When it comes to creating an effective inventory tracking system, you can’t find anything better than barcodes to do the job. Considering the fact that barcode technology has been around for over four decades, it’s pretty impressive that they are still seen as a critical component of business operations across the globe. If you haven’t already adopted a barcode system to enhance your business’s inventory tracking system, then your business is at a major disadvantage compared to any competitors that do use barcodes. The ease of use, accuracy, and speed of a barcode system are pretty much unparalleled when it comes to increasing your business’s efficiency. But while barcodes have been around for quite some time, new advances and developments are constantly being introduced. There are multiple types of barcodes available today, and before you are able to implement them into your business, you’ll need to figure out which will work best at meeting your business’s needs.

Barcode Symbologies

Before delving into the details and differences between barcode symbologies (the specific types of barcodes), you need to understand that there are two main types of barcode. These two types are labeled as 1D and 2D. 1D codes are the oldest and simplest type of barcode, with the extremely common UPC (Universal Product Code) code being used mainly in the US, and the EAN (formerly European Article Number, now International Article Number) code used everywhere else. There are other 1D codes, but UPC and EAN codes are by far the most widely adopted. 2D codes are a more recent development, with types like QR codes (Quick Response Code) and Datamatrix being some of the more commonly used versions. According to Syscan Tech, 1D codes are used as object labels and for indexing purposes while 2D codes are used as object descriptions. The reason for this is storage capacity. Most 1D codes can store between eight and 30 characters, with some codes only capable of storing numbers while others can store both numbers and letters. 2D codes, on the other hand, can store upwards of 7,000 characters, according to Pivotal Labs, depending on the specific type of code you get.

Besides data storage, the other major differences between 1D and 2D codes is in how they actually store the info and what type of scanners can decode them. There are numerous additional differences between codes under the same category as well, so it’s highly advisable that you do some research into figuring out the specifics of each code symbology’s capabilities before deciding which you will use.

Scanner Types

Picking the barcode symbology that works best for your business is only the first step in implementing a barcode inventory system. You also need to consider the type of barcode scanner you will use. According to Barcodes Inc. there are three main scanner categories: laser, linear imager, and 2D area imager. There are other types, but almost all barcode scanners operate using one of those three main scanning systems.

Laser scanners are the most common and least expensive type, but they can only scan 1D codes. Linear imager scanners are akin to laser scanners in that they can only scan 1D codes, but instead of using a laser to read the code, they take a direct picture for the computer to analyze and decode. 2D area imagers work in the same way as linear imager scanners do, but they are capable of decoding the much more advanced 2D codes.

Picking the right scanner type for your business shouldn’t be difficult; you just need to pick one that can read the barcode symbology you wish to use. Additionally, you need to decide on the physical format of your scanner. Most all scanner types are available as either fixed, corded devices, or as wireless, handheld devices, like those offered by Shopify. Outside of making sure you choose a scanner that is capable of decoding your particular barcode type, you can choose based on any preference or price point you wish.

Which is Best?

Truthfully, there isn’t a single barcode symbology that is hands-down the best compared to the others. They all have their individual strengths and weaknesses, and they each have a particular function that they were developed for. Choosing the right barcode for your business isn’t so much about picking the best, or most cost-effective (though that is a good criterion to use) symbology, so much as it’s a matter of what you wish to use them for and where your business is located. Scandit suggests that you ask yourself a few questions to help figure out what barcode will work for your needs.

  • Will you be using them for scanning products at a POS to check customers out?
  • What sort of information will you store on them, and what characters will they need to support?
  • What kind of material will you be printing the codes on?

These questions shouldn’t be your only parameters, but they can be used as useful guidelines for starting your search. In the end, you need to clarify what you want barcodes in your business for, and then pick the type that best fits those needs. If you do that, whatever type you decide on will be the best barcode for your business.