrists, which is one way of identifying them from the real ones.
  • Pandorum. The crew and colonists on board the spaceship have their department (Agriculture, Flight Team, etc) tattooed on their arm. To access areas the computer scans both the tattoo and their palmprint. The tattoo is branded rather deep as peeling off layers of skin has no effect.
  • The Philadelphia Experiment II: The Nazis tattoo barcodes on Americans as identification, and use scanning devices to determine whether or not a barcode is fake.
  • In Elysium, citizens of the titular space station (and people from Earth trying to get in) have these burned into their skin, which allow them to use their Med Bay units to heal any disease. They only work if someone has a bar code.
  • The Terminator had Kyle Reese's robot-run concentration camp barcode which had been burnt into his arm via laser. From his description of the place, fading with age was pretty much a non-issue.
  • In the Blade Trilogy, humans who serve the Vampires as "Familiars" are tattooed with their master's clan glyph. It's not laser-scannable, but it does serve to identify them to other Vampires. Like slaves in ancient times, killing them will mean that the offending vampire will have to answer to the human's master.
  • In Cube Zero, the Cube prisoners have bar codes tattooed onto their arms.
  • In X-Men: The Last Stand, Magneto's katzetnik, used to show off his history of being mistreated.
  • Zygote. Barklay has a barcode because she is a Canary, a synthetic human used as expendable labor. However she's later told that she's actually human — real synthetics are too expensive to waste, so the Mega-Corp buys orphaned children and raises them to believe they are synthetics, tattooing them to fool the government inspectors.

  • The eponymous heroine of the novel Jennifer Government has a barcode tattoo beneath her eye (as depicted on the cover), but it is purely a cosmetic thing she had done herself, not for identification. The tattoo is revealed late in the novel as the UPC for Malibu Barbie, a reference to her previous job at Mattel. On the book cover itself, however, it is the barcode for the book itself so that it could be scanned by the cashier.
  • There's a novel for teenagers called The Bar Code Tattoo. The book, along with its sequel, The Bar Code Rebellion, takes place in a futuristic version of the US where every citizen who is seventeen or older is required by law to become one of these. The eponymous tattoo grants the wearer access to their bank accounts, medical insurance, and just about everything else you can think of, making it a sort of modern day Mark of the Beast. Unfortunately, the tattoo also contains your genetic code, which can be read by anyone who scans it. In other words, if you have inferior genetics (read: genes for mental ilness or physical disability), the tattoo will make you a social outcast that no legitimate institution will have anything to do with. Understandably, this fact causes a fair amount of resistance to the tattoo.
  • In This Perfect Day, they don't have tattoos, but they do have steel bracelets with unbreakable chains that everyone is forced to wear. The bracelet has your nameber, and must be touched to a scanner whenever going through a door, so that the supercomputer that rules the world can keep track of you.
  • Barcodes appear on just about everything in the world of Fforde's Shades of Grey.
  • In the early books of the Dumarest of Terra series, Earl Dumarest's credit account is tattooed into his forearm, to be read — and altered as necessary — by magnetic scanner.
  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. Takeshi Kovacs is surprised to see criminals on Earth wearing barcodes as a gang tattoo, as on the world he grew up they have Unfortunate Implications of indentured labor. He also muses that "anyone who bar-codes their employees isn't likely to be the forgiving type".
  • The slaves genetically engineered by Mesa in Honor Harrington have barcodes on their tongues. They're not tattooed there; they're a combination of natural pigment and patterns of taste buds. Even if you cut the tongue off and regenerated it, the barcode would grow right back; it is possible to eliminate the mark, but it takes way more medical resources than most former slaves could ever get their hands on. It also becomes the mark of the Audobon Ballroom, who show their tongues to the slavers they fight as a sign of defiance.
  • The title character in Robert A. Heinlein's novel Friday describes AP's (Artificial People; in other words, genetically engineered designer humans) as being required to have identifying tattoos designating them as such. (Being a covert agent, Friday herself has had hers surgically removed.)
  • In East of Ealing, the third book in Robert Rankin's Brentford Trilogy, the bad guys plan to barcode the entire population. The barcode turns out to be the Number of the Beast.
  • Downplayed in Double Standard, a 1952 sci-fi tale by Alfred Coppel. The protagonist gets a non-permanent 'electrified stamp' on his forehead because due to weight restrictions they can't load personal dossiers on the Retro Rocket taking him to Mars. As he's wearing a Latex Perfection disguise, he has a moment of panic that the stamp won't mark the plastiflesh.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A realistic version in Arrow with barcodes on the Institutional Apparel of the prisoners held by ARGUS for their Task Force X.
  • The transgenics in Dark Angel. Bonus points for it being genetically engineered into them, so if it's lasered off, it comes back.
  • British drama series The Last Enemy gives us a modern spin on this trope at the climax: implanted RFID chips.
  • MADtv (1995) did a parody of Wal-Mart where the employees had barcodes on their arms.
  • An episode of Seinfeld that was scripted but never filmed (does that count?) had Kramer change his name to a bar code tattooed to his butt.
  • Sort-of subverted in Seven Days, where chrononauts for Project Backstep have a serial number tattoo to confirm their identity upon arrival.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Scientific Method", Voyager crewmembers start falling ill or undergoing physical changes. The Doctor is surprised to find their DNA marked with microscopic barcodes, a sign that aliens have been doing secret medical experiments.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise. In "Stratagem" Captain Archer does a Faked Rip Van Winkle on an alien scientist, trying to convince him that they've spent the past few years in prison — the "evidence" include tattooing both their arms with prison barcodes.
  • Star Trek: Picard. F8's designation is printed on the front and back of his head. As he's a synthetic presumably his artificial skin averts the problems with this trope.
  • Resistance Fighters sent back in time from the post-apocalyptic future of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles often sport bar-code tattoos due to time spent in Skynet work camps. See Terminator under film examples above.

  • The album art to Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too by New Radicals features a series of photographs of Gregg Alexander with bar codes stamped on different parts of his body. The only exception is a photo where he's basically just a glowing white silhouette.
  • The video for Do the Evolution by Pearl Jam features new born babies on a conveyor belt getting bar codes stamped on to their foreheads.
  • The album art for Epica's Requiem For The Indifferent includes a bar code tattoo on Simone's upper right arm. The entire cover gives off a distinctly dystopian vibe.
  • The evangelical group The Family International made a rip of "Jackie Don't Go" called "Cathy Don't Go" postulating a world where you need a barcode implant just to buy groceries.
  • Underground death metal band Anaemia utilizes it in their Stupidity of the Lambs, with special highlight to certain letters - lettering out IDIOTA.
  • All French hip hop group 1984 purveys bald foreheads with barcodes on sophomore release Le Theatre Des Pantins.
  • On the obscure punk band Wolfbrigade's Progression / Regression.
  • The stage persona for Utaite/singer-songwriter Mafumafu includes a barcode on his cheek. He was asked repeatedly if the code could actually be scanned, and he confirmed it does!...but only registers an item worth 3 yen.

  • The Bible in Revelation 13 describes how the "beast" will force all people "both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name."

  • Suburban Senshi: Every child born from the "400 Project" has a tattoo somewhere on their body that, when scanned, will read their number and genetic donors.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia has tongue tattoos.
  • In one Shadowrun supplement, call girls had bar codes tattooed on them, presumably to make it easier to scan them and total up the client's bill.

    Video Games 
  • Guilty Gear: Potemkin has one on his (massive) left bicep. Unfortunately...
  • Hitman's hero, Agent 47, has a barcode on the back of his skull, in both video game and movie versions. Its significance is most important in the final level of the first game: the only access to Dr. Ortmeyer's lab is through a airlock chamber with a barcode scanner out of which the 47 clones are unleashed to go after 47 and kill him (they get scanned before being unleashed). If 47's head tattoo is scanned, access is denied and he gets gassed to death. If 47 uses a dead clone of himself on the scanner, access is granted and the gate of Ortmeyer's lab opens.
    • The barcode is a fully functional one, and scanning it reveals it's for a "Drawstring Double Dong Dildo Holder in Midnight Blue". Considering that the numbers in the barcode actually held meaning for Agent 47 ("64-05-09" is the date of creation, "04" marks he is part of Series IV, "01" marks that he is the first, and "47" is to represent that he is the 47th clone) it was a complete coincidence that the barcode belonged to an unfortunate item.
    • He tries to scalp the tattoo off his head in Absolution with a razor blade in an attempt to conceal himself from the Agency. He spends the rest of the game with a band-aid stuck over where the tattoo was.
    • In Hitman 3, the Chongqing level partly takes place in an ICA facility where Hush is experimenting on human test subjects, one of whom has a QR code on the back of his head. The QR Code is also legitimate, and scanning prior to 2023 gave you a lovely photo of a few of the game's developers waving.
  • Raiden of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is revealed to be covered in bar code tattoos during the naked sneaking section of the game. Continued in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance; Raiden's upgraded body has a barcode on his forehead, as does Sundowner.
  • The HUmar in Phantasy Star Online has a hairstyle which consists of a Mohawk and a barcode.
  • In Saints Row: The Third you can buy a barcode tattoo for the forehead or bicep.
  • Late in Final Fantasy XV Prompto Argentum is revealed to have one on his wrist, a leftover from his origin as an escaped Magitek Trooper

  • All citizens of Derse and Prospit have barcode tattoos in Homestuck, for reasons currently unknown, but it brought back "painful memories" for the Wayward Vagabond and Spades Slick used it to open Lord English's safe.
  • Bridget from Latchkey Kingdom has barcode-like stripes that remain visible even through her shapeshifting. She appears to be unaware of them.
  • Our World: Jill has one on her neck, ever since she was found as an amnesiac child.
  • Plush and Blood: During the "Unstuffed" arc, Katt has two barcode tattoos. One on the back of her neck, the other on her right rear cheek. By the start of "Memories Threads", she has obliterated them.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of ReBoot, Dot spends time in sent a Megabyte-controlled Bad Future where everyone has a barcode on their person for identification.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "Missing in Action" establishes that all clone troopers have barcodes on their forearms that are invisible unless scanned by an astromech droid. D-Squad does this to identify amnesiac clone Gregor.

    Real Life 
  • While not a barcode per se, some cancer patients do have dots tattooed for use by radiologists to line up and aim the beams for radiation therapy to kill tumors.
    • Another medical example of this trope, albeit not a barcode either, is to tattoo important medical information such as blood-type and any significant allergies, usually on the side of the body below the left arm (assuming the patient is right-handed). This type of tattoo is known among military veterans as a "meat-tag".
    • Invoked temporarily with scannable patient ID bracelets, anklets, and stickers to make sure that the patient is who you think they are. Some now have RFID tags embedded.
  • Some U.S. Christian fundamentalists believe that a future U.S. government, under the control of The Antichrist, will put bar code tattoos on people, thus fulfilling the "Mark of the Beast" prophecy.
  • The original katzetnik. True, they weren't barcodes, but they were unique serial numbers tattooed as identification on the arms of people interned in Auschwitz. Katzetnik tattoos are often shown as a visual shorthand for Holocaust survivors, as with the film version of Magneto.
  • Cliff's Amusement Park in Albuquerque, NM uses bar codes to mark patrons that have bought an unlimited ride pass. Stationary scanners on some rides and handheld scanners on others check the bar code. It's a bracelet, though, tattooing not required.
    • Similarly, Blackberry phones running BlackBerry Messenger can generate a unique 2D barcode, called QR Code (looks like a square made up of a bunch of blocks) that other Blackberrys can scan using the built-in camera to transfer contact information with relative ease. They even have an app so you can throw your barcode up on your Facebook.
  • Entertainer, visionary, and completely bonkers musician Doctor Steel sports a 47-style barcode tattoo on the back of his neck.
  • ID-number tattoos are a common means of identifying racehorses and other valuable livestock. Technology has improved to the point that high-end research laboratories can actually buy an automated machine capable of tattooing ID-numbers on a mouse's tail, to take the place of old-fashioned ear tags.
  • Henry Rollins used to have a bar code tattooed on his neck, but later changed it to the Black Flag 4-flag symbol.
  • This fellow steps it up to a QR tattoo.
  • And another one. The first one doesn't scan, but the picture below it does.
  • A Japanese escort service that specialized in Robot Girl fantasies would have their girls wear a (non-permanent) barcode tattoo on their hand in reference to this trope.

Alternative Title(s): Barcode Tattoo