Different Types of Barcodes

To find the right barcode printing and labeling solution for your application, you need to start with the basics, specifically: how do barcodes work and what different types of barcodes are there? Learning the answers to these questions will help you make an informed decision for your business.

Barcode Comparison Chart

The chart below compares some of the most common industrial barcodes with information on how they are used and what they look like. These are all bidirectional barcodes (can be scanned from either direction).

Name Barcode Type Character Set Length Checksum Notes

Australia Postal Code

2-D
Numbers Only
4
Required
Includes error correction
Aztec Code

2-D
Full ASCII; FNC1 and ESI control codes
Variable Min 12 Max 3832
Required
Includes error correction; minimum is 15x15 square, largest is 151x151
Codabar

Linear
Numbers: 0-9; Symbols: - : . $ / + Start/Stop Characters: A, B, C, D, E, *, N, or T
Variable
None
Older code; often used in libraries and blood banks. See also USD-4, NW-7, 2of7
Code 11

Linear
Required
Variable
Numbers Only
Recommend 2nd check digit
Code 128

Linear
All ASCII characters and control codes
Variable
Required
Widely used; excellent for many applications
Code 39

Linear
Uppercase letters A-Z; Numbers 0-9; Space - . $ / + %
Variable
Optional
In very wide use for many types of applications
Extended Code 39

Linear
All ASCII characters and control codes
Variable
Optional
Uses pairs of characters to encode non- standard symbols; wasteful of space
Code 93

Linear
Uppercase letters A-Z; Numbers 0-9; Space - . $ / + %
nbsp
Optional
A more compact cousin of Code 39, not as widely in use
Composite Code

2D
All ASCII characters
Variable
Required
Code comprised of a PDF417 code stacked on top of a Code128; used in UCC/EAN standards
DataMatrix

2-D
All ASCII characters
Variable
Required
Includes error correction, up to 2335 ASCII characters
EAN-13

Linear
Numbers Only
13 + check digit +2 optional +5 optional
Required
Retail product marking world-wide
EAN-8

Linear
Numbers Only
7 + check digit
Required
Retail product marking world-wide; compressed code for products with limited label space
Industrial 2 of 5

Linear
Numbers Only
Variable
None
Older type of code
Interleaved 2 of 5

Linear
Numbers Only
Variable
Optional
Very compact encodes digits in pairs so total length must be even number of digits
ITF-14

Linear
Numbers Only
13 + check digit
Required
Special use of the Interleaved 2 of 5 code to mark shipping cartons containing UPC encoded products (see also SCC-14)
Maxicode

2-D
All ASCII characters
93
Required
Includes error correction, developed by the United Parcel Service for encoding destination information
MSI MSI Plessey

Linear
Numbers Only
Variable
Required
Grocery store shelf tags
PDF-417

2-D
All ASCII characters
Variable
Required
Includes error correction, up to about 1850 ASCII or 2725 numeric characters
Plessey

Linear
Numbers Only
Variable
Required
Grocery store shelf tags
Postnet

2-D
Numbers Only
5 + check digit +4 optional +6 optional
Required
USA postal code (ZIP code)
QR Code

2-D
All ASCII characters
Variable
Required
Includes error correction, up to about 1520 ASCII or 2509 numeric charcters
SCC-14 (UCC/EAN Ship Cont. Code)

Linear
Numbers Only
13 + checksum
Required
Special use of Code 128 to mark shipping cartons containing UPC encoded products (see also ITF-14)
Standard 2 of 5

Linear
Numbers Only
Variable
None
Also called Industrial 2 of 5.
UCC/EAN-128

Linear
All ASCII characters and control codes
Variable
Required
Special ise of Code 128 which defines data formats for commerce
UCC/EAN Shipping Container Code (SCC-14)

Linear
Numbers Only
13 + check digit
Required
Special use of the Interleaved 2 of 5 code to mark shipping cartons containing UPC encoded products (see also SCC-14)
UPC-A

Linear
11 + check digit +2 optional +5 optional
Numbers Only
Required
Retail product marking in USA and Canada

How Do Barcodes Work?

A barcode utilizes an image / design to encode information — essentially, the black and white bars or patterns you see on the label. A barcode scanner will then read those images, detect the code, and then translate the information into a line of text that can be understood by the business’s point of sale (POS) system. Nowadays, some barcodes can even be read by smartphone apps or other technology.

Barcode Symbologies

Barcode symbology refers to how the information is encoded in the image / design. The spacing and pattern of the black and white lines or patterns are not random — they follow standardized code languages, as established by the International Organization for Standards (ISO).

A clear example of how barcode technology works can be seen in grocery stores. When you purchase an item, the cashier will use a scanner to read the barcode on the item. This scanner will detect the barcode symbology and send this information to the POS system. Said system will then be able to connect the information to the corresponding inventory item.

Standard Barcode Formats & Types

1D Barcodes

One-dimensional barcodes, commonly known as linear barcodes, are a traditional barcode formatting style that most people likely recognize. These labels use the classic black and white parallel lines and spacing to encode data.

Barcode examples / common use cases:

  • Inventory management, including shipping and tracking
  • Retail check-out
  • Signing items in and out (e.g., libraries)

2D Barcodes

Two-dimensional barcodes are newer, and they represent data with the use of squares or rectangles that contain black and white dots in specific patterns (called a data matrix).

Barcode examples / common use cases:

2d barcode types can often be used for the same applications as linear barcodes, but they are usually more expensive. They’ve gained popularity in the supply chain and manufacturing industries due to the different benefits they provide, including:

  • Can store a large amount of data stored on it, including a variety of media types (while 1d options can just hold a smaller amount of only alphanumeric data)
  • Can scan items very quickly, as you don’t need to line the scanner up the way you do with 1d
  • Can scan items from farther away
  • Don’t need to use a database to collect the information
  • Smaller size, even with the larger storage space

Not sure which barcode label is right for your application requirements? Contact the experts at Peak Technologies, and learn more about our printing and labeling services.

Explore our other resources on this topic:

Read our whitepaper to learn more about Barcode labels and how to use them to improve your operations

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