Different Types of Barcodes: An In-Depth Look

UPDATE: This post is no longer up to date. To read more about the many types of both one-dimensional and two-dimensional barcodes please see our latest guide to choosing the right barcodes.

Today we’re going to take a look at detailed information about different types of barcodes.

Through our free Community plan developers can easily add UPC, EAN and QR scanning for both iOS and Android apps—and through our Enterprise plans developers can add Datamatrix, PDF417, Code 39, Code 128, ITF and GS1-QR code scanning to their apps. Our Barcode Scanner SDK can also be accessed through our PhoneGap plugin or our Titanium module. Here’s the scoop:

UPC Barcodes

Symbology UPC
UPC barcodes are used on consumer goods at the point of sale in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and in other countries across the world. The UPC-A variation encodes 12 numerical digits while UPC-E is a smaller variation which encodes only 6 numerical digits.

UPC Barcode Information

Composition
A strip of black bars and white spaces above a sequence of either 6 or 12 numerical digits divided into right (R) and left (L) sections.

Encoding
Used to encode Global Trade Identification Numbers (GTIN), 6 or 12 numerical digits.

Use Cases

  • UPC-A: Used on products at the point of sale
  • UPC-B: Developed for the US National Drug Code; used to identify drugs
  • UPC-E: Used on smaller products where a traditional 12 digit barcode doesn’t fit
  • UPC-5: Used as a supplemental code to indicate the price of retail books

EAN Barcodes

Symbology EAN code
EAN barcodes are used in Europe for consumer products like groceries, DVDs, clothing and other items being scanned at the point of sale. While EAN-13 (comprising 13 digits) is the default form factor, you’ll find EAN-8 (covering 8 digits) barcodes on products where only limited space is available.

EAN Barcode Information

Composition
A strip of black bars and white spaces above a sequence of either 8 or 13 numerical digits.

Encoding
Used to encode Global Trade Identification Numbers (GTIN), numerical digits only.

EAN-8 – 8 numerical digits
3 Components
GS1 Prefix: 2-3 digits; identifies the registering GS1 organization
Item Reference: 4-5 digits; unique identifier for the product
Check Digit: A single checksum digit
EAN-13 – 13 numerical digits
4 Components
GS1 Prefix (first 3 digits): identifies the registering GS1 organization
Company Number (3-8 digits): used to identify different product lines
Item Reference (2-6 digits): unique identifier for the product
Check Digit: A single checksum digit

Use Cases
Used worldwide for tracking and identifying products at the point of sale.

  • EAN-2: Used to supplement EAN-8 or EAN-13 codes
  • EAN-5: Used to supplement EAN-8 or EAN-13 codes (suggests price of books)
  • EAN-8: Used on small items at the point of sale
  • EAN-13: Used generally at the point of sale

QR Codes

Symbology QR code
QR codes are matrix barcodes which consist of black modules spread across a square. QR codes have fast readability and a large storage capacity, supporting four different modes of data: numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, Kanji.

QR Code Barcode Information

Origin
Invented in Japan by the Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave in 1994

Encoding
Data Types: numeric / alphanumeric / byte / binary / Kanji^
*usually URL or SMS,

Use Cases
Originally for industrial use. Mostly used for advertising / mobile payments / URLs / virtual stores.

Datamatrix Codes

Symbology Micro-Data Matrix
Datamatrix codes are 2D barcodes which consist of black and white cells assembled into a square, much like a QR code. These codes have a very small footprint, which makes them ideal for logistics and operations solutions where small products have limited whitespace. To add perspective, the US Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) recommends that they be used to label small electronic components.

Datamatrix Code Information

Origin
Invented by International Data Matrix Inc.

Composition
Two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black and white “cells” or modules arranged in either a square or rectangular pattern. Datamatrix codes can be as small as 2 or 3 mm2.

Encoding
Data type: text or numeric data
Data limits: up to 1556 bytes or up to 2335 alphanumeric characters

Use Cases
Identifying small items or products. The US Electronics Industries Alliances recommends using Datamatrix codes to label small electronic components. Standards: ISO/IEC standards and public domain for many applications,

Code 39 Barcodes

Symbology Code 39
Code 39 (or often referred to as Code 3 of 9) barcodes allow the use of digits and characters. Its name originates in the fact that it could only encode 39 characters (in its most recent version the character set has been increased to 43 characters). It is not as compact as the Code 128 barcode, but it is still heavily used in the automotive industry and by the US Department of Defense.

Code 39 Barcode Information

Origin
Created by Dr. David Allais and Ray Stevens at Intermec in 1974.

Encoding
43 available characters

  • numbers (0-9)
  • uppercase letters (A-Z)
  • and special characters (- . $ / + % comma and space)

An additional character (denoted ‘*’) is used for both start and stop delimiters. Each character is composed of nine elements – five bars and four spaces.

Use Cases

  • Name badges
  • Inventory Management
  • Industrial Applications

Standards

  • NSI/AIM BC1/1995 – Uniform Symbology Specification – Code 39
  • LOGMARS – Logistics Applications of Automated Marking and Reading Symbols (used by the US DoD)
  • HIBC – Healthcare Industry Barcode

Code 128 Barcodes

Symbology Code 128
Code 128 barcodes are very high density 1D codes which can utilize any character in the ASCII 128 character set. This broad range of characters enables the storage of diversified information. Mainly used in logistics for ordering, distribution and transportation, Code 128 barcodes are also compact, providing a good data storage to size ratio.

Code 128 Barcode Information

Composition
A strip of black bars and white spaces of variable length,

Encoding
All 128 characters of ASCII. The Latin-1 characters defined in ISO/IEC 8859

Use Cases

  • Shipping and Packaging Industry Applications
  • Product Identification for the Packaging Level

Standards

  • GS1-128
  • ISBT-128
  • USS Code 128
  • ISS Code 128
  • GTIN
  • SSCC-18

PDF417 Barcodes

Symbology PDF417
PDF417 barcodes are special in that they can hold upwards of 1.1 kilobytes of machine-readable data, making them much more powerful than other 2D barcodes. This storage space has been utilized in cases which require the storage of photographs, fingerprints, signatures, text, numbers or graphics. Similarly to QR codes, as a public-domain format, anyone can freely use PDF417 in their solutions.

ITF Barcodes

Symbology ITF
ITF barcodes, also known as Interleaved 2 of 5 barcodes, encode 14 numeric digits and are generally used for the packaging level of products. Since they can deal with high printing tolerances, ITF is a good choice when barcodes need to be printed on corrugated cardboard.