Wasp Barcode Technologies: The Barcode Solution People

Barcode Scan Engines

There are three primary barcode scan engines: laser, linear imager, and 2D area imager. Each works differently to accommodate the needs of specific environments and industries. Laser A laser scan engine shoots a laser beam toward a mirror. The mirror moves, which causes the laser to sweep across the barcode in a straight line. A diode measures the level of reflection and translates it into a digital signal. Laser scan engines only read one-dimensional (1D) barcodes. Linear Imager A linear imager scan engine, also known as a charged coupled device (CCD) or an LED scanner, takes a picture of a barcode by aligning hundreds of tiny LED lights in a row and shooting light directly onto the barcode. A sensor measures the voltage of the light directly in front of each lightbulb. Like laser scan engines, linear imagers only read 1D barcodes. However because they take a digital image of the barcode, they can read poorly printed and damaged barcodes better than lasers. 2D Area Imager A 2D area imager scan engine also captures digital images. But unlike a linear imager, a 2D scan engine reads both 1D and 2D barcodes by flashing light onto multiple rows of tiny lightbulbs. Another advantage of 2D scan engines is that they are omnidirectional, meaning they can read barcodes from any angle. This makes them faster and more accurate than laser and linear imagers.

Compare scan engines

The following table provides a quick overview of each barcode scan engine.

barcode scan engines

Scan Engine



Ideal for


  • The most popular type of barcode scanner
  • Uses a laser beam to read the difference in the spaces between a barcode’s vertical lines
  • Rapidly toggles mirrors back and forth to produce the thin red laser line
  • Only reads linear (1D or one-dimensional) barcodes
  • Works best when precise scanning is necessary
  • Easily targets a laser line
  • Comes in three basic configurations: moving beam (single line), rastering (lines that cover an area), and omnidirectional
  • Environments with low lighting
  • Scanning at distances greater than two feet


  • Almost any environment, especially retail

Linear Imager



  • Also known as a charged coupled device (CCD) and a LED scanner
  • Doesn’t use lasers to read barcodes; instead takes a digital image (picture) of the barcode
  • Reads linear (1D or one-dimensional) barcodes; some models read stacked 2D barcodes and composite symbols
  • More durable than laser scanners
  • Scanning at distances up to two feet away
  • Reading barcodes under a reflective surface such as plastic wrap
  • Reading poorly printed or damaged barcodes 
  • Retail
  • Shipping
  • Receiving
  • Inventory

2D Area Imager

  • Also known as a 2D or digital imager
  • Uses a combination of digital camera technology and software to capture barcodes
  • Functions like a digital camera; bounces a burst of light off of the barcode and back into the lens
  • Reads both linear (1D) and 2D barcodes
  • Can read barcodes from any angle (omnidirectional)
  • Captures digital images such as signatures and documents with printed fonts
  • Processes barcodes faster and more accurate than laser and linear imager scan engines
  • Scanning hard-to-reach images from any direction and distance
  • Reading poorly printed or damaged barcodes
  • Organizations that need versatility and want to future-proof their operations


  • Most any industry including those that specifically use 2D barcodes, such as the USPS

Find a barcode scanner or mobile computer

Laser, linear imager, and 2D area imager scan engines are found in both barcode scanners and mobile computers. There are several types of barcode scanners including handheld, mobile computers, presentation, in-counter, and fixed-mount. Learn more about barcode scanner types. Mobile computers also come in a variety of styles including handheld, wearable, vehicle-mounted, and tablets. Learn more about mobile computer types. System ID offers a wide range of scanners and mobile computers by name brands such as Symbol Motorola, Datalogic, Honeywell, Intermec, and Wasp. For help selecting a scanning device, phone an advisor at 1.855.484.8149.