The use of barcodes dates back to the early 1960’s, initially deployed within the automotive and railroad industry. In the early 1970’s they were implemented within the retail industry, mainly in grocery stores.

The 1980’s marked the period of barcode rules and regulations establishment and they officially became a necessity in all industries. Since then, barcodes have become much more advanced.

What Is a Barcode?

A barcode is an optical, machine-readable, and graphically presented image of a set of product related data.

The standards, the types, and symbologies of barcodes are defined by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

Major industries have a defined set of standards for barcodes. For uncommon industries, which still don’t have defined standards, there are different symbologies to choose from. The choice will depend on the barcode purpose and amount of data that it should contain.

A barcode may contain small to large amounts of data, mapped by basic computer programming languages such as COBOL, QBasic, and Fortran.

The size of the data a barcode can contain depends on the type and the symbology of a barcode. More about that will be mentioned further into the guide.

Generating Barcodes

There are a number of ways to generate barcodes. The way a barcode is produced and printed will largely depend on the available resources of a company and the purpose of the barcodes.

A company may choose to encode and generate their own barcodes,but this requires advanced programming knowledge, advanced software and in-house developer.

There is a great online technical in-depth barcode guide with all of the advanced technical information for businesses that choose to create their own barcodes.

Barcode applications vary accordingly to different variables, such as:
● Industry specifics
● Amount of data being encoded
● Purpose of the barcode
● Printing methods

Other ways for generating and printing barcodes are:
• Specialized licensed software for creating and printing barcodes (comprehensive solution for companies that require high-quality barcodes, barcodes with large amounts of data, industries with strict rules and regulations)
• Free barcode generators (a good option only if the required barcodes have basic requirements)
• All-in-one software for creating and verifying barcodes and labels (best solution for companies looking to automate packaging quality control process, increase time efficiency, reduce errors and risk)

Verifying Barcodes

The verification or inspection of barcodes is carried out through specialized barcode inspection software. This type of software either comes in the form of device-specific barcode verifiers or online barcode verifiers. It’s important to remember that a barcode verifier must comply with the ISO/IEC 15426-1 packaging quality control standards.

Barcode Printing

The way a barcode is printed will depend on the way a barcode is generated and also on the purpose of the barcode.

Some businesses will require barcodes to be internet-compatible.

So, as well as being able to print error-free barcodes, which are physically readable by scanners, barcodes should also be server-compliant, web-page and web-application compatible, compatible with mobile devices, and of high-quality resolution.

Some of the most common barcode printing methods in a trading process are:
• Printing labels with barcodes
• Printing the barcode with the label artwork directly onto the packaging
• Printing directly onto packaging during the packaging process

Barcode Industry Standards

Below are the established barcode standards for the most-common large industries. These standards define the way barcode readers and barcode verifiers scan, read, and test a barcode and are crucial in the process of generating barcodes.

INDUSTRYPURPOSEBARCODE STANDARDS
Pharmaceutical & HealthcareBlood banks, laboratories,
healthcare products, etc.
ABC Codabar
ISBT 128
RetailLabelling and selling consumer
goods worldwide
EAN and UPC
GTIN and GS1
Supply Chain, LogisticsShipping goodsSCC-14
EAN-14
AutomotiveAll productsAIAG
Defense and GovernmentEncoding large amounts of
sensitive data
DOD UID
LOGMARS
MIL-STD-130
Mail and PostingMail routing and trackingPOSTNET
USPS
Press and BooksBook and magazines serial numbersISBN
ISSN
Bookland

Barcode Types and Symbologies

It’s important to note that a barcode standard doesn’t necessarily have to match the barcode symbology and type when choosing the best barcode for a product.

However, if there is an established standard for a barcode type and symbology a certain business belongs to, then only that barcode can be used. A choice isn’t available.

The main types of barcodes are 1D (1-dimensional) or Linear Barcodes and 2D (2-dimensional) barcodes, which can contain much more data than the former. Both have subtypes.

Additional types such as the QR Code and PDS417, are the newest and most advanced types and look different to the general form of barcodes. They’re also known as data matrixes.

The table below covers the most common industry specific barcode types and symbologies:

Industry Barcode TypeSymbologySymbology VariationsSymbology Types
Pharmaceutical
& Healthcare
1D1DCodabarGS1 DataBarCodeabar, Ames Code, NW-7, Monarch, Code 2 of 7, Rationalized Codabar, ANSI/AIM BC3-1995, USD-4GS1 DataBar Omnidirectional, Truncated, Stacked, Stacked-Omnidirectional, Expanded, Expanded Stacked, Coupon Code, LimitedRationalized Codabar
USD-4
NW-7
2 of 7 Code
Retail1D2DUPCEANCODE 93GS1 DataBarMSI PLESSEYQR CODEDataMatrixUPC-a,
UPC-eEAN-13
EAN-8CODE 39GS1 DataBar Omnidirectional, Truncated, Stacked, Stacked-Omnidirectional, Expanded, Expanded Stacked, Coupon Code, Limited
UPC
UCC12ISBN
ISSN
Bookland
JANHIBC LIC
LOGMARS
MIL-STD-1189B
MIL-STD-129
MIL-STD-2073-1C
MIL-STD-129NMSI Code
Pulse Width Modulated Barcode
Supply Chain, Logistics1DCODE 128CODE 93CodabarCODE 39Codeabar, Ames Code, NW-7, Monarch, Code 2 of 7, Rationalized Codabar, ANSI/AIM BC3-1995, USD-4CANADA POST
USPS
ISBT 128
USS Code 128
ISS Code 128HIBC LIC
LOGMARS
MIL-STD-1189B
MIL-STD-129
MIL-STD-2073-1C
MIL-STD-129NRationalized Codabar
USD-4
NW-7
2 of 7 Code
Automotive1D2DCODE 93PDF417CODE 39PDF417-TruncatedHIBC LIC
LOGMARS
MIL-STD-1189B
MIL-STD-129
MIL-STD-2073-1C
MIL-STD-129N
Defense and Government1D2D2D MatrixCODE 93PDF417DataMatrixCODE 39PDF417-TruncatedMicro-DataMatrixHIBC LIC
LOGMARS
MIL-STD-1189B
MIL-STD-129
MIL-STD-2073-1C
MIL-STD-129N
Mail and Posting1DUSPS IMbPOSTNETPLANET4-State Customer Barcode
4CB or 4-CB
OneCode Solution Barcode
USPS4CBZip
Zip + 4
DPBCUSPS CONFIRM
Press and Books1DEAN-13ISBN
ISSN
Bookland
Packaging1DITFInterleaved 2 of 5ITF-14
EAN-14
SCC-14
GTIN
DUN14
USPS
Transportation2D MatrixAZTEC
Entertainment2D MatrixQR CODE
Advertising2D MatrixQR CODE
Electronics2D MatrixDataMatrixMicro-DataMatrix

How to choose the best barcode?

Some of the most common concerns many businesses face is the space available for a barcode on a product label and the accuracy of a barcode, so that the risks of time and money loss are a minimized.

The most efficient barcodes, in terms of area coverage and error reduction, are:

– DataMatrix
– UPC
– Code 128
– Code 39
– PDF417

As mentioned at the beginning, the best barcode is the one defined within the industry, which has established a set of standards for creating and reading barcode types and symbologies.

However, if a company doesn’t belong to one of these industries then the barcode can be chosen depending on the purpose, amount of data to be encoded, and the printing method being used.

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