Barcode types: An overview

October 5, 2018

Barcodes have been around for more than 50 years now, and there’s no end in sight. They first gained traction with the use of UPC and EAN codes on products, making supermarket checkouts much faster. Since then, a lot of different barcode types emerged.

What is the most common barcode format?

The most commonly used barcode formats are EAN-8EAN-13, and UPC, which can be found on any type of retail product. Defined by the ISO/IEC 15420 standard, they are  linear barcodes with multiple widths of lines technically.

A few years back, one had to use expensive hardware scanners that use proprietary software from a single vendor. These limitations are now gone with the full availability of cheap smartphones and tablets with cameras and their broad adaption in the industry. As they can be run on any software, they offer enormous benefits. With our Barcode Scanner SDK, you can implement this feature into your own app and scan various types of barcodes easily with a mobile device.

One-dimensional (1D) barcodes or linear barcodes

Different types of linear barcodes

1D barcodes are the most common types of barcodes we see every day. They are basically used on every product we buy in form of a UPC (Universall Product Code) or EAN (European Article Numbering).
One-dimensional barcodes can only hold a very limited amount of data. Since they can be detected by optical laser scanners and a lot of this hardware is still around, they are still widespread. That is about to change with mobile scanning solutions like an SDK that can be used in any app to scan lots of barcode types.

Code 25

Code-25

Code 25 barcodes contain numbers which are encoded with five lines each. There is no fixed lenght thpugh. But since there are only two different variations of a line (narrow, wide or tall, short) it’s not able to store a lot of data.

Code 128

Code-128 Example

This type of barcode is able to store alphanumeric characters, based on the ASCII standard. It’s defined in the ISO standard ISO/IEC 15417:2007 and also known from the standards GS1-128, UCC-128 or EAN-128. Since it supports four different widths, the data can be stored much more efficiently.

GS-1

The GS-1 barcode is a sub-standard of Code 128 and was heavily adopted by the industry because it was introduced as a new standard to encode commonly used data together with an identifier. For example expiration dates, lot numbers, serial numbers and so on. The identifier tells you what data follows and it’s possible to chain multiple kinds of data as well.

Two-Dimensional (2D) Barcodes or Matrix Codes

Different types of matrix barcodes

Two-dimensional barcodes are made of a grid of „pixels“ which can have either an on (black) or off (white) state. These pixels usually have a fixed width and height. A visual anchor, called a marker or symbology, makes it easier for the reading devices to find the code. You most certainly know the squares in the corners of a QR code. But there are many more patterns in these types of barcodes, like the central squares of the Aztec code or black lines of the Data Matrix code.

PDF417

PDF417 barcode example

PDF417 is a special type of barcode because it’s a two-dimensional stacked barcode with variable line width. This results in a very high data density. Because of the high density, a clean high-resolution print is mandatory. You can store around 2725 numbers or 1850 alphanumerical characters in it. Its usage today includes paper boarding passes by airlines, machine-readable-zones of driver licenses, visa, ID cards and it is also very common in the logistics sector.

Learn more about PDF417

Data Matrix

Data Matrix

The Data Matrix barcode was invented in 1987 and became an ISO/IEC standard in 2000. You can store between 6-3116 numbers or 3-2335 alphanumerical characters in it. The printed size can be really small (2.5 x 2.5 mm), which makes it work nicely on small industrial parts. The Data Matrix type of barcode uses a solid black L-shaped border as a marker.

Learn more about Data Matrix

QR Code

QR Code example

The QR code was first introduced in Japan in 1994 and became an ISO/IEC standard in 2000. It took over in a rush since it can be easily scanned by mobile devices. This makes the QR code a particularly time-saving solution. Modern applications of this type of barcode include WiFi credentials, calendar events, business cards or location markers, making them a perfect use for printed media and advertising.
QR codes can hold a lot of data and are able to store a variable amount of redundant information, therefore they can still be read even if they are partially damaged.

Aztec Code

Aztec Code

The Aztec code is similar to the QR code but has a single marker in the center. It works very well with hardware scanners, where the code isn’t perfectly aligned. The scanner doesn’t even need to see the edge of the code. It will recognize the marker and read the data around it. It proved to be the best solution from all types of barcodes for mobile ticketing, where you display the code on your smartphone to scan it with a hardware scanner.

Other types of 2D barcodes

Other 2D barcodes use dots or colored triangles to be more efficient. But these standards are not very common and the industry mainly focuses on the three options that have been displayed previously.

Biggest benefits in different branches

In general, the biggest advantage is the ability to identify documents, objects or people with a code that can be automatically processed. The error handling and checksums ensure a 100% correct output which is crucial for perfect automation workflows. The speed of scanning is also important when boarding a plane or scanning parcels in a logistics company. This process is also known as “automatic identification and data capture“, also called AIDC.

Logistics

Bill of Lading and Container Ship

Learn more about mobile scanning in logistics.

Healthcare / Hospitals

Hospital and wristband for patient identification and medication plan with data matrix barcode

Learn more about mobile scanning in healthcare.

Airlines

Airport and plane ticket and luggage tags with barcodes

Point-of-Sale Management (POS)

local shop that uses membership cards with barcodes to identify customers and price tags with aztec codes to identify products

These are only a few barcode types and their use in the industry. Mobile barcode scanning SDKs enable a wide variety of options in the industrial and private landscape. Modern cross-platform applications make it possible to connect your workflows and be more efficient today.

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Max Stratmann

Chief Sales Officer

Find the best scanning solution for your app. Our expert team will be happy to assist with all of your questions concerning functionality, integration, best practices and the license model.

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