An introduction to Barcodes

As part of our Big Bonanza guide to Barcode Scanning Series we’re breaking down what barcode scanners and barcodes are all about.  But, before we get onto the hardware, in this article we’re going to take a look at the actual barcode element and talk about the choices you have.

What are Barcodes

Barcodes come in all shapes and sizes and they are essentially a way to label and then track an asset.  We see them most commonly on all products we buy in the supermarket, but they can be used in many different ways to help software solutions track, automate and remove error in our daily work routine.

The different kinds of barcodes

Essentially there are 2 main types of barcodes….1D and 2D.  1D barcodes are the ones we all know, in are shown below as the “Fence” style, usually made up of vertical lines, 2D are the “Square” ones that contain little blocks of black and white, often with weird patterns in them too!

Why are there different kinds of barcodes?

Well essentially 1D barcodes are still widely used but they have limitations.  Their width grows hugely with the amount of data they can store so even using RSS super dupa high density barcodes you can only get so much info into them.  2D can easily store a whole address or stack of data in a far smaller area, which is one of the reasons why you see them mostly on parcels.  2D barcodes are also more secure to use and are far less susceptible to damage.  2D has simply been an evolution of the barcode and the general rule of thumb in building a barcode solution is that if you need something simple like an ID then 1D is fine to use.  If you need to do anything more complicated then 2D is better.  2D is of course more future proof to use as well.

I’m trying to build a barcode solution but there are loads of “Symbologies”, which one do I use?

The barcode has grown to be one of the most useful data capture technologies i n the world today.  It started life in order to track products and the Universal Product Code or UPC code was eventually born out of this, there’s a great history about the barcode right here.  This barcode might be great at identifying a product on a supermarket shelf, but other symbologies evolved to deal with other scenarios.  Most commonly we have the USBN code that is used to identify books, we have various airline ticketing codes, medical codes, postal barcodes, high density codes and even UPC has evolved extending into various EAN codes to cope with the more global product market of today.

However like UPC these barcode symbologies are all closed and a controlled format, you can;t just go making your own UPC product code and sticking it on to a new product, you have to apply for one.  It would be silly to use these in your own barcoding solution but there are a range of “open” standards that you can use.

Open Barcode Symbologies

So this is why we have a plethora of open usage symbologies and its codes like Code39, Code93, Code128 and others that are all open, easy to use and understand and can be used for anything you want.  You can create, print scan to your heart’s content and the exact symbology you use will depend on the complexity and requirements of your project.

2D barcode symbologies are growing all the time and in fact it’s where the growth in barcode scanning is.  The most common types are QRCode, Aztec, DataMatrix and PDF but there are many more out there now that might be more suitable for you.  All of these are open to use though and you can again generate and print whatever you need to.

So hopefully that’s a different introduction to barcodes for you.  In the next article I want to explore barcodes a little bit more by looking at a few symbologies in more depth.  This is designed to help people building a barcode solution to see why you would choose a particular symbology.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

Related Posts