Barcoding 101 – Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

Barry BarcodeBarcoding 101 – What you need to know!
by Barry Barcode

Time for a quick review of the ins and outs of barcoding … my favorite topic!

barcoding 101Key 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

Various types and options available for barcode labels and printers:


Pre-printed labels

  • used in operations that require a low volume of identical (fixed, non-variable data) labels, with colors or graphics
  • restricted flexibility, the use of preprinted labels prevents companies from including variable customer data or combinations of text and barcode information.

On-demand labels:

  • have customized information on each label
  • for high-volume, mission-critical labeling needs
  • higher initial cost


Dot-Matrix Printer:dot-matrix printers

  • 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 materials. Limitations


  • 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

InkJet Printer:inkjet printer labels

  • 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 labelsLaser 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

Direct Thermal Printerthermal label printer

  • 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 Printer:

  • 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


Key Questions when selecting the Right Printer to meet your needs:

  • What are the intended uses of the barcode labels?
  • What environment(s) will the labels be used in (will there be temperature fluctuations, abrasion, high humidity, exposure to chemicals, etc.)?
  • What are the dimensions of the labels to be used?
  • How frequently will label specifications change?
  • Will the printer(s) be connected to a network or to stand-alone terminals?
  • What are the anticipated duty cycles?
  • Are there minimum speed requirements?
  • Where will the printers be located, and in type of environment will they operate (temperature fluctuation, vibration, high humidity, exposure to chemicals, etc.)?
  • What is the budget for the project?

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, Google+ and LinkedIn!