Barcode Scanning and Data Capture
If you don’t really know much about barcodes or the data capture scanning technology, you’re not alone. For most, barcode knowledge extends only to retail shopping experiences, be it groceries or clothing, and the linear barcode attached to the items purchased that hopefully tell the scanner the correct sale price (fingers crossed). Data capture from barcodes is this, and really so much more. It is also an impressive solution to workflow headaches and process slowdowns, and provides big data answers enterprise-wide. What does that mean? It means the ability to rely on real-time decision making as a business strategy. Before working for a data capture company, I never thought twice about barcode reading either–or what an important role it plays in businesses. With over 40 different barcode types (i.e. symbologies) out there, each with a specific purpose, it can be a little confusing how to use them and why.
No matter what the symbology is, the underlying necessity is to have a solution that can read and decode the information locked inside. Of course, not all barcode readers or decoding software can stand up to the task. Part of what I have learned is that many can’t read anything except the perfectly printed, and in “real life” we see more that are damaged, tiny, reflective, curved, torn, rubbed off, or displayed on a broken phone screen. Finding the right data capture solution saves a business time, money, and improves every experience from the employee to the end user.
As it turns out, you are in the right place for both a barcode education and a zero-miss data capture solution.
Understanding 1D and 2D barcodes
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s start with what is the difference between One-Dimensional (1D) and Two-Dimensional (2D) barcodes? This really is a reference to how the information is read and how much data it can encode. 1D barcodes are called linear because information can only be placed in a linear line and the entire barcode must fit within the reader’s view in order to decode. 2D barcodes are omnidirectional and can compress vast amounts of data both vertically and horizontally. The information is stored matrix style and can be highly secured. This type of barcode requires a more sophisticated decoding software and has endless applications. Let’s start with breaking down 1D barcodes.
What are the different 1D barcodes?
1D barcodes are most commonly found on consumer goods. They are represented by the spacing of parallel, vertical lines, and can only hold a couple dozen numeric (numbers only) or alphanumeric (numbers, letters, and symbols) characters. The lines and patterns of 1D barcodes usually create wide, rectangle barcodes that get longer as more data is added. This is a very simple barcode and is easy to decode. When you picture a barcode in your head, you are probably imagining a 1D barcode.
The major types of 1D barcodes and their uses are:
- UPC Barcode: One of the most commonly used numeric-only barcodes, mainly in the Retail Industry. This code holds a 12-digit code that contains basic information about the product and the manufacturer. UPC Barcodes are the codes seen on almost all retail products in the US/Canada. There are two types, UPC-A, and UPC-E. UPC-E is meant for more compact packaging. It’s about half the size of the UPC-A.
- EAN Barcode: 13-digit numeric-only codes that are similar to UPC Codes. Mostly used for Point-of-Sale (POS) scanning in the Retail Industry. The first three digits of EAN Barcodes are a country code to symbolize location, this is the main difference from UPC Codes. The types of EAN Barcodes are EAN-13, EAN-8, JAN-13, ISBN, and ISSN.
- Industrial 2 of 5: Not as commonly used as the other types of 1D barcodes. Industrial 2 of 5 barcodes are numeric-only barcodes and the space between the bars is a fixed width – meaning all of the information is encoded in the bars and the space between only exists to separate them. These codes are mainly used in the Industrial Industry.
- Interleaved 2 of 5: A more refined, newer variation of Industrial 2 of 5. Interleaved 2 of 5 are numeric-only barcodes with the same format as Industrial 2 of 5, but the spaces between the bars are not fixed, therefore the bars and the space between them are used to encode information. Interleaved 2 of 5 barcodes are primarily used in the Industrial Industry.
- Code 39: An alphanumeric barcode with characters alternating between light and dark, narrow and wide bars. They are variable in length, but the standard version encodes no more than 43 characters. Code 39 barcodes are commonly used in the Industrial, Military, U.S. Government, Defense, and Automotive Industries.
- Code 93: An alphanumeric barcode that is a more compact version of Code 39. It encodes up to 47 characters, and it just uses 9 barcode elements per character. The barcodes are high density in a condensed size, which enables extra security within. Code 93 barcodes are primarily used in the Industrial and Retail Industries.
- Code 128: An alphanumeric barcode that is comprised of different sizes of bars and space patterns that can have diverse definitions. They are compact and high-density and are usually chosen in newer applications over Code 39 because they allow a larger selection of characters. Code 128 barcodes are mainly used in Industrial Industry settings like shipping and tracking.
- Codabar: Primarily numeric barcode with four possible start/stop characters (A.B,C,D). Capable of encoding up to 16 characters plus the possible 4 letters. Codabar barcodes are often used by U.S. blood banks, photo labs, libraries, and FedEx. The main benefit of Codabar codes is the ease of printing and that they can be produced by impact printers. Industries that utilize Codabar are Healthcare, Logistics, and Education.
- GS1 DataBar (formerly called Reduced Space Symbology or RSS): A numeric barcode that consists of 13 digits plus a check digit. The main uses for GS1 DataBar barcodes are on coupons, product, and perishables, as well as small objects in the healthcare industry (like medication). They are more compact than typical consumer barcodes. GS1 DataBar barcodes are mainly used in the Retail and Healthcare Industries.
- MSI Plessey: An alphanumeric barcode that consists of eight elements: four bars, and four spaces. These barcodes are primarily used for inventory management like store shelf labeling, so the main industry that uses MSI Plessey barcodes is Retail.
What are the different 2D barcodes?
2D codes use a matrix structure that visually appear to be patterns of squares, dots, hexagons, etc. to encode data. They are usually small and square in overall shape, and even though they are much smaller than 1D barcodes, they can hold and encode 100x the information if needed. Data in 2D barcodes is encoded both vertically and horizontally, which is how it got its two-dimensional name. 2D codes require a camera to take pictures and pass them to image processing software to decode. They can also contain other types of binary data, such as images, web addresses, and voice.
The major types of 2D codes and their uses are:
- QR Code: Stands for “Quick Response Code”, and it is a code with a strong consumer focus. They are the most recognized and used two-dimensional barcodes in that they are free to use, can encode up to 2,500 characters, and have three levels of error-protection built in. QR codes are often used for tracking and marketing and you can find them on anything from posters, advertisements, beverage cups, applications, business cards, and more. QR codes are mostly used in Retail, Electronics, Entertainment, and Advertising.
- PDF417: A stacked-symbology barcode used in a wide variety of applications, such as inventory management, ID cards, and transport. They require large amounts of storage for photographs, fingerprints, signatures, graphics and can hold over 1.1 kilobytes of data. PDF417 barcodes are basically a set of linear barcodes stacked on top of each other, which is why they are sometimes called a “stacked linear symbology”. They are commonly used in Retail, Industrial, Automotive, and Government Industries.
- Data Matrix: A high-density 2D barcode that contains built-in error correction to ensure that even codes that are damaged physically are read accurately. They are able to be read regardless of their orientation due to the fact that they are square in shape with a finder pattern around the edges. Data Matrix barcodes can encode over 3,000 characters and are used in the Healthcare, Retail, Automotive, and Industrial Industries.
- Aztec: These are codes you would normally find on tickets and airline boarding passes. Aztec barcodes can still be read even if the resolution is bad, which makes them useful when tickets are presented electronically or printed poorly. They require less space than QR codes but can encode more information. You will find Aztec codes used mostly in the Transportation Industry.
TachyonIQ data capture software solution:
We read barcodes others can’t!
As you can see, the barcode is an incredible data capture tool that is far more important than you may have thought: Outlined here are only the most commonly used barcodes, but there are over 20 more symbologies. Barcode reading can be used in more ways than just point-of-sale and can be mission critical to a company’s success. A driver of that success is partnering with the right data-capture decoding company to deliver the best solutions available. The right technology can propel workflow success, place your app above the competition, and ensure a user experience that promotes brand loyalty.
The TachyonIQ decoding algorithm has seen decades of perfecting with accuracy, speed, and precision that is unmatched. Whether you are looking for the right barcode symbology solution or the best company that can decode every one of them, TachyonIQ’s SDK is the only choice. Looking for a barcode scanning hardware solution? All Code® barcode readers are powered by the TachyonIQ decoding software. Let us know if we can help!