Types of Barcodes: Choosing the Right Barcode
There are many types of barcodes—and each brings unique opportunities and limitations. With such a range of options to choose from, it can be tough to determine which barcodes will best suit your products, inventory or assets. Should you invest in 1D or 2D barcodes? Which barcode variants work best for your specific industry? And, most importantly, which barcodes will provide the most efficiency and business value for your enterprise?
At Scandit, we’re proud to help businesses capitalize on the advantages of barcode scanning. So today, let’s walk through the 13 major 1D and 2D barcode types to help you find the right solution for your team. We’ll highlight the common uses for each one, as well as their limitations, to help you narrow down your options.
Note: If you need more information related to specific barcode scanning use cases and industry benefits, then check out our free eBook, Choosing the Best Barcode for your Business.
One-Dimensional (1D) Barcode Types
One-dimensional (or 1D) barcodes systematically represent data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines. These include some of the most traditional and well-recognized barcode types, such as the UPC and EAN codes. 1D barcodes are also commonly referred to as linear barcodes.
The length of a one-dimensional barcode is directly tied to how much information it holds. Consequently, users must limit the number of characters each code contains from 8 to 15. 1D barcodes are commonly used across enterprise operations to save time and make inventory workflows more efficient.
UPC barcodes are used to label and scan consumer goods at points of sale around the world—mainly in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. The UPC-A variation encodes twelve numerical digits, while UPC-E is a smaller variation that encodes only six numerical digits.
UPC actually stands for universal product code. In the context of retail, the purpose of this barcode is to make it easy for users to identify specific product features (like its size or color) when an item is scanned at checkout. Along with making the checkout process more efficient, UPC codes help streamline inventory tracking within stores and warehouses. UPCs enable accurate and efficient product tracking all the way through production to distribution.
Variations: UPC-A, UPC-E
EAN barcodes are also used to label consumer goods worldwide for point-of-sale scanning, primarily in Europe. They look very similar to UPC codes, and the main distinction is their geographical application. While EAN-13 (comprising 13 digits) is the default form factor, you’ll find EAN-8 (covering eight digits) barcodes on products where space is limited, like small candies.
The main advantage of EAN codes is their flexibility. EAN-13 is a high-density barcode that can encode relatively large amounts of data in a small area—while EAN-8 codes are ideal for identifying very small products or assets. EAN codes are also easy for 1D scanners to read, making the scanning process fast and seamless.
Variations: EAN-13, EAN-8, JAN-13, ISBN, ISSN
Code39 barcodes (or Code 3 of 9) are used to label goods across many industries and are often found in the automotive industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. It enables the use of both digits and characters, and its name originates in the fact that it could only encode 39 characters—though in its most recent version, the character set has been increased to 43. It’s similar to, but not as compact as, the Code 128 barcode.
One limitation of Code39 is its relatively low data density. The size required for these barcodes makes them ill-suited for very small goods and assets. However, Code39 remains a popular and versatile choice, namely because it eliminates the need to generate a check digit—and can be decoded by almost any barcode reader.
Industry: Automotive and Defense
Code 128 barcodes are compact, high-density codes used in logistics and transportation industries for ordering and distribution. They’re geared toward non-POS products, like when supply chain applications label units with serial shipping container codes (SSCC). Because they support any character of the ASCII 128 character set, Code 128 barcodes can store highly diversified information.
The greatest advantage of Code 128 is its high data density. These barcodes can store large amounts of linear data in compact form, making them ideally suited for identifying shipped or packaged containers and items. These strengths make Code 128 barcodes a natural choice for shipping and supply chain operations.
Industry: Supply Chain
ITF (Interleaved 2 OF 5)
ITF (or Interleaved 2 of 5) barcodes are used to label packaging materials across the globe. Since they can deal with high printing tolerances, they are ideal for printing on corrugated cardboard. ITF barcodes encode 14 numeric digits and use the full ASCII set.
One of the greatest strengths of Interleaved 2 of 5 is that its printed tolerances are suited for corrugated cardboard. As a result, this self-checking code is a powerful tool for encoding information on product packaging. While the Interleaved 2 of 5 barcode can only encode numbers (not letters), it does not require a check digit.
Code 93 barcodes are used in logistics to identify packages in retail inventory, label electronic components, and even provide supplementary delivery information for the Canadian Post. Like Code 39, Code 93 barcodes come with full ASCII support. Along with enabling additional security within the code itself, the high density and compact size of Code 93s make them around 25% shorter than barcodes produced in Code 39.
Code 93 acts as a more compact and secure alternative to Code 39, partly thanks to its additional characters. Its small size and data redundancy make it ideal for use across a wide range of industries, from automotive to retail and logistics.
Industry: Retail, Manufacturing and Logistics
Learn more about Code 93 barcodes on the Scandit Blog.
Codabar barcodes are used by logistics and healthcare professionals, including U.S. blood banks, FedEx, photo labs and libraries. Their main benefit is that they’re easy to print and can be produced by any impact style printer—even a typewriter. Therefore, users can create many Codabar codes using consecutive numbers without the use of a computer. Codabar is a discrete, self-checking symbology that encodes up to 16 different characters with an additional 4 start/stop characters.
Advantages of Codabar barcodes include ease of scanning and self-checking, which reduces errors when entering the code. However, Codabar codes are being phased out in favor of newer code forms, which allow more data to be stored in a much smaller form. Regardless, Codabar is still commonly used across logistics, healthcare and even schools, where the code is applied to the spines of library books.
Variations: Codabar, Ames Code, NW-7, Monarch, Code 2 of 7, Rationalized Codabar, ANSI/AIM BC3-1995, USD-4
Industry: Logistics, Healthcare and Education
GS1 DataBar barcodes (formerly known as Reduced Space Symbology) are used by retail outlets to identify consumer coupons, produce and perishables, as well as small objects in the healthcare industry. They are more compact than typical consumer-facing barcodes. GS1 DataBar was introduced in 2001 and has become the mandated barcode type for retail coupons in the U.S.
GS1 DataBar codes offer many potential benefits. For example, leading retailers use these compact tools to reduce point-of-sale transaction times. GS1 codes also support faster and more enjoyable checkout experiences for customers at self-checkout stations. These codes also support faster and more efficient scanning workflows in patient care environments.
Variations: GS1 DataBar Omnidirectional, Truncated, Stacked, Stacked Omnidirectional, Expanded, Expanded Stacked
Industry: Retail and Healthcare
Learn more about GS1 Databar barcodes on the Scandit Blog.
MSI Plessey (or Modified Plessey) barcodes are used for inventory management in retail environments, such as labeling supermarket shelves. They’re also used across warehouses and other storage facilities to support accurate inventory checking.
MSI Plessey codes are only capable of encoding numbers, but can be produced at any length—allowing them to encode nearly any amount of data. Its binary format is also less dependable and efficient than newer, more economic barcodes.
Two-Dimensional (2D) Barcode Types
Two-dimensional, (or 2D) barcodes systematically represent data using two-dimensional symbols and shapes. They are similar to a linear 1D barcode, but can represent more data per unit area. 2D barcodes include some newer barcode types, such as the QR Code and PDF417.
Another key advantage of 2D barcodes is their error-protection formulas. These codes are designed to keep data intact and scannable—even after being ripped, scratched or damaged. This feature makes 2D barcodes uniquely suited to more intense, fast-paced scanning applications.
QR codes are most often used in tracking and marketing initiatives, such as advertisements, magazines and business cards. They are flexible in size, offer a high fault tolerance and have fast readability, though they can’t be read with a laser scanner. QR codes support four different modes of data: numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and even Kanji. They are public domain and free to use.
QR codes offer exceptional versatility. They can be scanned on just about any device with scanning capabilities (including inexpensive smartphones)—and encode almost any type of data. QR codes also feature exceptional fault tolerance, allowing users to decode information even if part of the code is damaged.
Industry: Retail, Entertainment and Advertising
Learn more about QR codes on the Scandit Blog.
Datamatrix codes are usually used to label small items, goods and documents. Their tiny footprint makes them ideal for small products in logistics and operations. In fact, the U.S. Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) recommends that they be used to label small electronic components. Similar to QR codes, they have high fault tolerance and fast readability.
Datamatrix codes offer high data density, which means they take up less space on products and assets. They’re also designed to be readable even in low resolution or with unideal scanning positions. Like many other 2D barcodes, Datamatrix codes offer strong fault tolerance as well.
Industry: Electronics, Retail and Government
Learn more about Datamatrix codes on the Scandit Blog.
PDF417 codes are used for applications that require the storage of huge amounts of data, such as photographs, fingerprints and signatures. They can hold over 1.1 kilobytes of machine-readable data, making them much more powerful than other 2D barcodes. Like QR codes, PDF417 barcodes are public domain and free to use.
Thanks to their data efficiency, PDF417 codes are suited to a wide variety of applications, including transport and inventory management. These barcodes are also well suited for creating paper boarding passes, as well as state-issued identification cards.
Variation: Truncated PDF417
Industry: Logistics and Government
Aztec codes are commonly used by the transportation industry, particularly for tickets and airline boarding passes. The barcodes can still be decoded even if they have bad resolution, making them useful when tickets are printed poorly or presented on a phone. They can also take up less space because they don’t require a surrounding blank “quiet zone,” unlike some other 2D barcode types.
Aztec barcodes are extremely space-efficient. They can hold massive amounts of data while maintaining a relatively small size—and features excellent error correction to prevent scanning errors. And while these codes don’t support the same range of characters as QR codes, they remain a powerful tool for transportation, healthcare and other industries.
Learn more about Aztec codes on the Scandit Blog.
Finding the Best Barcode for Your Business
Now that you have a better understanding of the most common 1D and 2D barcode types and how they’re being used today, here are five questions you can ask yourself to find the right barcodes for your enterprise.
1. Will the product be scanned at the point of sale in retail stores?
- UPC and EAN barcodes are ideal for PoS scanning.
2. Which character set needs to be supported? Alphanumeric characters?
- Code39, Code128 and QR Code
3. How much space is available on the product packaging?
- EAN8, UPC-E, Code128 & Datamatrix have small form factors.
4. Which material will you print the barcode on?
- ITF is great for printing barcodes on corrugated cardboard.
5. Which barcode type supports the largest amounts of data?
- PDF417 codes are great for storing huge amounts of data.
Whether you’re looking into one-dimensional or two-dimensional barcodes for your business, organization or personal use, the information we’ve provided should serve as a great tool to help you select the appropriate types of barcodes for your needs.
Optimize Your Scanning Operations With Scandit
Once you settle on a barcode type, download the Scandit Barcode Scanner SDK for your mobile application to begin scanning all major one-dimensional and two-dimensional barcodes with unrivaled speed and accuracy from iOS or Android devices today. You can also take a look at our Barcode Symbology Library to review all the types of barcodes and their variations.
Have questions about our Barcode Scanner SDK or leveraging the Scandit Smart Data Capture platform for your business? Then be sure to contact a member of our team today for support. We’re always here to help.