Barcodes are machine-readable symbols that are designed to carry data to support a variety of use cases. Barcodes allow important information to be automatically captured by systems to reduce errors and save time. Barcodes contain patterns that represent numbers, letters, or special characters that are read by scanners. These scanners connect to systems that store and use the information encoded in the barcode.
Generally, the best way to determine a barcode type will vary based on what information needs to be in the barcode, where it will be scanned, and if any regulations apply. Some types can include supplementary details about that product, like expiration dates or a batch/lot number. In addition to products, barcodes can contain information on a location, shipment, a returnable asset, a document, or other items that need data to be automatically captured and used by systems.
Identifying Barcodes and their use cases
One way or another we have all interacted with a barcode; scanning a product at checkout, or returning a package, but there’s so much more going on behind the scenes. Our world is filled with the multiple use cases for barcodes. In business you’ll need the right barcode to get your product into the hands of customers.
Your product or service may rely on multiple types of barcodes, providing total visibility from manufacturing, shipping & logistics, distribution, inventory management, all the way down to managing in store returns and purchases.
GS1 helps to create an all-in-one solution by providing a globally recognized and authentic barcode. GS1 provides a robust solution of globally unique identification and barcodes.
Read on to learn more about the right barcode type for your needs
A UPC-A barcode is a linear, or 1D barcode. UPC A barcodes are made up of 12 digits these digits are used to help identify the product and its manufacturer. UPC-A barcodes are used globally and is one of the many widely used barcodes in the United States and North America.
The barcode is used for retail products like groceries, electronics, clothes, toys, cosmetics, DIY materials, and just about everything else you may buy or sell in a retail environment. UPC-A barcodes can also be used outside of retail on things likes cases and pallets.
The EAN-13 barcode is also a linear, or 1D barcode. The “EAN” stands for European Article Number. As the name suggests this barcode is commonly found outside of North America, however like all GS1 US barcodes it is recognized globally. EAN-13 barcodes are found in the same retail spaces as UPC-A barcodes are found.
The GS1-128 barcode is commonly used in support of uses cases involving general distribution and logistic applications. It encodes either the GTIN or Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) when a logistics label is what you need, but what makes it unique from other liner barcodes, is its ability to carry attribute data about a product using such as best before date, batch/lot number, quantity, weight, and many other attributes.
Data Matrix Barcode
Data Matrix can encode a large amount of data in a relatively small space. A data matrix comes in square and rectangular versions and contains built-in error correction that adds to their reliability. Like a QR code, they can link to websites with product information, providing more data or a consumer experience.
It is a 2D barcode that is used in a variety of applications. GS1 Data Matrix is used extensively on medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and other healthcare products. Additionally, GS1 Data Matrix is used in fresh foods, construction, and other products that require more information beyond the standard barcode.
This type of barcode can be put into a web friendly, GS1 Digital Link format that looks just like the URLs used in your browser. This web-friendly URL data format allows a Data Matrix to connect users to online resources just like a QR Code does.
EAN-8 barcodes are linear, 1D barcodes. The EAN 8 is the European variant (European Article Number) of the UPC E. EAN 8 barcodes are used when space is limited on their packaging, it is a condensed version of the EAN 13. The EAN 8 consists of 8 digits. The 8 digits are displayed as two groups of four, they identify the product and what country issued the barcode.
The ITF-14 is generally used on higher packaging levels of a product, such as a case or carton that are not scanned at point of sale. It lends itself well to be directly printed on corrugated material. Used on cases, pallets, and logistic units in general distribution.
General distribution means how product moves around, typically via warehouses.
A QR Code is a type of 2D barcode that is frequently used by consumers to information about something on the web. The GS1 identifiers and data that brands and retailers use today for their products can be used in a QR code too! GS1 Digital Link is a format for doing just that, making products web-friendly, allowing for more robust consumer engagement, while still enabling supply chain functions, like price look up.
Barcode vs QR Code
Barcode is a broad term that includes linear, 1D barcodes like UPC-A, EAN-13, ITF-14, and GS1-128, 2D barcodes like Data Matrix, GS1 DataMatrix and QR Code, and other barcode types. QR Codes are a specific type of barcode that are routinely scanned using mobile devices to access online content.
What is a 2D barcode
2D barcodes are matrix symbols that encode information in a grid pattern. The first 2D barcodes were developed in the late 1980’s in response to the need to encode more data in a smaller space than what is possible with 1D barcodes.
New 2D barcodes were developed to further enhance their efficiency and ability to meet business needs with many of the barcodes we use today invented in the 1990’s. Many 2D barcodes also include error correction which allows barcodes with damage or are otherwise obscured to be readable. The use of 2D barcodes continues to grow and the need to access information expands.
What is a 3D Barcode
The term 3D barcode is sometimes used to describe barcodes that are applied to an object through dot peening, engraving, etching, embroidery, and other means that result in a three-dimensional, “bumpy” application. 2D barcodes like Data Matrix and QR Codes can be applied directly. In some cases, special scanning equipment is needed to scan these barcodes. Medical instruments that are sterilized and reused; machinery that is exposed to harsh environments, and uniforms that get washed are all examples of items that may have a 3D barcode.