The best way to implement any new system into your ongoing operations is to learn about the standard industry practices that everyone follows for that system. And barcode technology is no exception to that. So, that is why we are talking about barcode printing practices necessary to ensure quality AIDC solutions.
What are Barcodes?
Barcodes are pictorial representations of data on a label that is used to identify product groups. There are two types of barcodes, namely: 1 Dimensional (1D), and 2 Dimensional (2D). Both of these store data in binary format, using a combination of high-contrast bars (in 1D) or cells (in 2D).
These bars/cells represent “1” & “0”, based on their color. The scanner reads these patterns and converts the code into a readable format. 1D codes are simpler and can be read by any type of scanner, but they have a severe limitation on their data storage capacity. On the other hand, 2D codes have a vast data storage capacity, but they can only be read by area-image scanners.
How are Barcodes Created?
As you may have guessed, barcodes are printed. There are two primary methods of printing barcodes on labels, namely – Direct Thermal Printing, & Thermal Transfer Printing. In both processes, we use thermal energy/heat to create barcode prints on labels.
So, let’s see what they are.
(A). Direct Thermal
As the name suggests, in this method, the printer applies the heat directly to the label. This method uses a special type of label, with one side layered with a photochromatic material. The printhead uses heating pins to apply heat at certain sections on the label, the layer consists of small cells of photochromatic ink. This ink activates & changes color when heated, creating a barcode.
(B). Thermal Transfer
In the case of TTR, the printing process require two different components, namely – Label Roll, and Thermal Transfer Ribbon Roll. The labels can be made from a variety of materials, depending on the application and environmental factors. There are three types of ribbons, based on the materials used to make their inks, i.e., Wax, Resin, and Resin + Wax.
The ribbons are thin films made of PET, with a layer of heat-activated adhesive mixed with ink on one side. The printer compresses the side with the layer onto the label surface, and the printhead heats the ribbon from the backside. The heat melts the layer of adhesive and transfers it to the label surface.
What are the Best Barcode Printing Practices to Keep in Mind?
Now that you know the basics of barcode technology, let’s talk about some of the basic industry practices that will help users get a good quality final print.
(A). Size & Dimensions
The first thing that users need to keep in their mind is the size of the final print. Several factors can help one decide the perfect size of the barcode labels-
• Desired Read Distance – This is the first factor to keep in mind, depending on the distance from which the barcode will need to be scanned, will increase the size of the code.
• Total Cost – As the size of the label increases, so does the cost of printing each batch. Although the cost may be negligible for a single label, on an industrial scale, this can significantly add cost to the whole operation.
• Size of Packaging – I think we don’t need to mention that the label should be able to fit on the actual item. Although it’s not that of an issue, because most of the time the packaging is pretty big compared to a small label. However, still, one should keep in mind the packaging, and what sizes of labels can properly adhere to it.
• Code Version – Lastly, there are different types of formats/encryptions for barcodes, like – EAN 13, UPC A, ITF 14, Code 11, etc. All of these codes have different storage capacities and storage types. So, before printing, check which type of barcode standard fits your needs the best.
(B). Color Contrast
When it comes to operating, the scanner works by recognizing the difference between different colors of bars/cells. Depending on the type of scanner, this is done either through the difference in the intensity of the reflected light from the label or the image processing algorithm.
In any case, if the system is not able to properly identify the difference in the bars/cells, your barcode is pretty much useless. Therefore, it is essential that the colors on barcodes should be in extreme contrast to one another. This is the primary reason why barcodes are B&W by default.
(C). Applications & Surface Compatibilities
The last thing to remember is the type of printing technique and label material to choose for your barcode prints. This choice depends on a couple of factors like the environmental conditions at the site, the type of packaging surface, and the operational lifespan of the barcodes.
Elements like moisture, heat, and sunlight can affect certain kinds of barcodes severely, damaging them and preventing them from being read. On the other hand, not all type of labels is perfect for sticking on or working with every type of surface. Lastly, different types of barcodes have varying lifespans, for example, direct thermal barcodes generally last 6 to 8 months. On the other hand, TTR resin barcodes can last 4 to 5 years.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What is the best way to generate barcodes?
The best way to generate a custom barcode list/data is to use proper barcoding software. It can be 1st party or custom-designed software for your business.
Q2. What is the most efficient barcode?
As we have already mentioned that 2D barcodes can hold significantly more data than any 1D barcode, this is due to their ability to hold information along two axes. But, even in 2D barcodes, the PDF147 has the highest storage capacity of 1.1 kilobytes.
Q3. What are the two types of barcodes?
The main two classifications of barcodes are, namely – 1D & 2D. 1D barcodes hold data in the form of black & white bars, along a single, horizontal axis. On the other hand, 2D barcodes hold data in the form of cells inside a data matrix.