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Why Are Barcodes So Important?

Barcode Frequently Asked Questions – Answered!

Barry BarcodeWhat are frequently asked questions about barcode scanning?
by Barry Barcode

I love talking about barcoding and thought it might be time for a quick review of the ins and outs of barcoding … my favorite topic!

Why Barcodes?
Barcodes allow for the easy storage and communication of information through encoding. The information is encoded in a visual pattern that can be then scanned with a barcode scanner and sent to a computer. The combination of black and white lines (bars) in varying widths represents different characters of text that is programmed by a set algorithm that the computer is able to read and understand. Barcode scanners read the code by reflecting light from the black and white lines horizontally. There are 1D (linear) barcodes, such as the common standard UPC, and 2D barcodes, such as QR, PDF417 and Datamatrix, which can allow for up to 2000 characters.
barcode labels
UPC Barcodes
These are the original barcodes that have been around since the beginning of barcoding. They are required on most products being sold in stores or through a distributor or retailer. The UPC number is a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number), which is comprised of two parts, the UPC Company Prefix and Item Reference Number. The UPC Company Prefix is 6 to 10 digits in length and provided when the company registers. This number represents the company as a manufacturer on all of its products. The Item Reference Number is the unique number assigned to the product. The last number is called a check digit which is calculated from the previous 11 digits, which is calculated by the barcode software.

Key Benefits Barcoding provides:

  • improved data accuracy and reduced errors
  • operational efficiencies – faster, automated processes, data collection, processing and tracking
  • consistency – for product quality, and on the line within operations
  • standardization – compliance labeling – universally understood and accepted
  • improved inventory and asset management – locate, track and trace in real time
  • product and consumer safety

There are various options available for barcode labels (pre-printed and on-demand label)

There are several types of printers (dot matrix, ink jet, laser, direct thermal and thermal transfer) that have many advantages and disadvantages depending on the application required.

dot-matrix barcode label printing

Dot-Matrix Printers

  • Dot matrix: (uses a hammer or pin to transfer pigment from a ribbon onto the substrate)
    • readily accessible and inexpensive
    • can print on virtually any type of form, check or document and can print on wide-web, multipart (carbon) forms
    • use multi-pass ribbons, which are low cost
    • generally unusable for barcoding due to inaccuracy of dot placement and low resolution and density
    • continuous ribbon re-use on dot matrix printers requires close monitoring of ribbon condition to ensure adequate barcode contrast and proper read rate and error rate
    • ink saturation can result in paper bleed causing image distortion
    • label has limited in durability
    • print carriage sits far below the media not allowing the label space to be maximized thus printing of single labels results in significant waste
    • no graphics printing capability
    • low barcode print speed


  • Ink Jet Printer:
    • prints directly on product eliminating need and cost of labels
    • difficulty in reproducing barcodes with acceptable accuracy
    • costly for individual or small batch printing
    • requires close supervision and maintenance to ensure consistent print quality and prevent ink jet clogging
    • dot placement accuracy and barcode density/ resolution are limited due to ink splatter and continual motion
    • water-based inks tend to streak, run or blur when they come in contact with water; and non-water-soluble inks are too shiny for barcode scannability
    • scanning devices must be carefully chosen to ensure reliable barcode reading


  • Laser Printer: (projects controlled streams of ions onto the surface of a print drum, resulting in a charged image, which selectively attracts toner particles, transferring the image onto the paper substrate, and the heat and pressure of the fuser cause the image to adhere to the media)
    • good at producing plain-paper documents that require barcodes
    • able to print high-quality text and graphics on paper documents and can double as a document printer when not being used to print barcodes
    • high barcode density and resolution
    • not well suited for industrial or individual-product labeling operations
    • wasteful when printing single or small labels
    • not all laminated label materials are compatible and label adhesives must be carefully selected to ensure stability under the heat and pressure of the fuser.
    • laser printing is susceptible to toner flaking and smudging, making the technology unsuitable for long-term barcoding
    • laser-printed paper labels have limited durability
    • high toner costs


    thermal label barcode printers

    Thermal Barcode Label Printers

  • Direct Thermal:
    • produces sharp print quality with good scannability
    • ideal for applications requiring only a short shelf life
    • simple to operate and low cost – no ink, toner or ribbon to monitor or replenish
    • enables batch or single label printing with virtually no waste
    • durable and versatile in many environments – industrial and office applications
    • extremely sensitive to environmental conditions such as heat and light (fluorescent and/or direct sunlight) so thermal labels often require top coat laminate to resist UV light exposure, chemicals and abrasion


  • Thermal Transfer:
    • provides crisp, high-definition text, graphic and barcode print quality for maximum readability and scannability and long-life image stability
    • enables batch or single label printing with virtually no waste
    • low long-term maintenance costs compared to dot matrix, ink jet and laser printing
    • can print on a nearly unlimited variety of media stock (except multiform)
    • built more durably than dot matrix or laser printers, allowing reliable operation in industrial as well as office applications
    • require ribbons so supply costs are higher than direct thermal, but printheads last longer than direct thermal printheads
    • printers are smaller, compact, simpler, more durable and less expensive than laser or dot matrix printers, making them ideal for distributed printing
    • low operating costs – have higher initial cost but a lower maintenance cost compared to other print technologies, resulting in a lower cost of ownership, and lower long-term maintenance costs can quickly offset the higher initial investment
    • to obtain optimum print quality in thermal transfer printing, the ribbon and media substrate must be compatible

Barcode Scanning doesn’t require any special software or driver to function. They are recognized by the computer as a general input device. Most cordless scanners use Bluetooth (Class 2) and have a range of 33 feet but some that use Class 1 technology will have a range of over 300 feet. A 2D imaging scanner is required in order to read a barcode off a screen. For 2D barcodes, imagers are required to read them as they have both vertical and horizontal data. The imager takes pictures of the barcode and analyzes it to decode the information contained within the barcode.

For more information on barcoding and all your barcoding and label printing needs, call us as (800) 643-2664 and immediately talk to one of our friendly representatives; or chat us up on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn!

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