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A Guide to Barcode Types and How They Are Used

A Guide to Barcode Types and How They Are Used

AIDC solutions are essential for the success of most businesses, they allow for the optimization of a lot of day-to-day tasks. They also provide accurate data collection & item identification & tracking solutions. Today we will discuss the types of barcodes & their applications.

What are Barcodes & How Do They Work?

Barcodes are a type of Automatic Identification & Data Collection (AIDC) technology, used in a variety of industries for asset identification & tracking. A barcode stores a limited amount of information/data in a visual format, not readable by the eyes. Essentially, this information can be used to identify the group an item belongs to, product code, price, etc. There are two methods that barcodes can use to store information, namely – Bars (used in 1D codes), and Data Matrix (used in 2D codes). However, they use the same format to record information.

In short, both types of barcodes use black & white bars/cells to store data in the form of bits. They can use colors other than black and white, but they must have a good contrast to allow the scanner to differentiate between them. The bit value assigned to the bars/cells depends on the type of code. In short, they can be either “0” or “1”.

Types of Barcodes

As we discussed above, there are two primary types of barcodes, namely – 1D (1 Dimensional), and 2D (2 Dimensional). However, there are also several other classifications of barcodes, based on the format & code it uses to store information.

So, let’s discuss the different types of barcodes & their applications.

1. Linear/1-Dimensional Barcodes

As the name suggests, these types of barcodes use a combination of bars, set along a single axis (mostly horizontal) to store information in the form of “1” and “0”. Due to them only storing data along a linear axis, they have severe limitations in their data-storing capacity. These types of codes can be read by any type of barcode scanner.

In the case of LED or Laser scanners, the scanner illuminates the bars with the help of an LED or Laser. The reflected light from the code has different levels of illumination, due to the difference in the colors. The sensor picks up this difference and differentiates between a white bar and a black bar. In the case of an Area-Imagine scanner, the camera captures the image of the code & uses image processing algorithms to scan the code.

So, let’s discuss the different types of 1-D barcodes & their uses.

UPC Code

These codes are applied to products mainly at the point of sale, the full form of UPC is Universal Product Code. These codes generally contain company information and product identification.

EAN Code

These codes are much like the UPC, they are also used at the point of sale, but their major use is seen in Europe. They do have an advantage over the previous code type. EAN codes are very dense, thus, they can be applied to small products and constricted spaces.

Code 39

They see their primary application in automotive industries, this is due to their ability to store both digits & characters. They also have a greater data storage capacity than the previous two codes, originally 39 digits (hence the name), but it has since been improved.

Code 128

A type of barcode format, with a very high density of data storage. These cannot be read by every type of scanner. Their high storage capacity makes them perfect for use in logistics & transit operations. They form an essential component of AIDC in Supply Chains.


These codes are specially designed to be applied on hard-to-print surfaces, like cardboard and other packaging materials. To be functionally viable, these codes are designed to have a high print tolerance, meaning that they can warp or shift to a degree & still be readable without errors.

Code 93

These barcodes are highly dense, have redundancy features, and are very compact. They are generally used to label electronic, packages, etc. Their additional features make them compatible for use in a variety of industries.


Codabar is a format of barcodes that is extremely popular due to its ease of use. These are very simplistic and can even be printed by the most basic printers, or even typewriters. These barcodes are primarily applied in the healthcare & education industry. They can store up to 16 characters of data.


These codes are used in the retail sector & healthcare. They are very compact and allow for the streamlining of billing procedures. They are usually applied to discount coupons, perishable items, etc.


Plessey codes are used for the purposes of inventory management in retail & warehousing sectors.

2. Data Matrix/2-Dimensional Barcodes

These types of barcodes stores data along both the horizontal and vertical axes. Instead of using bars, these codes use dots (cells) of different colors. Compared to linear barcodes, these types of codes have a much better data-storing capacity. 2D barcodes store data inside a data matrix & are a bit more complex than 1D codes. Unlike 1D barcodes, these codes can only be read by area-imagine scanners.

These are a few types of 2D barcodes

QR Codes

The most commonly available type of 2D barcode in the present day. They can be used for tracking items, advertisements, online coupons, user traffic redirection, online transactions, etc. In addition to a large data storage capacity, Quick Response (QR) codes have several safety features. These features allow the code to remain readable, even in the event of damaged labels, like scratches, smudges, etc. We can even use these codes to safely send data like Contact Information, SMS, emails, URLs, etc.


These are extremely compact and highly data-dense, making them perfect for use on small-sized items. Data Matrix code labels are mainly used on small electronic components for identification & tracking. Similar to QR codes they have data redundancy features that keep it operational even in case of limited damage. They provide good reading speed & are designed to be readable from different angles.


PDF417 offers the highest data storing capacity and is extremely data dense. These barcodes can hold up to 1.1 kb of data. They have a variety of applications in logistics & inventory control.


If you are a frequent flyer or traveler, you might be very familiar with these codes. These are mainly used on tickets, their ability to be readable without requiring a quiet zone and on low resolution, makes them extremely useful in small spaces.

How to Select the Right Barcode?

If you’ve read the above section, you probably already know which type of barcode is most compatible with which industry. However, in case you want your AIDC solutions to be more personalized and unconventional, here are some things you should know.

Nature of Your Business

Firstly, you need to keep in mind what exactly your business is. In short, depending on the environment inside the facility (like the possibility of physical damage, extreme temperatures, etc.) you have a variety of barcodes you can choose from.

Barcode Application

Secondly, keep in mind the exact application of the barcode, is it going to be used for item tracking, inventory management, or billing? Different types of barcodes are most applicable for different types of functions.

Data Density Requirement

Lastly, you need to check how much data you want to store in the barcode. If you require a large data capacity code, then you most probably will have to choose a 2-D barcode.

  • Last updated on May 12, 2023
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