So first up in our series about barcodes is a good delve into barcodes themselves.

What we’ll cover in this blog:

  • 1D and 2D barcodes
  • Barcode types or symbologies
  • Specialist barcode types
  • Choosing the right barcode for your business application
1D and 2D barcodes

The first decision you need to make when building a barcode solution is whether you want to use 1D or 2D barcodes.  1D barcodes generally look like the black and white “picket fence” lines, whereas 2D barcodes tend to look like a square block of more complex patterns.


On the left we have a 1D barcode, on the right a 2D one.

On the left we have a 1D barcode, on the right a 2D one.

Even today, we see more demand for 1D scanner solutions and the reasons are:

  1. Generally simpler to work with.
  2. All you need for shorter ID type codes
  3. Only require 1D barcode scanners so equipment is cheaper.
  4. Familiarity of the barcode, we’ve all seen them on parcels and in the shops!
  5. Easy to print out using a whole host of software and fonts that are available.

Seems pretty deal done to me so why would you choose a 2D barcode solution?

  1. They store a lot more data in a smaller space.  If you need to store say a full address or product description then a 1D barcode would end up 30 cm wide.  a @d barcode will store far more data in it.
  2. 2D barcodes can be more secure.
  3. They’re more robust, so you can damage them more and they still scan.
  4. Future proof. If you have equipment that can scan 2D barcodes, then it will scan all barcode types, other than specialist ones we talk about later.
  5. 2D barcodes read more accurately and where 1D barcodes give about 1 misread in every 1-20 million reads, 2D give 1 misread in 600M+ reads.
Same barcode data, different size!

Same barcode data, different size!

Above you can see the same barcode data “RuggedBarcode Blog 2015” in PDF417, QR Code, Code 128, Cod93 and lastly Code 39.


Barcode types

barcode come in a range of different types or what we call “symbologies” and whilst many have been developed for specific industries or purposes, there are also lots that are designed to be used in bespoke barcode scanning applications.  A quick Google will soon tell you that there are lots of types to choose from but don’t worry because despite this we still see most people using just a few in about 90% of the scanner solutions we see.  These can be created and printed freely and are:

Code 39

Often referred to as “3 of 9”, code 39 is probably the easiest symbology to use.  It allows you to include the main characters needed to ID quickly including 0-9, upper case A-Z, and some symbils too – . $ / + %.  THere is an extended Code39 that allows you to also use lower case characters if you  need it.

Code 39 allows the use of checksum digits to ensure you have barcodes that read correctly.


Code 128 is another barcode we see a lot here and the reason is that it’s a higher density barcode than Code 39 but it also allows for more characters to be used within it.  In fact you can use any character from ASCII 0 to 128, thus the name!  Code 128 is a more complex barcode to use as it requires printing with 3 check digits and it also comes in 5 or 6 sub-types that are all aimed at specific scenarios.  If you need somehting that will handle more characters though then this is the one for you.

Code 93

This is not as popular as the 2 types above but Intermec designed this in the 1980’s to try and create a more compact version of the Code 39 symbology.

Interleaved 2 of 5

Not so popular as it once was I am mentioning it here as this is a numeric only barcode.  It;s simple, often there’s no point in using it with Code 128 now available, but in some older systems you need to  integrate with you might come across it and need to use it.l

If you’re starting fresh though, and you don;t have any specific requirements like super compact or micro barcodes then you;re likely to be using Code 39 or 128.


Specialist Barcodes

Sometimes you need a more specific barcode to your needs.  You  might be in an industry where a barcode type is used, such as the postal service barcode you see on letters, or you might simply need super small barcodes to attach to small products.  Some industries like the motor trade even have specialist metal stamped barcodes with specific scanner hardware required to scan them.  Most commonly, we see barcodes that have to fit onto small products or into tiny spaces and these also require a specific type of barcode symbology.  You can;t just shrink your barcodes as they rely on very fine margins of size and ratios of the all the lines to read accurately and efficiently.  Below are some more specialist barcodes that you could use.

“4 State” Developed by the Royal Mail, these very specific barcodes are found on all letters now and used to quickly identify where they should go. Some hand scanners can now read these
ISBN Barcode used by libraries
ISBN is used in libraries to quickly identify a book as a product but also within a library catalogue system.


UPC-A used in retail for years
We all see these all around the world on a daily basis.  The UPC-A barcode has been used by retail for decades to identify a product.  This one you have to apply for.


Choosing a barcode for your business

So to finish of with lets recap what you need to think about when creating your own barcode solution:

  1. Check that you don’t need to use a barcode type to comply with your industry or if there’s one that can be used already.  Why create a barcode for your products if they all have one already?
  2. Work out the type of content your barcode will have in it and test it for size.  You might need to use 2D or a more compact barcode type but remember this will bring hardware costs up.
  3. Make sure you create and print your barcodes according to their specification for size and ratio.  If you simply resize a barcode it can make it difficult to read or mis-read completely.
  4. Always fiond someone who will help you.  If in doubt use the expertise of a Data capture specialist.  We’ve seen most of the how to do it’s along with the how not to do it’s!

Next up we’ll be talking about barcode scanners, see you next time!

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.

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