What is Barcode Labelling?
Date Posted:1 February 2023
It’s difficult to imagine life without barcodes. While we don’t typically think of barcodes as playing a core role in our lives, their existence makes numerous aspects of living easier, from grocery shopping to conducting business. Across the globe, businesses rely on barcodes to track their products from acquisition to the final sale.
But why is barcode labelling so important? And what does it actually mean? To answer these questions, we’re going to look at the significance of barcode labelling, what barcode digits mean and clarify how many digits are in a barcode.
What is barcode labelling?
Simply put, barcodes are a visual representation of data that is presented in a machine-readable form. Everyone can envision the parallel black lines of varying sizes and widths that constitute a 1D barcode, and the single row of digits printed beneath the rectangle of bolded lines. But what does all of this cryptic information signify?
In 1948, two American inventors - Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, invented the modern barcode. They used morse code to create a system that would make it much simpler for supermarkets to automatically read product information during checkout. Since the 1950s, barcode technology has grown exponentially and now includes various forms, including QR codes and other 2D barcodes.
Traditionally, barcode labelling is used in shops to mark and track inventory. Individual labels that differentiate between various products are extremely useful when it comes to providing customers with a quick and accurate checkout experience. Barcode scanners allow us to extract meaningful information from a simple collection of vertical lines.
Outside of retail, barcodes are also used in numerous other settings. Healthcare facilities and hospitals rely on barcode labelling to identify patients and create medical records. Other industries that use barcodes to identify products (and people) include airlines, entertainment and sporting facilities, government enterprises, schools, home businesses, manufacturers and countless other business types.
How many digits are in a barcode?
The exact number of digits within a barcode will depend on what standard is used. There are 4 main types of barcodes used globally:
EAN is the European Article Numbering System; an international barcode standard used to identify retail products. EAN has two versions: EAN-13 and EAN-8, comprised of 13 and 8 digits respectively.
Code 39 barcodes are typically used for non-retail applications. This type of barcode can have up to 43 characters that include numbers, letters and symbols. It is also possible to encode all 128 ASCII characters, which can be scanned if a reader is in its “Full ASCII” mode.
UPC (Universal Product Code) is a coding system and symbology, designed to uniquely identify a retail product and its manufacturer. This type of barcode is a fixed length, and includes 2 variations, UPC-A and UPC-E, encoding 12 and 6 digits respectively. UPC-E is simply a compressed version of UPC-A and allows manufacturers to encode a limited number of 12 digit products codes in 6 digits, making it more suitable for identifying products in small packages.
As the name suggests, ITF-14 barcodes encode 14 digits and are typically used for the marking of shipping containers and packaging containing trade items. ITF means “Interleaved Two of Five”, indicating that it contains an even number of digits (2-width numeric codes), with each 5 bar section of the barcode containing exactly 2 wide bars.
This barcode encoding format is mostly used to encode GTIN-14 (Global Trade Item Number) data, a globally unique 14-digit number used to identify trade items, products, or services.
How to make sure a barcode is scannable
The best way to check if a barcode is scannable is to scan it yourself!
Of course, you don’t want to print hundreds of barcode labels only to find out after that you made a mistake in their formatting.
When creating your barcode, there are certain standards you should conform to in order to ensure that your barcode is scannable. Ordering pre-printed barcode labels is a practical way to ensure that your barcodes are readable and durable.
There are numerous factors to consider for your barcode labels that can enhance their overall readability and durability, including:
It’s crucial that you print your barcode on material that has proper contrast. The material shouldn’t be too glossy either as this can impact the scanner’s ability to read the barcode. Most barcodes should be printed with black on a white background as colours are typically more difficult for scanners to read.
There is no universal font used for barcode labelling. Readability is key, so it’s important that the font you choose is readable at a glance. Popular fonts include Times New Roman or Helvetica.
Most barcodes also utilise monospaced fonts, which means that each character occupies the same width. This ensures that the numbers can neatly fit into the barcode.
What specific barcode scanners should you use?
With a seemingly countless number of barcode scanners out there, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for your business.
Barcode scanners are typically divided into two categories: laser scanners and imagers.
Laser scanners are intended to be used on traditional linear barcodes (also known as 1D barcodes). These types of scanners can come in standard range or long range.
Meanwhile, imagers can also read patterns and shapes, such as those within a QR code, Data Matrix or any other 2D barcode. They are considered more versatile than laser scanners as they can scan a greater amount of data.
It’s also important to consider environmental factors that may impact the use of the barcode scanners. Barcode scanners that will be handled in warehouses or factories should be durable and built specifically for extreme environments. If your scanner will be used in a retail setting, you may want to consider a fixed mount scanner or possibly a cordless scanner.
Ultimately, even the most high-tech barcode scanner requires quality, durable barcode labels to function. Discover how our custom labels can help improve your inventory management through scannable barcodes. Or, if you have any questions about the best labels for your business, reach out to our team today.