Wasp Barcode Technologies: The Barcode Solution People

System ID Barcode FAQs

Have a question about barcoding? See our list of barcode FAQs below. If you don't find what you're looking for, try our System ID Barcode Glossary.

Barcode Basics

What is a barcode? A barcode is a series of bars, blocks, and white spaces that represent numbers and letters. Those numbers and letters contain data, such as part and SKU numbers, shipping addresses, expiration dates, and serial numbers. The size and placement of a barcode’s bars, blocks, and white spaces are determined by its symbology. Click here to learn more. How do I get a barcode? If you will only use a barcode to track inventory or manage parts on a production line, you can define and create your own barcodes. For products you will sell, you are required to use a specific barcode that uniquely identifies each item. To identify products for sale, you must contact GS1 (www.gs1.org), a nonprofit that sets standards for international commerce. There is a cost to join GS1. In exchange, you will receive a one-digit company identification number. Most companies use a 12-digit universal product code (UPC) to identify a product’s type, size, style, and price. To create a UPC, simply add numbers to your GS1 identifier using barcode design and labeling software. Each version of a product must have a specific barcode assigned to it. You are required to register these barcodes with GS1 and contact them every time you modify or add to your company’s product identification system. Click here to learn more about how to get a barcode. Do I have to purchase company identifiers from GS1? Beware of organizations that sell company identifiers. They usually buy blocks of identifiers from GS1 and resell them. While that purchase may save you a few dollars, it won’t give you ownership of your barcode. GS1 only recognizes the original purchaser of a company identifier.

Barcode Symbologies

What are barcode symbologies? Barcode symbologies are universally recognized code languages that are standardized by ISO. Industry trade associations such as ANSI (American National Standards Institute), AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group), and HIBC (Health Industry Barcode Council) regulate certain symbologies so there is a consistent definition of what the bars and spaces mean. There are many types of symbologies, which are categorized as linear (one-dimensional) or 2D (two-dimensional). How do I know which symbology to use? You may select the symbology that works best for your application unless your industry requires you to use a certain barcode. For example, the distribution industry dictates that you must use a UPC barcode on products you are distributing. If, however, you want to track those items in your warehouse before transporting them, then you may choose to use a different barcode system. Click here for more information about linear vs. 2D barcodes. What’s the difference between barcode standards and barcode symbologies? Industries create standards to ensure uniformity across common applications, such as shipping and packaging. Barcode symbologies are code languages used to create barcodes. Often the term “symbology” is used synonymously with the word “barcode.”

Linear Barcodes

What is a linear barcode? Linear barcodes are one-dimensional barcodes that contain a sequence of vertical black bars and white spaces that define a set of numbers or letters. Because of their limited storage space of 85 characters, these barcodes are used to retrieve information stored in a database. How many characters do linear barcodes hold? Linear barcodes hold less than 85 characters. When would I use a linear barcode? Here is a list of common linear barcodes and their uses:
  • For retail products in the U.S., use UPC-A or UPC.
  • For international retail products, use EAN-13 or EAN.
  • To mark shipping cartons of retail products for distribution, use ITF-14.
  • To mark shipping containers of all types, use GS1-128 (formally known as UCC/EAN-128.
  • For books, use Bookland (ISBN barcode).
  • For periodicals, use ISSN.
For more information, see Linear Barcode Symbologies. What type of scanner do I use with linear barcodes? You must use a laser scanner to read linear barcodes. However, laser scanners can read PDF417, which is a 2D-like symbology. Do I have to use a barcode scanner to read a linear barcode? Humans can read the numbers and letters beneath a linear barcode and interpret them if they know what the numbers and letters represent. Scanners do not use those numbers and letters. They read, or scan, the barcode to quickly and accurately decipher the data stored in it. This holds true for both linear and 2D barcodes, which do not display numbers and letters. Barcode systems—comprised of software, a barcode scanner or mobile computer, a barcode printer, and barcode labels—automate product identification and tracking to eliminate errors and improve productivity. So while it is possible for humans to read most linear barcodes, it is not recommended.

2D Barcodes

What is a 2D barcode? 2D (two-dimensional) barcodes consist of patterned blocks, circles, and squares that resemble the no-reception static on a TV. These barcodes are often physically smaller in size than linear barcodes, but they contain hundreds of characters of data. Because of their larger storage capacity, 2D barcodes do not require databases. How many characters do 2D barcodes hold? 2D barcodes can hold thousands of characters. Can I use a laser scanner to read 2D barcodes? No, you must use a 2D barcode scanner to read 2D barcodes. For more information, see 2D Barcode Symbologies.