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With so many different types of barcodes available, understanding which one to use for your specific application can be daunting. In this post, we’ll walk you through the most popular 1D and 2D barcode types, the common applications for each, and the characters they support. The barcode types covered: Code 39, Code 128, UPC, EAN, Interleaved 2 of 5, Codabar, QR code, Data Matrix, and PDF417.

See our quick guide to help narrow down the best barcode for your application:

Quick Guide

Will the barcode be used on a retail product to be sold in stores?
Is there limited space for the barcode on retail product packaging?
Does the barcode need to support alphanumeric characters?
Will the barcode be printed on corrugated cardboard?
Does the barcode require large amounts of data?
Is the barcode to be used to track company assets or inventory management?
Does the barcode need to be printed on an impact style printer?

One-Dimensional (1D) Barcodes

One-dimensional, or 1D, barcodes include the most recognized or traditional barcode types like those used for product labeling or asset management. These types of barcodes are comprised of a set of parallel lines on a contrasting background. The data is encoded by varying the width and spacing of the parallel lines and spaces. Common symbologies include Code 39, Code 128, UPC, EAN, and Interleaved 2 of 5.

Barcode with code 39 symbology

Code 39

 

Code 39 barcodes are the most popular, general-purpose barcode that can be read by virtually any barcode reader. It’s similar to, but not as compact as, the Code 128 barcode and is used extensively by the automotive industry and for asset tracking. Its name originated from initially being able to encode only 39 characters, though that has since increased to 43.

  • Common uses: Asset/Property ID tags, Parking Permits, Name Badges, Industrial Applications
  • Characters supported: Uppercase alphanumeric (including special characters)
  • Other names: Code 3 of 9, Code 9/3, Type 39, USS Code 39, USD-3

Barcode with code 128 symbology

Code 128

 

These compact, high-density barcodes are used for applications that require larger sets of numbers. Often used for supply chain applications and asset management, Code 128 barcodes can support any character in the ASCII 128.

  • Common uses: Asset/Property ID tags, Supply Chain, Industrial Applications
  • Characters supported: Upper and lowercase alphanumeric (including special characters)
  • Other names: Code 128A, B, or C

Barcode featuring UPC-A symbology

UPC

 

UPC (Universal Product Code) barcodes are required for all retail products and are mainly used in the United States. The UPC-A encodes 12 numeric digits, while the UPC-E codes are compressed UPC codes used primarily for small retail products with packaging and labeling space constraints.

  • Common uses: Product Labels
  • Characters supported: Numeric only
  • Other names: UPC-A, UPC-E

Barcode with EAN-13 symbology

EAN

 

Similar to UPC codes, EAN barcodes are required for all retail products, but are primarily used in Europe. The EAN-13 encodes 13 numeric digits, while EAN-8 codes are compressed versions for small products with packaging and labeling space constraints. ISBNs are unique numeric book identifiers.

  • Common uses: Product Labels
  • Characters supported: Numeric only
  • Other names: EAN-13, EAN-8, ISBN

Barcode with interleaved 2 of 5 symbology

Interleaved 2 of 5

 

Interleaved 2 of 5, or ITF, barcodes are often used around the globe for labeling packaging materials because it can handle high-printing tolerances required for use on corrugated cardboard. Because of the imprecise nature of printing on cardboard, ITF barcodes are often printed with a black border, or bearer bar, for scanner readability.

  • Common uses: Packaging
  • Characters supported: Numeric only
  • Other names: Code 2 of 5, ITF, ITF-14

Barcode with codabar symbology

Codabar

 

Developed by Pitney Bowes, Codabar barcodes can be produced by any impact style printer, including typewriters and are used primarily by logistics and healthcare industries, including U.S. blood banks, libraries, photo labs, and FedEx. This self-checking symbology encodes up to 16 characters, plus four additional start/stop characters.

  • Common uses: Logistics, Healthcare, Education
  • Characters supported: Alphanumeric (including special characters)
  • Other names: Code 2 of 7, USD-4, Ames Code

Two-Dimensional (2D) Barcodes

Two-dimensional, or 2D, barcodes were born from the need to store more information in a barcode with a high-fault tolerance. These types of barcodes are usually a square shape and represent data using two-dimensional symbols and shapes. Common symbologies include QR codes, Datamatrix, and PDF417.

QR barcode

QR

 

QR codes are a type of 2D matrix barcode that provide easy access to information through a smartphone, not a laser scanner and are often used for applications with a strong consumer focus, including product labels, business cards, or marketing purposes. QR codes have a high-fault tolerance, are flexible in size, and are public domain.

  • Common uses: Product Labels, Business Cards, Marketing & Advertising Efforts
  • Characters supported: All
  • Other names: 2D

Barcode with data matrix symbology

Data Matrix

 

Data Matrix codes are 2D barcodes consisting of black and white modules arranged in either a square or rectangle pattern and are ideal for labeling small items and goods for their high-tolerance and fast readability. A data matrix symbol can store up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters.

  • Common uses: Electronics, Government, Product Labels
  • Characters supported: Alphanumeric
  • Other names: Micro-Datamatrix

Barcode with PDF417 symbology

PDF417

 

PDF417 codes are 2D barcodes often used for applications that require large amounts of data, primarily identification, transportation, and inventory management. PDF stands for Portable Data File, while the 417 signifies that each code pattern consists of four bars and spaces that are 17 units long. PDF417 codes are more powerful than other 2D barcodes as they can hold over a kilobyte of machine-readable data.

  • Common uses: Government, Logistics
  • Characters supported: All
  • Other names: Truncated PDF417

Once you’ve decided what barcode is best for your application, the next step is printing your barcode on labels. Check out our barcode page to see our full range of custom-printed and stock labels to fit any of your barcode labeling needs.

Sources:

Should I Use 1D or 2D Barcode Format, Sagedata: http://www.sagedata.com/learning_centre/Should-I-use-1D-or-2D-barcodes.html
About Barcodes, Computalabel: http://www.computalabel.com/aboutindex.htm
Types Of Barcodes, Scandit: http://www.scandit.com/2015/01/27/types-barcodes-choosing-right-barcode/

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