What Are Barcodes?

Barcodes, Barcodes, Barcodes!

What are barcodes? Ever wonder why there are so many different ones?

The answer lies within what kind of data, how much data, and what the common uses are of the barcode. Barcodes are methods of machine-readable data identification and collection. They were first introduced in the 1940s and have evolved across a wide variety of industries. Barcodes have tracking capabilities that go far beyond the supermarket checkout. They provide a useful means to capture and share data electronically.

Barcodes are expressed as a series of wide and narrow bars. They usually have unique start and stop codes so that the barcode scanner can determine if the barcode is being scanned forward or backward. When scanned a signal goes to the computer and decodes the information.

Barcodes are split into four different categories. These include:

  1. Numeric-Only Barcodes:
    • Usually used for retail applications in the US and Canada
    • Have error correction and self-checking features
    • UPC barcodes fall in this category
  2. Alpha-Numeric:
    • All-purpose worldwide code
    • Can include large quantity of information and error reduction
    • Widely used in healthcare industry
  3. 2-Dimensional:
    • Used for order confirmation and material control
    • Ideal for encoding large amounts of information
    • QR codes fall in this category
  4. Industry Standards for Labels: Made up of industries using their own barcode systems
    • Bookland EAN encodes ISBN numbers, used internationally to mark books
    • ISSN and the SISAC Barcode: International Standard Serial Numbering
    • OPC: Optical Industry Association barcode for marking retail optical products
    • UCC/EAN-128: Widely used data formatting model for Code 128
    • UPC Shipping Container Symbol: ITF-14

With all these available options at times it can be difficult to decide which barcode is the best solution. To compare all the barcode possibilities check out: http://www.makebarcode.com/specs/barcodechart.html. Do some digging and see what fits your present task the best!


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