What is a Barcode?

Partner Blog By: NICK RECHT/TEKLYNX

Originally appeared on The Human Readable Blog, by TEKLYNX.

Merriam Webster says a barcode is “a code consisting of a group of printed and variously patterned bars and spaces and sometimes numerals that is designed to be scanned and read into computer memory and that contains information about the object it labels.” While it’s great to know the technical definition of the word, what does that mean for you and your business?

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Breaking Down the Definition of a Barcode

While there are hundreds of barcode types, they generally fit into one of two categories: 1D linear barcodes or 2D matrix barcodes. The 1D linear barcode is exactly how it sounds, a single line. The 2D matrix barcodes, such as QR codes, can hold more data. There are also composite barcodes that combine a matrix barcode with a linear barcode into one barcode.

Types of barcodes: 1D Linear, 1D Matrix, Composite

Some barcode uses require a human readable component. The human readable component displays the contained data in letters and numbers below the barcode, designed as a fail-safe in case the barcode can’t be scanned. An example is shown in the composite barcode above. The bars or patterned spaces are read by the scanner, while humans can read the numbers and letters, if applicable.

Since the invention of the barcode in 1974, its purpose was to hold data to be scanned and read by a computer. There was a need in grocery stores for more efficiency at the check-out line, and the ability for a barcode to hold data like the product name, price, where it was made, and more was essential to achieving this goal. This is when the Universal Product Code (UPC) was first introduced. To this day, the UPC barcode is the most common barcode being used and is printed on many of the products you use every day.

How to Use Barcodes

Man scanning a barcode

Barcodes were introduced to increase efficiency and speed, and they still serve that purpose today. There are hundreds of kinds of barcodes today that all have a variety of uses for inventory tracking, retail sales, regulatory compliance, data capture, and more. Standards for these barcodes are upheld by GS1, a global standards organization with over two million member companies. GS1 can help determine what kind of barcode(s) you need, whether you need a human readable component, the capacity of the barcode, and more, depending on what the barcode is being scanned for.

The first step to creating a barcode is to know what the barcode is being scanned for. If the barcode is being scanned at a retail point of sale (POS), you need a UPC code. If you are selling online, you’ll need a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) along with a UPC code. For inventory and warehousing, you’ll need specific barcodes that might encode more information along with the GTIN, like batch/lot number, weight, expiration, etc. To get a GTIN, you can go to GS1’s website to license and create one for your products.

Importance of Barcodes

Barcodes truly make the world go around and the supply chain work. The main function hasn’t changed over the years, but they are becoming more widespread and sophisticated, and their uses are never-ending. The main function of the barcode is to increase efficiency by holding essential data and reduce errors that come from manual processes. While technology advances, so does barcoding. The 1D linear barcode will always have a purpose in the supply chain, but we are starting to see more uses of the 2D matrix barcodes and composite barcodes in restaurants for menus or additional advertising on product packaging. This will only continue to increase efficiency, improve the consumer experience with more data, and unlock new barcoding opportunities in multiple industries!

In the dynamic world of barcoding, it’s important not only to have accurate barcodes but to have a true labeling partner that has a long history in the industry, compliant and up-to-date software, and continuous support. The need to barcode better is greater than ever!

If you are new to barcode labeling and not sure where to start, we recommend downloading a 30-day trial of our LABELVIEW software. LABELVIEW is a robust barcode label software that is easy to use, packed with great features and functions, cloud connections, and more!

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Click here to learn how to create your first label in LABELVIEW!

 

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