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Barcode Color Combinations

Maybe it’s just the time of year when we all start thinking about color more, but we’ve recently had some questions about different color combinations for barcode labels. We generally recommend that if you are putting a barcode on a product label, you add white to the background in the location of the barcode, and print the barcode in black. But does your barcode have to be restricted to black and white? Can you have other barcode color combinations on your labels?

Scanner Limitations

Because barcode scanners use a light source at the red end of the spectrum (sometimes even infrared, invisible to the human eye), they can have a hard time picking up yellow and red colors. Blacks and blues are easier for them. High contrast between colors also improves the scanner’s accuracy. Low contrast can make a barcode unreadable, especially by lower-end CCD and laser scanners. In fact, low contrast between bars and background may be the most common reason for a scanner to fail to “see” the barcode.

Black on white provides the best contrast. For one reason or another, however, sometimes you just need to incorporate a color into the barcode area of a label. (Here in the Pacific Northwest, winter can be an excellent reason to add color!) In this case, because of the scanner’s red light source, you can use colors toward the lighter end of the red spectrum for the background color. The bars need to remain dark and at the bluer end of the color spectrum, to provide that contrast.

Best & Worst Barcode Colors

 

Good Color Combinations

These combinations will scan:

  • Bars are dark blue, dark green, dark brown, or black;
  • Backgrounds are white, or in the yellow or red spectrum.

Bad Color Combinations

These combinations will not scan well:

  • Bars are white or in the red or yellow spectrum
    (scanners can’t see these colors well);
  • Backgrounds are dark or in the blue or black spectrum.
Good barcode color combinations

Bad barcode color combinations

General Rules for Barcode Color Combinations

  • Bars should be dark – black, dark blue, dark brown, or dark green – and only one color
  • Background colors for the “Quiet Zones” and the spaces between the bars should be light.
  • Because of the red light source in the scanner, background colors may also be in the red spectrum. The spectrum includes yellow, peach, and similar shades.

If you decide on something other than black bars on a white background, we recommend you test your barcode color combination with different scanners to ensure readability and to avoid potential problems.

More Information

Types of barcodes
Barcode labels from MaverickLabel.com
GS1 US – Get barcodes & UPCs, learn about global supply chain standards, and more
How barcode scanners work

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