Ultimate Guide to Barcode Types and Identification (How to Choose Right Barcode)

Barcode types

Table of Contents

This is a complete guide to Barcode types and identification:

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • Common Barcode Types
  • How to Choose Right Barcode Type
  • Barcode Printing and Generation
  • Types of Barcode Scanners
  • Barcode Standards and Regulations
  • And more…

Let’s get started.

What is Barcode?

A barcode is a pattern of black and white lines or squares that stores information. It’s like a code that computers can read using a scanner. When you scan a barcode, it tells the computer important details about the product, like its price or its identification number. This helps stores keep track of their items easily.

What Are The Basics of Barcodes?

Barcodes are simple codes made up of lines or squares that store information. Here are the basics:

  • Lines or Squares: Barcodes can be made of black and white lines (like a UPC code) or squares (like a QR code).
  • Information Storage: They store information about a product, such as its price, name, or inventory number.
  • Scanners: Special devices called barcode scanners read the information in barcodes by shining a light on them and detecting the pattern.
  • Types of Barcodes: There are different types of barcodes for different uses. The most common are UPC for products in stores and QR codes for links and more detailed information.
  • Speed and Accuracy: Barcodes make it faster and more accurate to track and manage products, reducing errors compared to manual entry.

These are the basics of how barcodes work and why they’re useful.

What Are The Common Barcode Types?

There are several common types of barcodes, each used for different purposes:

  • UPC (Universal Product Code): Found on most retail products, it’s used for scanning at checkout in stores.
  • EAN (European Article Number): Similar to UPC, but used mainly in Europe.
  • Code 39: Used in various industries for inventory and tracking, it can include both letters and numbers.
  • Code 128: Often used in logistics and transportation, it can store a lot of information in a small space.
  • QR Code (Quick Response Code): A square barcode that can be scanned by smartphones, often used to link to websites, apps, or more detailed information.
  • PDF417: A 2D barcode used for storing large amounts of data, like on driver’s licenses or shipping labels.
  • ITF-14: Used for packaging and shipping, it can be scanned even if partially damaged.
  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number): Specifically used for books to identify their edition, publisher, and title.

These are some of the most common barcode types you might encounter, each designed for specific uses and industries.

How to Choose the Right Barcode Type?

Choosing the right barcode type depends on your specific needs. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Purpose: Determine what you need the barcode for. If you’re selling products in a store, UPC or EAN codes are standard. For tracking assets or inventory within a company, Code 39 or Code 128 might be more suitable.
  • Amount of Information: Consider how much information you need to store. UPC and EAN codes store limited data, mainly numbers. If you need to store more information, like text or a URL, QR codes are a better choice.
  • Space Available: Look at how much space you have on your item for the barcode. Linear barcodes (like UPC or Code 128) are narrow and long, while QR codes are square and can be made smaller while still being readable.
  • Scanning Environment: Think about where and how the barcode will be scanned. If it’s in a retail setting, standard UPC scanners will work. For industrial environments, more durable and high-capacity codes like Code 128 may be necessary. QR codes are great for mobile scanning.
  • Global or Local Use: If your products will be sold internationally, EAN codes are preferred in Europe, while UPC codes are standard in North America.
  • Cost and Implementation: Some barcode types may be more costly or complex to implement. Make sure to choose one that fits your budget and technical capabilities.

You need to consider above factors to choose the right barcode type that meets your needs and ensures efficient tracking and scanning.

What Are The Common Barcode Printing Methods?

There are several methods for printing barcodes, each with its own advantages and best-use scenarios. Here are the common barcode printing methods:

  • Thermal Printing: This method uses heat to produce images on specially coated paper or thermal label stock. There are two types:
    • Direct Thermal Printing: Heat is applied directly to the label, causing a reaction that forms the barcode. It’s cost-effective but may fade over time.
    • Thermal Transfer Printing: Heat transfers ink from a ribbon onto the label. It produces durable, long-lasting barcodes suitable for industries like healthcare and manufacturing.
  • Inkjet Printing: Inkjet printers spray tiny droplets of ink onto the label surface to create barcodes. It’s versatile, allowing for color printing and variable data, but may not be as durable as thermal printing.
  • Laser Printing: Laser printers use a laser beam to transfer toner onto the label, creating high-quality, durable barcodes. They’re suitable for medium to high-volume printing but may be less cost-effective for smaller print runs.
  • Dot Matrix Printing: This older technology uses a matrix of tiny pins to transfer ink onto the label. It’s less common for barcode printing due to lower resolution and quality compared to newer methods.
  • Offset Printing: Offset printing is a traditional method that transfers ink from a plate to a rubber blanket, then onto the label. It’s used for high-quality, high-volume printing but is less common for barcodes due to setup costs and limitations in variable data printing.
  • Flexographic Printing: Similar to offset printing but uses flexible plates and fast-drying inks. It’s often used for printing large quantities of labels with simple designs, like UPC codes on retail products.

Each printing method has its own benefits and is suitable for different applications. Factors such as volume, durability, cost, and printing speed should be considered when choosing the appropriate barcode printing method for your needs.

What Are Types of Barcode Scanners?

Barcode scanners come in various types, each designed for specific applications and environments. Here are the common types of barcode scanners:

  • Pen-Type Scanners: These are handheld devices resembling pens. They have a light source and a photodiode at the tip. To scan a barcode, the user swipes the pen across the code at a constant speed. Pen-type scanners are simple, inexpensive, and suitable for low-volume scanning tasks.
  • Laser Scanners: Laser scanners use a laser beam to read barcodes. They are commonly handheld or mounted on a stand. When the laser beam hits a barcode, it reflects back to a sensor, which detects the pattern and decodes the information. Laser scanners are fast, accurate, and can read barcodes from a distance. They are widely used in retail environments.
  • CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) Scanners: CCD scanners use an array of light sensors to capture barcode images. They are more durable than laser scanners because they have no moving parts. CCD scanners are suitable for environments with dust, dirt, or moisture, such as warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
  • Camera-Based Scanners: These scanners use a built-in camera to capture barcode images. They are often used in smartphones and tablets with barcode scanning apps. Camera-based scanners can read 1D and 2D barcodes, including QR codes, and are convenient for mobile scanning applications.
  • Imagers: Barcode imagers combine the functionality of CCD scanners and camera-based scanners. They use image sensors to capture barcode images and then process the images to decode the information. Imagers are versatile and can read barcodes from various surfaces, including screens and curved objects.
  • Fixed-Mount Scanners: Fixed-mount scanners are stationary devices installed in a fixed position, such as on a conveyor belt or at a checkout counter. They automatically scan barcodes as items pass by. Fixed-mount scanners are commonly used in logistics, manufacturing, and retail environments for high-volume scanning tasks.

Choosing the right type of barcode scanner depends on factors such as scanning volume, scanning distance, environmental conditions, and application requirements.

Barcode Applications in Various Industries

Barcodes are widely used across various industries for streamlining operations, improving efficiency, and enhancing customer experiences. Here’s how barcodes are applied in different sectors:

  • Retail: In retail, barcodes are used for inventory management, pricing, and checkout processes. Each product is assigned a unique barcode that contains information such as the item’s name, price, and stock keeping unit (SKU) number. Barcodes enable retailers to track inventory levels, reorder products efficiently, and process transactions quickly at the point of sale (POS).
  • Logistics and Supply Chain Management: Barcodes play a crucial role in logistics and supply chain management by providing visibility and traceability throughout the entire supply chain. Barcoded labels are affixed to packages, pallets, and containers to identify and track shipments as they move from suppliers to warehouses to distribution centers and finally to customers. Barcodes enable real-time tracking of goods, accurate inventory management, and efficient order fulfillment.
  • Manufacturing: In manufacturing, barcodes are used for inventory control, work-in-progress tracking, and quality control. Each component, raw material, or finished product is labeled with a barcode that contains essential information such as part number, batch number, and manufacturing date. Barcodes help manufacturers track the movement of materials and products on the production line, monitor inventory levels, and ensure compliance with quality standards.
  • Healthcare: Barcodes are extensively used in healthcare for patient identification, medication management, and inventory tracking. Barcoded wristbands containing patient information are scanned to ensure accurate identification and prevent medical errors. Barcoded labels are also applied to medication packaging to verify drug authenticity, dosage, and expiration dates. Barcodes streamline medication administration, reduce medication errors, and improve patient safety in healthcare settings.
  • Transportation and Ticketing: Barcodes are used in transportation and ticketing systems for electronic ticketing, boarding passes, and access control. Barcoded tickets or mobile tickets containing unique identifiers are scanned at entry points, such as airports, train stations, and event venues, to validate tickets and grant access to passengers or attendees. Barcodes simplify ticketing processes, reduce queuing times, and enhance the overall customer experience.
  • Asset Management: Barcodes are employed for asset tracking and management in industries such as education, government, and facilities management. Fixed asset tags with barcodes are affixed to equipment, machinery, and infrastructure assets to facilitate asset identification, location tracking, and maintenance scheduling. Barcodes enable organizations to monitor the status and utilization of assets, optimize asset allocation, and prevent loss or theft.

These are just a few examples of how barcodes are applied across diverse industries to improve efficiency, accuracy, and productivity in various business processes.

What Are The Barcode Standards and Regulations?

Barcode standards and regulations ensure consistency, interoperability, and reliability in barcode usage across industries. Here’s an overview of some important barcode standards and regulations:

#1. GS1 Standards: GS1 is a global non-profit organization that develops and maintains standards for barcodes and other identification systems. GS1 standards are widely adopted across industries and include:

  • GTIN (Global Trade Item Number): A unique identifier for products used in barcodes, often encoded in UPC (North America) or EAN (international) formats.
  • SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code): Used for identifying shipping containers and pallets in logistics and supply chain management.
  • GS1-128 (formerly known as EAN-128 or UCC-128): A subset of Code 128 barcode used for product identification, shipping labels, and other logistics applications.

#2. ISO/IEC Standards: The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) develop standards for barcodes and related technologies. ISO/IEC standards include:

  • ISO/IEC 15420: Specifies the data content and structure of 2D symbols, including QR codes and Data Matrix codes.
  • ISO/IEC 15417: Defines the barcode symbology specification for linear barcodes, such as Code 128 and UPC/EAN.

#3. FDA Regulations: In industries such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforce barcode regulations to ensure patient safety and product traceability. For example, the FDA requires certain pharmaceutical products to be labeled with a unique product identifier (UPID) in human-readable text and in a machine-readable format using a linear barcode or a 2D data matrix code.

#4. Industry-Specific Standards: Some industries have specific barcode standards and regulations tailored to their unique requirements. For instance:

  • Healthcare: The Health Industry Business Communications Council (HIBCC) develops barcode standards for medical devices and supplies.
  • Automotive: The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) defines barcode standards for parts identification and traceability in the automotive industry.

#5. Country-Specific Regulations: Different countries may have their own regulations and standards governing barcode usage, particularly in sectors such as retail, healthcare, and food labeling. For example, some countries mandate the use of specific barcode formats or require certain information to be encoded in barcodes for product labeling and tracking purposes.

Compliance with barcode standards and regulations is essential for ensuring data accuracy, interoperability, and regulatory compliance across supply chains and business processes. Adhering to standardized barcode practices helps organizations streamline operations, improve efficiency, and enhance product safety and traceability.

What Are Common Challenges in Barcode Implementation?

Implementing barcodes can offer significant benefits, but it also comes with its challenges. Here are some common challenges in barcode implementation:

  • Barcode Quality: Poor barcode quality, such as printing errors, smudging, or fading, can lead to scanning failures and data inaccuracies. Ensuring consistent and high-quality barcode printing is essential for reliable scanning and data capture.
  • Barcode Placement: Incorrect placement of barcodes on products or packaging can hinder scanning efficiency. Barcodes should be positioned in a location that is easily accessible and visible to scanners, avoiding folds, creases, or obstructions that may interfere with scanning.
  • Barcode Compatibility: Ensuring compatibility between barcode formats and scanning devices is crucial for seamless data capture and interoperability. Different industries and applications may require specific barcode symbologies or data formats, requiring careful consideration of compatibility issues during implementation.
  • Data Accuracy: Barcode data must accurately reflect the information it represents, such as product identification, pricing, or inventory status. Inaccurate or outdated barcode data can lead to inventory discrepancies, pricing errors, and operational inefficiencies.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrating barcode systems with existing software applications, such as inventory management systems or point-of-sale (POS) systems, can be complex and challenging. Ensuring seamless data exchange and interoperability between barcode systems and other business systems is essential for effective implementation.
  • Training and User Adoption: Proper training and user education are essential for successful barcode implementation. Employees need to be trained on how to use barcode scanners, interpret barcode data, and troubleshoot scanning issues. Ensuring user adoption and compliance with barcode procedures can help maximize the benefits of barcode implementation.
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental conditions, such as lighting, temperature, humidity, and surface texture, can impact barcode scanning performance. Barcode scanners may struggle to read barcodes in challenging environments, such as low-light conditions, extreme temperatures, or dusty or reflective surfaces.
  • Security and Counterfeiting: Barcode security is a concern in industries where counterfeiting or tampering with barcode labels is a risk. Implementing measures such as barcode encryption, authentication, and tamper-evident labels can help mitigate the risk of barcode fraud and unauthorized access.

Addressing these challenges requires careful planning, attention to detail, and collaboration between stakeholders involved in barcode implementation, including IT teams, operations staff, and end-users.

By addressing these challenges proactively, organizations can maximize the benefits of barcode technology and improve operational efficiency and accuracy.

Solutions to Overcome Barcode Issues

To overcome barcode issues and ensure smooth implementation, organizations can employ various solutions tailored to address specific challenges. Here are solutions to overcome common barcode issues

  • Barcode Quality Assurance: Regular checks and testing ensure high-quality barcode printing.
  • Standardized Placement: Clear guidelines ensure optimal barcode positioning for easy scanning.
  • Compatibility Testing: Thorough checks prevent issues between barcode formats and scanners.
  • Data Accuracy Checks: Regular audits maintain barcode data accuracy and integrity.
  • Integration Best Practices: Follow standards for seamless integration with existing systems.
  • User Training: Comprehensive training empowers users to handle scanning effectively.
  • Environmental Optimization: Maintain suitable conditions for optimal barcode readability.
  • Security Measures: Implement encryption and authentication to safeguard barcode data.
  • Appropriate Labeling: Choose suitable barcode labels based on environmental conditions high speed label applicators.

Implementing these strategies helps organizations overcome barcode challenges for efficient operations.

What Are Some Future Trends in Barcode Technology?

Here are some future trends in barcode technology:

  1. Advanced Data Encoding: Future barcodes may utilize advanced encoding techniques to store more data in smaller spaces, enabling them to convey richer information beyond traditional identifiers.
  2. Dynamic Barcodes: Barcodes that can dynamically change or update their information in real-time, allowing for dynamic pricing, inventory status updates, or personalized content delivery.
  3. Augmented Reality Integration: Integration of barcodes with augmented reality (AR) technology, enabling interactive experiences and enhanced product information when scanned with AR-enabled devices.
  4. Blockchain Integration: Integration of blockchain technology to provide secure and tamper-proof tracking and verification of barcode data, particularly in industries like supply chain management and product authentication.
  5. Flexible and Stretchable Barcodes: Development of flexible and stretchable barcode materials and printing techniques, allowing barcodes to be applied to irregular surfaces or products with dynamic shapes.
  6. Nanotechnology Barcodes: Utilization of nanotechnology to create miniature barcodes with ultra-high resolution, enabling tracking and identification of microscopic objects or components.
  7. Biometric Barcodes: Integration of biometric authentication features into barcodes, enhancing security and enabling personalized interactions based on individual biometric data.
  8. Environmental Sustainability: Adoption of eco-friendly barcode materials and printing methods, reducing environmental impact and promoting sustainability in barcode production and usage.
  9. Integration with IoT Devices: Integration of barcodes with Internet of Things (IoT) devices, allowing seamless communication and data exchange between physical objects and digital systems for enhanced automation and efficiency.
  10. Machine Learning and AI: Utilization of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to enhance barcode scanning accuracy, recognize damaged or obscured barcodes, and extract information from complex barcode formats.

These future trends in barcode technology hold the potential to revolutionize various industries by enabling more efficient and intelligent data capture, tracking, and interaction with physical objects in the digital world.

Best Practices for Barcode Design

Here are some best practices for barcode design:

  • Choose the Right Barcode Type: Select the appropriate barcode symbology based on your specific application requirements, such as UPC or Code 128 for product identification, or QR codes for mobile marketing or information dissemination.
  • Optimal Size and Scaling: Ensure that the barcode is sized appropriately for the surface it will be printed on and that it can be scaled without compromising readability. Avoid shrinking or enlarging barcodes beyond recommended dimensions.
  • High Contrast and Color Considerations: Use high-contrast colors, typically black bars on a white background, to ensure optimal readability. Avoid using colors that may interfere with scanner detection. If using color, ensure it does not affect the contrast ratio necessary for accurate scanning.
  • Quiet Zones: Maintain adequate quiet zones (blank spaces) around the barcode to prevent interference from surrounding graphics, text, or other elements. The quiet zone should be at least 10 times the width of the narrowest bar or space in the barcode.
  • Correct Orientation: Ensure that the barcode is printed in the correct orientation to be scanned easily. Typically, barcodes are printed in a horizontal orientation, but some barcode types may be oriented vertically or diagonally.
  • High-Quality Printing: Use high-resolution printing techniques to ensure sharp and clear barcode images. Avoid printing errors, smudging, or fading that may hinder scanning accuracy.
  • Readable Fonts and Text: Include human-readable text below or above the barcode to provide additional information, such as product name or SKU number. Use easily readable fonts and ensure sufficient spacing between characters.
  • Test and Verify: Conduct thorough testing and verification of barcode designs using barcode verification tools or scanners to ensure readability and compliance with industry standards. Test barcodes under various lighting conditions and scanning angles to identify any potential issues.
  • Consistent Barcode Placement: Maintain consistent barcode placement across products or packaging to facilitate scanning and streamline inventory management processes. Ensure that barcodes are placed in easily accessible and visible locations.
  • Compliance with Standards: Adhere to industry standards and regulations, such as GS1 standards for product identification or FDA regulations for pharmaceutical labeling, to ensure compliance and interoperability with existing systems and scanners.

These best practices for barcode design will help organizations to create barcodes that are accurate, reliable, and easily scannable, enabling efficient data capture and tracking across various business processes.

Recommended Reading:

Useful Websites and Tools


Barcodes are more than just lines and numbers—they’re the backbone of efficiency for a business.

By following the right design practices, you’re not just printing labels; you’re creating pathways to streamlined operations and accurate data.

From the bustling aisles of retail to the intricate logistics of healthcare, barcodes are the silent heroes keeping everything in check.

Think about it:

With a simple scan, you’re not just capturing data; you’re unlocking insights, making informed decisions, and propelling your business forward.

So, follow these best practices, and let your barcodes do the heavy lifting for you.

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Picture of Shubhanshi Aggarwal
Shubhanshi Aggarwal
Shubhanshi is a blogger at Grow With Web and an internet marketing strategist, who love to learn, share and implement new tactics of generating leads & grow business