Types of Barcodes: Choosing the Right Barcode
When choosing the right types of barcodes for your products, inventory or assets, you face many options. Today, we’ll help you choose the right types of barcodes by walking through all the major 1D and 2D barcode types. We’ll highlight the common uses for each one, as well as constraints that help you narrow down your options: perhaps your products have less than a square inch of printing space, or you might need to print on corrugated cardboard, or you need extra-secure codes. No matter what you need, we have the information you need to get started today.
Let’s begin with an overview of 13 major one-dimensional and two-dimensional barcode types. We’ll cover UPC, EAN, Code 39, Code 128, ITF (2 of 5), Code 93, CodaBar, GS1 DataBar, MSI Plessey, QR, Datamatrix, PDF417, and Aztec barcodes.
One-Dimensional (1D) Barcode Types
One-dimensional, or 1D barcodes, systematically represent data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or one-dimensional. These include some of the traditional, or most well recognized barcode types such as the UPC and EAN code types.
UPC barcodes are used to label and scan consumer goods at points-of-sale around the world—mainly in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. The UPC-A variation encodes 12 numerical digits while UPC-E is a smaller variation, which encodes only 6 numerical digits.
Variations: UPC-A, UPC-E
EAN barcodes are also used to label consumer goods worldwide for point-of-sale scanning, primarily in Europe. They look very similar to UPC codes, and the main distinction is their geographical application. While EAN-13 (comprising 13 digits) is the default form factor, you’ll find EAN-8 (covering 8 digits) barcodes on products where only limited space is available, like small candies.
Variations: EAN-13, EAN-8, JAN-13, ISBN, ISSN
Code39 barcodes (or Code 3 of 9) are used to label goods across many industries, and are often found in the automotive industry and the US department of Defense. It allows the use of both digits and characters, and its name originates in the fact that it could only encode 39 characters—though in its most recent version the character set has been increased to 43. It’s similar to, but not as compact as, the Code 128 barcode, which we’ll talk about next.
Industry: Automotive and Defense
Code 128 barcodes are compact, high-density codes used in logistics and transportation industries for ordering and distribution. They’re geared toward non-POS products, like when supply chain applications label units with serial shipping container codes (SSCC). Code 128 barcodes are powerful and can store diversified information because they support any character of the ASCII 128 character set.
Industry: Supply Chain
ITF (Interleaved 2 OF 5)
ITF (or Interleaved 2 of 5) barcodes are used to label packaging materials across the globe. Since they can deal with high printing tolerances, they are good for printing on corrugated cardboard. ITF barcodes encode 14 numeric digits and use the full ASCII set.
Code 93 barcodes are used in logistics to identify packages in retail inventory, label electronic components, and even provide supplementary delivery information for the Canadian Post. Like Code 39, it Code 93 comes with full ASCII support, but it improves upon and complements Code 39. It enables additional security within the barcode itself, and its high density and compact size makes its labels around 25% shorter than barcodes produced in Code 39.
Industry: Retail, Manufacturing and Logistics
Codabar barcodes are used by logistics and healthcare professionals, including U.S. blood banks, FedEx, photo labs, and libraries. Its main benefit is that it is easy to print and can be produced by any impact style printer, even a typewriter. Therefore, a user can create many Codabar codes using consecutive numbers without the use of a computer. It was designed to be readable when printed from dot matrix printers for multi-part forms. Codabar is a discrete, self-checking symbology that encodes up to 16 different characters with an additional 4 start/stop characters.
Variations: Codeabar, Ames Code, NW-7, Monarch, Code 2 of 7, Rationalized Codabar, ANSI/AIM BC3-1995, USD-4
Industry: Logistics, Healthcare and Education
GS1 DataBar barcodes (formerly known as Reduced Space Symbology) are used by retail outlets to identify consumer coupons, produce, and perishables, as well as small objects in the healthcare industry. They are more compact than typical consumer-facing barcodes. GS1 DataBar was introduced in 2001 and became the mandated barcode type for retail coupons in the US.
Variations: GS1 DataBar Omnidirectional, Truncated, Stacked, Stacked Omnidirectional, Expanded, Expanded Stacked
Industry: Retail and Healthcare
MSI Plessey (or Modified Plessey) barcodes are used for inventory management in retail environments, such as labeling supermarket shelves.
Two-Dimensional (2D) Barcode Types
Two-dimensional, or 2D barcodes, systematically represent data using two-dimensional symbols and shapes. They are similar to a linear 1D barcode, but can represent more data per unit area. These include some newer barcode types such as the QR Code and PDF417 code types.
QR codes are 2D matrix barcodes with a strong consumer focus, often used in tracking and marketing such as advertisements, magazines, and business cards. Free to use, flexible in size, have a high fault tolerance, and have fast readability, though they can’t be read with a laser scanner. QR codes support four different modes of data: numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and Kanji. QR code growth began in Japan and use continues to grow today. They are public domain and free to use.
Industry: Retail, Entertainment and Advertising
Datamatrix codes are 2D barcodes used to label small items, goods, and documents. Their tiny footprint makes them ideal for small products in logistics and operations. In fact, the US Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) recommends that they be used to label small electronic components. Similar to QR codes, they have high fault tolerance and fast readability.
Industry: Electronics, Retail and Government
PDF417 codes are 2D barcodes are used in applications that require the storage of huge amounts of data, such as photographs, fingerprints, signatures, text, numbers, and graphics. They can hold over 1.1 kilobytes of machine-readable data, making them much more powerful than other 2D barcodes. Like QR codes, PDF417 barcodes are public domain and free to use.
Variation: Truncated PDF417
Industry: Logistics and Government
Aztec codes are 2D barcodes used by the transportation industry, particularly for tickets and airline boarding passes. The barcodes can still be decoded even if they have bad resolution, making them useful both when tickets are printed poorly and when they’re presented on a phone. In addition, they can take up less space than other matrix barcodes because they don’t require a surrounding blank “quiet zone,” unlike some other 2D barcode types.
That’s it – for now. We’ve introduced you to the most common one-dimensional and two-dimensional types of barcodes. You should now have a general understanding of where, when and how&