Barcodes are nothing but a combination of numbers and alphabets printed in a machine-readable format. Let’s take a look at the different types of barcodes and their uses.
Did You Know?
One of the oldest and most popular barcodes―Code 39―was developed by inventors Dr. David Allais and Ray Stevens in 1974. Its popularity can be attributed to the fact that ever since 1981, the U.S. Defense Department has used Code 39 for marking all its products. What’s more, these barcodes can be read by humans visually, without the need for special equipment.
Have you ever noticed the pattern of vertical black and white bars that are placed on price tags or credit/debit cards? These are called barcodes, and are generated by using a combination of numbers or alphabets. The purpose of such a representation is that this pattern contains important or useful information about the product that it adorns. You can store any information or links in these codes, which when scanned using a barcode scanner, transfers this data to the connected computer. Thus, the scanner gets basic details about the product.
If you observe a barcode, you will notice that it is made up of black vertical lines of varying thickness, interspersed with white spaces. Generally, the black lines are the encoded version of the number ‘1’, while white space denotes ‘0’. The binary number system represents numbers in the form of 1s and 0s. For example, 0 will be represented as 00 (binary), and thus, encoded as two white spaces. Similarly, 3 will be represented as 11 (binary), and thus, encoded as two black vertical bars or lines. With varied combinations possible, the types of barcodes in use today are really huge. Here, at Buzzle, we have tried to explain a few types of barcodes and their areas of application.
The first barcodes to be developed were 1D or linear barcodes. These are the barcodes that are often seen on household products and credit/debit cards. These bars represent numbers or characters, and usually, do not store a lot of information. Here are the different barcodes that fall under this category:
This barcode contains 16 characters and additional four start/stop characters. This code is self-checking, and hence, does not have a check digit.
➽ One character represents 4 bars and 3 spaces.
➽ 12 symbols (0-9, dash, and $) using combination of one wide bar and one wide space.
➽ 4 symbols (:, /, +, .) using 3 wide bars without any spaces.
➽ 4 start and stop symbols (A, B, C, D) using one wide bar and two wide spaces.
➽ U.S. blood banks, photo labs, FedEx airbills, libraries
Code 11 (USD-8)
This is a numeric-only barcode which encodes numbers from 0 to 9, dash, and start/stop characters. This barcode is not very secure, and hence, one or two check digits are used.
➽ 0-9, dash, start/stop characters
➽ ‘C’ checksum used if code contains 10 or less characters, while ‘C’ and ‘K’ checksums are used if the code is 11 characters or longer.
➽ Sum of weighed value of each character when divided by 11, gives the check digit C (K is calculated in similar manner).
➽ Telecommunications equipment
This barcode contains alphanumeric characters along with checksum digit for verification. It is divided into three code sets (A, B, and C), which can be mixed in one barcode, with each code set containing different characters.
➽ Encodes 128 characters, which includes 103 data symbols, 3 start and 2 stop symbols, and special characters.
➽ 128A (Code set A) includes ASCII characters 00 to 95 (0-9, A-Z, and control codes), special characters, and FNC 1-4.
➽ 128B (Code set B) includes ASCII characters 32 to 127 (0-9, A-Z, a-z), special characters, and FNC 1-4.
➽ 128C (Code set C) includes ASCII characters 00 to 99 (one code symbol for two digits), and FNC 1.
➽ Shipping and packaging industry for verification of container and pallet levels in the supply chain.
This is a variant of Code 39, and is also known as the Italian Pharmacode. This code was developed by the Italian Ministry of Health, and is a self-checking code, i.e., it doesn’t use any check digit.
➽ ‘A’ is the start character but is not part of the encoded data.
➽ Quiet zone of a width of 10 narrow bars.
➽ The Italian medication packaging industry.
Code 39 (USD-3)
This is the first alpha-numeric barcode which is used in non-retail markets. It is a variable-length symbol and is self-checking.
➽ Asterisk is the start and stop character.
➽ 43 characters consisting of special characters (-, ., $, /, +, %, and space), uppercase letters (A-Z), numeric digits (0-9).
➽ Each character has nine elements; five bars and four spaces
➽ The United States Department of Defense, Health Industry Bar Code Council (HIBCC), and automobile manufacturers.
This is an improved version of Code 39, but is 48 characters long (including *). This barcode represents the full ASCII character set by using a combination of 2 characters.
➽ Start and end character is asterisk.
➽ Each character is divided into nine modules, with three bars and spaces.
➽ 26 upper case alphabets (A-Z), 10 digits (0-9), 12 special characters (including *).
➽ Canada Post for delivery sorting services
This barcode is widely-used in consumer markets all over the world. It is similar to the UPC-A standard (the American version), the only difference being the number system (UPC-A uses single digit 0-9, while EAN-13 uses double digit 00-99).
➽ Divided into four areas: Number system, manufacturer code, product code, and check digit (the last digit to the right).
➽ 1 represents a bar, while 0 represents a space.
➽ Retail products and confectionery manufacturers.
This barcode is a shorter version of EAN-13. It has only four digits in the right and left halves. This barcode was developed because the longer EAN-13 didn’t fit on smaller packages!
➽ 8 characters are encoded.
➽ The left-hand and right-hand guard are encoded as 101.
➽ A check digit is used.
➽ Center guard bars are encoded as 01010.
➽ Small packaging items like cigarettes, pencils, chewing gum packets, etc.
It is a special form of EAN-13. The only change being that it starts with ’99’. It is used as an in-store coupon, which is relevant only in one store (they are distributed inside the store). 99 is the country code that this barcode uses.
It is a special form of EAN-8, with the first digit as 0. It is a shorter way to send data, and it is used by dealers for internally numbering the products when they are purchased from the producer/manufacturer.
Industrial 2 of 5
This barcode standard has been around since the ’60s and gets its name from the fact that characters are encoded with 5 bars, 2 of which are always wide. There are no spaces used in this barcode. The ones used are only for separating the bars.
➽ Checksum of modulo 10 may be included in the barcode.
➽ Start and stop characters are 11010110.
➽ Encoded characters are denoted with N (narrow bar) and W (wide bar).
➽ Photofinishing industry, warehouse firms, and airlines for their tickets.
Interleaved 2 of 5
This barcode is similar to Industrial 2 of 5 except that Interleaved 2 of 5 encodes information in the form of bars and spaces. The first numeric data is encoded in the first 5 bars, while the second numeric data is encoded in the 5 spaces that separate these bars.
➽ Start character is 1010.
➽ Stop character is 1101.
➽ Encoded characters are denoted with narrow and wide bars.
➽ Distribution and warehouse industry
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number which is a unique number assigned to each published book. It is a 13-digit number (few have 10 digit) which has a GS1 Prefix: 978 or 979. The encoded characters are separated by either a hyphen or a space.
➽ 978 or 979 prefix element
➽ Registration group element
➽ Registrant element
➽ Publication element
➽ Check digit
➽ Booksellers and stationers
The Universal Product Code (UPC-A) is the standard barcode symbol used in the United States. It is a 12-digit barcode with four areas: Number system, manufacturer code, product code, and check digit.
➽ 11 numeric data (0-9) along with check digit.
➽ Manufacturer code is a 5-digit number.
➽ Product code is a 5-digit number.
➽ All consumer products, books, newspapers, magazines.
It is a variation of the UPC-A, and one that eliminates the extra zeros from the barcode. It compresses the UPC-A barcode by reducing the 10 characters (manufacturer code and product code) to 6 characters! No check digit is included in this barcode, instead it is encoded in the parity of the 6 characters.
➽ Products with small packaging
These barcodes are for representational purposes only and have Techspirited encoded in them.
These barcodes are two-dimensional, and usually, store more information as compared to the one-dimensional codes. These codes have optical markers instead of ‘bars’. For firms looking to provide information to its users, 2D barcodes are the first choice. Here’s a list of the most-commonly used 2D barcodes.
This barcode contains light and dark square data modules that are placed in a specific finder pattern. It has a center dark module with concentric squares around it. The full core supports up to 32 layers, which can encode 1914 bytes (8-bit data values) of data. It also includes error correction codes that are based on Reed-Solomon algorithms, where the correction percentage of 5-95% can be chosen by the user.
➽ Transportation firms on their online tickets, invoices in Canada, car registration documents in Poland, and small item marking applications.
This barcode is based on the 1D barcode Code 128. It can encode the complete ASCII 128-character set, which includes alpha-numeric data. About 2 and 16 rows are used to represent data, such that each row has its unique start and stop identifiers. The scanner reads this data in any format and later on, rearranges it in a proper manner. There are two checksums (modulo 107) that are located the end of each row.
➽ Health care industry
The Portable Data File (PDF) 417 barcode has a fixed pattern of 4 bars and spaces, such that each pattern is 17 units long. It includes about 3 to 90 rows, with 929 codewords: 900 for data and 29 special characters. Reed-Solomon error correction 2 to 512 codewords are added. These codewords are arranged in different patterns, such that each pattern starts with a bar and ends with a space. This barcode has a quiet zone which is the minimum white space to be left before the code, left row indicato
➽ Print postage that are accepted by United States Postal Service, Airline industry as Bar Coded Boarding Pass standard (BCBP), FedEx on package labels, RealID complaint driver licenses.
The Compact Portable Data File (PDF) 417 barcode is a truncated version of PDF417, where the non-data overheads are compressed or omitted completely. In 1994, in the original AIM USA and Europe PDF417 specifications, this barcode was known as Truncated PDF417. However, later on to avoid confusion with the common use of term ‘truncated’, it was renamed as Compact PDF417.
➽ Industries where space constraints exist
This barcode is similar to PDF417 except for the addition of a control block. In this barcode, the large data files are broken into segments and individually encoded into symbols that are present in the control block. At the scanner end, the control block information is used to reconstruct the file correctly.
This barcode, though having similarities with PDF417, represents data in combination of rows, columns, and error correction (about 7) codewords. The maximum combination is up to four data columns by 44 rows. It is a multi-row barcode which is used for its symbol size reduction feature. The reduction takes place by three methods: Text compaction mode, binary compaction mode, and numeric compaction mode. It allows encoding of alpha-numeric data: 256 8-byte values.
This barcode contains black and white square modules that are arranged in a square or rectangular pattern. It can store up to 2335 alpha-numeric characters, which is about 1556 bytes of data. Reed-Solomon error correction codes are incorporated in the symbol, which allows recognition of codes that are 60% damaged.
➽ Lotteries, asset tracking, postal tracking, ID cards, manufacturing part tracking, patient bracelets, and medication packaging industry.
This barcode is capable of handling alpha-numeric characters, Kanji, Kana, Hiragana, symbols, binary, and control codes. The number of modules in each symbol are different in each version, i.e., Version 1 (21 x 21 modules) to Version 40 (177 x 177 modules). With the increment in versions, additional 4 modules per size are incorporated. These codes include error correction codewords that are capable of restoring data even if the code is damaged.
➽ Consumer advertising, virtual stores, operating systems, code payments, website logins, etc.
This barcode is known as the URL barcode, because the sole usage of this tag is to store website addresses. Based on the Data Matrix 2D symbol, the URLs are encoded into barcodes. This barcode was developed with an aim to be used with phones that have cameras, so as to capture a website address, and view the website in the browser.