May 31, 2017      3 min read

Barcode symbols are used to encode information such as product numbers, serial numbers and batch numbers. Barcodes can be scanned electronically using laser or camera-based technology that allows goods to be tracked throughout the supply chain.

There are over 100 various barcode symbols which are typically either one or two-dimensional. The linear, or one-dimensional barcode, is the more readily recognized type and is characterized by parallel lines of varying widths and spacings. In contrast, a two-dimensional barcode, including the newer QR codes, use squares or rectangles and contain numerous small, individual dots and geometric patterns. Common barcodes consist of the following types:

1D barcodes

Inspired by the dots and dashes of Morse code, the original 1D barcode creates specific patterns from line widths and spacing to represent stock keeping unit information.

Universal Product Codes (UPS)

  • Largely used in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand
  • Consisting of black bars and a unique set of numbers the UPC-A variation encodes 12 numbers while the UPC-E variation encodes six
  • Codes are used in the retail and wholesale distribution industries
  • Beneficial for order entry processes, point of sale transactions and inventory

European Article Numbers (EAN)

  • As the name suggests, EAN codes are primarily used throughout Europe
  • Like UPC barcodes, the default EAN-13 comprises of 13 digits, or for application on smaller products where space is limited, the EAN-8, or eight-digit version, is used
  • Codes are utilized in the retail and wholesale distribution industries
  • Beneficial for order entry processes, point of sale transactions and inventory management

Code 39

  • The first alpha-numeric barcode to be developed, Code 39 is suitable for encoding general purpose alphanumeric data and is widely used in non-retail environments
  • Allowing the use of both digits and characters, the Code 39 barcode is so named because it initially encoded only 39 letterings although in more recent versions this character set has been increased to allow for 43
  • While utilized across many industries Code 39 barcodes are prominently used in government, manufacturing and logistics operations

Code 128

  • Robust and compact, with the ability to store diverse information, these codes are geared toward supply chain applications such as, labelling components with shipping container serial numbers and data
  • Generally used for ordering and distribution in the transportation and logistics industries
  • Codes are used for product identification, freight shipments, receiving and tracking assets and inventory management

2D barcodes

Used in a wide range of industries, 2D barcodes can hold significant amounts of information. One benefit of using a 2D code is that they remain reasonably legible, even when imprinted on to products or applied at a reduced size.

Aztec codes

  • Unlike alternative 2D barcode types, Aztec codes take up less space than other matrix barcodes as they do not require the blank margin around the barcode to indicate where it starts and ends
  • These codes are generally applicable to transportation and are relevant to ticketing procedures such as generating boarding passes in the airline industry
  • Even with poor resolution, the barcodes can still be decoded making them useful in deciphering poor quality printed tickets or those that are presented via a mobile phone app

Quick response code (QR)

  • QR codes consist of black bars, geometric shapes and a unique set of numbers representative of UPC-A and UPC-E coding
  • With rapid readability, they are flexible in size and have a high fault tolerance and are largely consumer focused
  • These 2D matrix barcodes apply four different modes of data: alphanumeric, numeric, binary and the Kanji system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters
  • Commonly used for product identification, tracking and marketing applications and in inventory management
  • QR codes are not compatible with laser scanners and can only be used with camera-based scanning technology

Global standards

As with any business undertaking, it is important to operate within industry standards to ensure both quality and consistency of application. Certification ensures your barcodes adhere to best practice, are unique, globally recognized and capable of being scanned anywhere. They should follow best practice and certification also allows barcodes to be registered on the Global Trade Number Registry.

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