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Bar code: An information technology application that uniquely identifies various

aspects of product characteristics as well as additional information regarding delivery

and handling instructions. The information is read by scanning devices and greatly
increases the speed, accuracy, and productivity of the distribution process.

• universal product code

universal product code (UPC):

1. (retailing definition) A national coordinated system of product identification by
which a ten-digit number is assigned to products. The UPC is designed so that at the
checkout counter an electronic scanner will read the symbol on the product and
automatically transmit the information to a computer that controls the sales register.
The code is called OCR-A.
2. (environments definition) A set of bars or lines, printed on most items sold in
supermarkets and other mass retailing outlets, that permits computers at checkout
counters to retrieve the price of the item from its memory or data base. The data
generated can be used for a wide variety of marketing decisions such as inventory
control, allocation of shelf space, advertising, pricing, and so on.

Bar Code Basics


This information is to help you understand bar codes so that you can better plan
for your bar coding applications. The use of bar coding has been growing
dramatically over the last 15 years. With the adoption of UPC as the standard for
retail grocery stores in the late 70's, bar codes have become an everyday
experience for most people. Bar codes are a fast, easy, and accurate data entry
method. The correct use of bar codes can decrease employee time required and
increase an organization's efficiency.

One thing to remember with bar codes: the application software that accepts the
bar code data is in 95% control of the success or failure of an application. Bar
codes are the sizzle on the software steak. You can eat steak without sizzle, but
you can't eat sizzle without steak. Remember that bar codes are just another
data input method; what you do with the data is most important. With the
introduction of the IBM PC in the early 80's, bar coding applications expanded
along with the PC explosion. Worth Data was and is a pioneer in providing bar
code hardware and printing software to the PC (and Macintosh) user. Most of this
booklet is devoted to bar coding in the microcomputer marketplace.

We hope this booklet proves of benefit to you in understanding bar codes and its
associated technology. We wish you well in your undertakings and hope to be able
to supply you with equipment and software to meet your needs.

What's in a bar code?

There is a mystique surrounding bar codes which intimidates many people. Let's
eliminate it quickly. First the bar code usually doesn't contain descriptive data,
(just like your social security number or car's license plate number doesn't have
anything about your name or where you live). The data in a bar code is just a
reference number which the computer uses to look up associated computer disk
record(s) which contain descriptive data and other pertinent information.

For example, the bar codes found on food items at grocery stores don't contain
the price or description of the food item; instead the bar code has a "product
number" (12 digits) in it. When read by a bar code reader and transmitted to the
computer, the computer finds the disk file item record(s) associated with that
item number. In the disk file is the price, vendor name, quantity on-hand,
description, etc. The computer does a "price lookup" by reading the bar code, and
then it creates a register of the items and adds the price to the subtotal of the
groceries purchased. (It also subtracts the quantity from the "on-hand" total.)

Another example of bar code data might be in a quality reporting application, the
bar code may have only a single digit in it, but it may be titled "Failed Vibration
Test". The computer associates the single digit with the test result.

So, bar codes typically have only ID data in them; the ID data is used by the
computer to look up all the pertinent detailed data associated with the ID data.

Bar Code Structure

A bar code is a series of varying width vertical lines (called bars) and spaces. Bars
and spaces together are named "elements". There are different combinations of
the bars and spaces which represent different characters.

When a bar code scanner is passed over the bar code, the light source from the
scanner is absorbed by the dark bars and not reflected, but it is reflected by the
light spaces. A photocell detector in the scanner receives the reflected light and
converts the light into an electrical signal.

As the wand is passed over the bar code, the scanner creates a low electrical
signal for the spaces (reflected light) and a high electrical signal for the bars
(nothing is reflected); the duration of the electrical signal determines wide vs.
narrow elements. This signal can be "decoded" by the bar code reader's decoder
into the characters that the bar code represents. The decoded data is then passed
to the computer in a traditional data format.
Bar Code Selection Recommendations

For new bar coding projects that don't have industry or customer standards, Code
39 is the typical non-food standard, because almost all bar code equipment
reads/prints Code 39. However, Code 39 produces relatively long bar codes; it is
not particularly efficient in bar code density, (the maximum density is 9.4
characters per inch including 2 start/stop characters). Where the label width is an
issue and there is numeric data or lower case data, Code 128 is the best
alternative; Code 128 also has an extra efficient numeric only packing scheme to
produce very dense bar codes, and Code 128 has all 128 ASCII characters. Not all
readers read Code 128, so before you settle on it as a standard, be sure that your
reader is 128 capable. Code 93 has been promoted by only one vendor; it
requires two characters to make Full ASCII; and it doesn't have a numeric
packing option. For these reasons, Code 128 is preferable over Code 93.

The larger the width of the elements, the more space it takes to print the bar
code; therefore, the lower the bar code density. The thinner the bar and spaces,
the less space is required and the higher the bar code density. Look at the
samples below of different densities:

Lower density bar codes are more reliably printed and more consistently read
than higher density bar codes, because minor variations (due to printing or
damage) are much more serious with high density bar codes - the percentage of
distortion is larger.

Bar Code Readers

There are three basic types of bar code readers: fixed, portable batch, and
portable RF. Fixed readers remain attached to their host computer and terminal
and transmit one data item at a time as the data is scanned. Portable batch
readers are battery operated and store data into memory for later batch transfer
to a host computer. Some advanced portable readers can operate in non-portable
mode too, often eliminating the need for a separate fixed reader. Portable RF
Readers are battery operated and transmit data real-time, on-line. More
importantly, the real-time, two-way communication allows the host to instruct the
operator what to do next based on what just happened.

A basic bar code reader consists of a decoder and a scanner, (a cable is also
required to interface the decoder to the computer or terminal). The basic
operation of a scanner is to scan a bar code symbol and provide an electrical
output that corresponds to the bars and spaces of a bar code. A decoder is
usually a separate box which takes the digitized bar space patterns, decodes
them to the correct data, and transmits the data to the computer over wires or
wireless, immediately or on a batch basis.

Printing Bar Codes

There are several methods of getting printed bar codes; these are:

• Buying photocomposed bar codes from a label manufacturer.

• Printing your bar codes with inexpensive labeling software on your
personal computer's dot matrix, laser, or inkjet printer.
• Printing bar codes on a specialized bar code label printer.
• For manufacturers who need bar codes printed in their product's
packaging, use purchased film masters or use bar code fonts suitable for
PostScript® film output.

Whatever printing source you decide upon, there are a few common sense tips to
pass on:

• Stay away from colored bar codes (use black) and colored backgrounds
(use white). Any other colors lower the contrast between bars and spaces
and therefore lower readability.
• Do thorough readability testing on any labels before distribution. Be
careful. Don't discover a problem after you have distributed 10,000 labels
that need to be recalled.

Pre-printed Labels
If the only bar code application you are doing is an application such as fixed asset
inventory tracking and employee badges, pre-printed serialized labels make a lot
of sense. Photocomposed labels are usually very high quality and you can buy
5000 for around $300. Libraries typically use pre-printed labels. Why? Because
the labels need to last for 25 years and the volume is usually 100,000 per library.
High quality, durable, laminated photocomposed labels are usually used.
Companies like Data 2 (800-227-2121) supply such labels.

(You can also print high quality durable labels on a thermal transfer printer using
XT Polyester label stock or on a laser printer with a poly label stock (call Worth
Data for our Worth Poly™ Polyester Laser Label stock); such stock is more
expensive than paper. ).

Printing on PC Printers
With the proper PC software, today’s printers are capable of printing excellent
quality bar codes. Ink Jet and Dot Matrix printers cannot print high- density bar
codes, but laser printers can. Laser printers actually print the best quality bar
codes of any commonly available printing technology.

Laser Printing
Laser printers can produce outstanding quality bar codes. The quality is
consistent even when toner gets low; it is obvious and is not subject to
interpretation. (When the toner cartridge is changed, it is important to follow the
replacement cleaning instructions, including cleaning the corona wire, especially
for high density bar code printing.)
Labels are sectionalized on a 8 1/2" x 11" page in multiple columns
and/or rows. For example, mailing labels (1" by 2.8") appear in 3
columns and 11 rows, 33 labels per page. Since laser printers feed
one sheet at a time, it is impractical to print one label at a time.

There is an unprintable area 1/4" inch to the left, right, top, and
bottom of any form; this makes full labels impossible unless you
sacrifice the top row and maybe the bottom row of labels. One trick
in laser printing is to use label stock with the laser's unprintable
areas cut as a border picture frame around the printable label's area.
For example, the previous example of 33 mailing labels per page
would be 30 labels per page with the unprintable area isolated as a picture frame
border. The top and left margin settings in the program would adjust the labeling
program to the picture frame label stock's unprintable borders.

Laser printers are great for producing batches of labels, but if

you need only one label (where there are multiple labels per
page) at a time, dot matrix or thermal transfer printers are
required. Laser printing is the best quality of all types.

There are several types of label stock available for laser

printers. If you need to print durable labels, Worth Data offers
a polyester label stock designed especially for laser printers.
Worth Poly ™ is made from a special white, matte finish, heat
stabilized polyester film designed for laser printers. When printed on a laser
printer, the resulting label is heat resistant, water-resistant, light resistant, scuff
resistant, smudge resistant, and stain resistant. These labels are ideal for any
labels that you want to last through rough handling, repeated usage, outdoor
usage, or other harsh environments. The permanent adhesive is designed to keep
your label adhered to wood, metal, plastic, or glass for years. You pay a little
more, but you get a lot more label for the money.

Windows programs usually give you rich text fonts, more rotations, and excellent
image graphics printing. The labeling programs for Windows often support
Postscript printers.

Ink Jet Printers

These printers are getting better and better. They print pages of labels, so refer
to the page label stock discussion below regarding page laser label stock. Also,
use label stock specifically meant for inkjet printers – the stock is usually coated
to minimize ink bleed. Always test your bar code labels for readability before
printing in bulk.

Inkjet printers are almost exclusively supported by Windows programs. If you

have problems, check to make sure you are using the latest driver version from
the printer manufacturer. Also, be sure to select a printer that has a separate
black cartridge in addition to the color cartridge.

If labels you are printing are going to be exposed to water, don't use the inkjet
printers – most inkjet ink is water-soluble. Inkjet printers are NOT the best
printer to use to print labels that need to withstand the weather or are subjected
to constant scanning.

Beware; the inkjet cost per page in color is twice cost of a black and white print.
Thermal Transfer Printing
Thermal transfer printers are required when you need either to print one label at
a time or when you need to print a roll of labels so that labels can be applied by
applicators directly to boxes. Volume industrial printing in the 90's is done mostly
by thermal transfer printers. They are fast and produce excellent quality bar

Thermal transfer refers to the printhead heating up and melting a ribbon onto the
label surface. Most thermal transfer printers can also produce "direct thermal"
labels, but paper instead of a soft ribbon wears out the printhead 10 times faster;
another disadvantage of thermal printing is that most thermal labels cannot be
read with IR light and deteriorate in sunlight to non-readability over time. The
media cost is about the same as laser and direct thermal. Therefore thermal
transfer printing is far more popular than thermal printing for serious label

Beware of the CoStar and Seiko thermal printers for producing serious bar codes.
They have two problems:

• The bar codes are just a little off. (The naked eye can often see three sizes
of bars when only two are supposed to be possible).
• They are thermal printers producing bar code labels that will deteriorate to
unreadability in sunlight.
• They are inexpensive, so they are very attractive, but beware.

Most popular thermal transfer printers can produce labels up to about 4" wide
(more expensive models can print at 6" or even 8") and lengths up to 8 inches
plus. Smaller widths can of course be accommodated. Popular thermal transfer
printers are manufactured by Citizen, Sato, Zebra, and Datamax; these are the
major brands.

You can get almost any type of label stock imaginable for thermal transfer
printers; high temperature, weather proof, surface laminated, jewelry ring stock,
card stock, tag stock, etc.

The basic paper labels with inexpensive ribbons produce bar codes that can be
smeared or smudged with hard rubbing by the fingers. Smudge proof labels can
be produced with more expensive synthetic label stock and a ribbon with less wax
and more resin (hybrid or P2 Ribbon). Scratch- proof laminated labels can be
produced with XT Polyester and a high resin ribbon; when heated, the resin and
polyester coating fuse to make a very durable label. Worth Data has a variety of
paper, synthetic and polyester labels stocks and ribbons to choose from.

These printers generally print from 2" to 12" per second; at any width up to the
maximum, the printers print 2" to 12" lengths per second. Find out if the rated
speed quoted for the printer you are considering is to be expected when printing
bar codes or graphics - for this, many printers slow down to less than 1/2 their
quoted speed.

The print heads wear out on thermal or thermal transfer printers. To maximize
the print head life, clean it between every ribbon change with a cleaning card or
with a lint-free q-tip soaked in alcohol -a MUST to avoid continually replacing
printheads. Unlike most dot matrix and laser printers, the thermal transfer
printers discussed have scalable text fonts and bar code fonts resident in the
printers firmware. The software necessary to print the bar codes is a series of
special command sequences. So you can add printing on a thermal transfer
printer to one of your existing programs, providing there is someone semi-skilled
at programming.

However, most users want a general purpose design labeling program which
requires no programming. It helps to buy the printer from the developer of the
labeling software so that you have a single party who has an interest in keeping
the software bug-free and matching the printers capabilities that you want.

Dot Matrix Printing

Dot matrix printers can produce good quality low volume bar code labels. When
printing low-medium (3.7cpi or lower for Code 39), the labels can be excellent
quality. The Epson, IBM, and Okidata printers have adequate graphics capability
to yield good quality bar codes. You will need a dot matrix printer with a pin feed
platen to successfully print the variety of label sizes.

There's one catch though - you must not wait too long to change the ribbon. The
printer operator must make a judgment call on when to change the ribbon. It's
best to tape a bar code of minimum acceptable darkness on the printer, so the
operator can't make a judgment error. Programs that can strike the bar codes
multiple times can keep the ribbon expense down.

Both 24-pin and 9-pin printers can produce good quality bar codes. The 24- pin
printers produce better bar codes than 9-pin printers, especially as the ribbon is
getting low on ink. The 24-pins simply put more ink on the paper.

Bar Code Applications

Bar Code applications are growing by the day as creative people find ways to
enjoy data entry efficiency possible with bar codes. The following is a brief
discussion of some major applications: (the key to all of these applications is the
software; the software is the steak, the bar code is the sizzle).

Data Capture Applications

Assembly Checking - usually done with custom assemblies, a terminal leads the
operator in what to assemble; as the operator scans each part or subassembly
added, the computer can monitor for correct specifications.

Fixed Asset Inventory Control - large organizations have multitudes of

furniture, PC's, fixtures, etc. The exact location for each item determines cost
allocations. Bar codes are placed on all items and bar codes are placed on walls of
each location. With a portable bar code reader, the location is wanded and then all
items in that location are wanded; the data is then uploaded to the computer for
accurate depreciation cost allocation.

Job Costing and Tracking - as item(s) are completed, scanning results into a
terminal. (Multiple operators use a single terminal).

Labor Distribution - again using employee badges, as employees move from

department to another, the employee scans in his badge at the new department's
terminal. This allows payroll cost allocation to departments..

Library Automation - bar codes on ID cards of patrons and bar codes on books.
Automatic check out.

Meter Reading - similar to a pick list, but downloading to portable terminal the
list of addresses to be read, along with the bar code ID of the meter, so that the
terminal checks that the operator is indeed reading the right meter.

Order Books - catalogs of items with associated bar codes. Used for order
taking, estimating car repair costs, route accounting, etc.

Point of Sale - at the cash register (or equivalent), scanning the bar code into a
computer which looks up the item scanned and displays the description and price
plus decreasing the on-hand inventory by the quantity purchased.

Records Management - for patient records, case records, loan records, etc., a
bar code is placed on the folder. Then as the units are checked out, the folder is
scanned and the borrower's ID card is scanned. As the unit is passed from one
station to another, the item is scanned so that it can be tracked through the

Remittance Processing - printing a bar code on the remittance stub or the

invoice stub so that when the customer returns the stub with his payment, it can
be wanded to bring up the data or to complete full payments.

Stock Taking - the classic portable bar code reader application. The operator
scans the codes of the items (perhaps scanning only one of multiple items and
then entering the quantity for that item) and then uploading the stored scanned
data to the computer later, thereby correcting the computer's files for what is
actually on the floor.

Time and Attendance - employee badges with bar codes are read at clock-in
and clock-out into a computer or terminal to provide attendance data to the
computerized payroll program.

Warehouse Picking - the computer downloads a table to a portable terminal

and the operator is prompted to pick a list of items associated with a specific
order. After picking the order, the operator goes back to the terminal to upload
the data and receive his next order to pick. As locations are reached or items are
picked, the bar codes are scanned and the terminal compares what was scanned
to be sure the right location or item is being picked.

Warehouse Put-Aways - as the operator stores items in a warehouse, the

operator scans the items and the location. This data is the uploaded to the
computer so it can keep track of the inventory quantity on hand and locations.

Warranty and Service Tracking- as units are received, the bar code on the
case of the unit is scanned, bringing up the computer history for that unit. As the
unit is repaired, scanning what failures and what new parts are required to repair
for costing and failure analysis.

Work-In-Process Inventory Tracking - with on-line readers or portable

readers, scanning the routing sheets with bar codes on them as parts or
subassemblies are completed, often including yield data, so the work-in-process
costs and progress can be tracked. (Usually one terminal per operator).

Event Time Applications

There is now a variety of hand held bar code terminals which are linked by Radio
Frequency (RF) back to a host computer. This makes possible portable interactive
applications in the stock room, the warehouse, shipping, receiving, etc.

Whatever the cost of the hardware, the application software investment is intense
for most companies. It is really an extension of MRP II software into the portable
hand held terminals.

Applications include:

Rental Car Check in and Billing - Anyone who has rented a car lately has
experienced the convenience and speed of RF Terminal check-in at the curb.

Massive Table Lookup - The simplest application is the computer performing

validity checks on data entered from its large up-to-date computer files and
notifying the operator of any invalid data.

A classic example of this would be grocery price validation. Instead of

downloading a 10 MB file into a hand held, the computer does the table lookup
and lets the operator know what prices need to be changed on the floor. Any
store without prices on the items must have price validation by RF Terminal to be
sure the prices on the floor are the same as the price in the computer. Direct
Store Delivery by vendors is also a must for RF Terminals, allowing the store to
monitor the price being charged by the delivery personnel to the store.

The best example is stock taking. Based on the outage or overage, the computer
would instruct the operator in different things to do: count again, see supervisor,
etc. The counts could be double checked on the spot, yielding a faster more
accurate inventory count.

Receiving - As a purchase order is received, the operator scans and keys what
has been received, with the computer pointing out shortages that are double
checked on the spot rather than after the items have been moved or partially

Shipping - As items are loaded, they are scanned. Shortages or misloads can be
detected immediately.

Put-Aways - As items are put away, the computer has them immediately
available for picking to satisfy the next order.

Warehouse Picking - The computer instructs each picker what to do with up to

the second stock status from Put Aways. This would be especially valuable with
items in multiple locations and where substitutions are possible.

Barcode History
We recommend this article from Wonders of Modern Technology.

Barcodes Sweep the World

By Tony Seideman

Supermarkets are a perilous business. They must stock thousands of products in

scores of brands and sizes to sell at painfully small markups. Keeping close track of
them all, and maintaining inventories neither too large nor too small is critical. Yet for
most of this century, as stores got bigger and the profusion on the shelves multiplied,
the only way to find out what was on hand was by shutting the place down and
counting every can, bag, and parcel. This expensive and cumbersome job was usually
done no more than once a month. Store managers had to base most of their decisions
on hunches or crude estimates.

Long before bar codes and scanners were actually invented, grocers knew they
desperately needed something like them. Punch cards, first developed for the 1890
U.S Census, seemed to offer some early hope. In 1932, a business student named
Wallace Flint wrote a master's thesis in which he envisioned a supermarket where
customers would perforate cards to mark their selections; at the checkout counter they
would insert them into a reader, which would activate machinery to bring the
purchases to them on conveyer belts. Store management would have a record of what
was being bought.

The problem was, of course, that the card reading equipment of the day was bulky,
utterly unwieldy, and hopelessly expensive. Even if the country had not been in the
middle of the Great Depression, Flint's scheme would have been unrealistic for all but
the most distant future. Still, it foreshadowed what was to come.

The first step toward today's bar codes came in 1948, when Bernard Silver, a graduate
student, overheard a conversation in the halls of Philadelphia's Drexel Institute of
Technology. The president of a food chain was pleading with one of the deans to
undertake research on capturing product information automatically at checkout. The
dean turned down the request, but Bob Silver mentioned the conversation to his friend
Norman Joseph Woodland, a twenty-seven-year-old graduate student and teacher at
Drexel. The problem fascinated Woodland.

His first idea was to use patterns of ink that would glow under ultraviolet light, and
the two men built a device to test the concept. It worked, but they encountered
problems ranging from ink instability to printing costs. Nonetheless, Woodland was
convinced he had a workable idea. He took some stock market earnings, quit Drexel,
and moved to his grandfather's Florida apartment to seek solutions. After several
months of work he came up with the linear bar code, using elements from two
established technologies: movie soundtracks and Morse code.

Woodland, now retired, remembers that after starting with Morse code, "I just
extended the dots and dashes downwards and made narrow lines and wide lines out of
them." To read the data, he made use out of Lee de Forest's movie sound system from
the1920's. De Forest had printed a pattern of varying degrees of transparency on the
edge of the film, then shone a light through it as the picture ran. A sensitive tube on
the other side translated the shifts in brightness into electric waveforms, which were
in turn converted to sound by loudspeakers. Woodland planned to adapt this system
by reflecting light off his wide and narrow lines and using a similar tube to interpret
the results.

Woodland took his idea back to Drexel, where he began putting together a patent
application. He decided to replace his wide and narrow lines with concentric circles,
so that they could be scanned from any direction. This became known as the bull's-
eye code. Meanwhile, Silver investigated what form the codes should ultimately take.
The two filed a patent application on October 20, 1949.

In 1951 Woodland got a job at IBM, where he hoped his scheme would flourish. The
following year he and Silver set out to build the first actual bar code reader – in the
living room of Woodland's house in Binghamton, New York. The device was the size
of a desk and had to be wrapped in black oilcloth to keep out ambient light. It relied
on two key elements: a five-hundred-watt incandescent bulb as the light source and an
RCA935 photo-multiplier tube, designed for movie sound systems, as the reader.

Woodland hooked the 935 tube up to an oscilloscope. Then he moved a piece of paper
marked with lines across a thin beam emanating from the light source. The reflected
beam was aimed at the tube. At one point the heat from the powerful bulb set the
paper smoldering. Nonetheless, Woodland got what he wanted. As the paper moved,
the signal on the oscilloscope jumped. He and Silver had created a device that could
electronically read printed material.

It was not immediately clear how to transform this crude electronic response into a
useful form. The primitive computers of the day were cumbersome to operate, could
only perform simple calculations, and in any case were the size of a typical frozen-
food section. The idea of installing thousands of them in supermarkets from coast to
coast would have been pure fantasy. Yet without a cheap and convenient way to
record data from Woodland and Silver's codes, their idea would have been no more
than a curiosity.

Then there was that five-hundred-watt bulb. It created an enormous amount of light,
only a tiny fraction of which was read by the 935 tube. The rest was released as
expensive, uncomfortable waste heat. "That bulb was an awful thing to look at,"
Woodland recalls. "It could cause eye damage." The inventors needed a source that
could focus a large amount of light into a small space. Today that sounds like a
prescription for a laser, but in 1952 lasers did not exist. In retrospect, bar codes were
clearly a technology whose time had nowhere near come.
But Woodland and Silver, sensing the potential, pressed on. In October 1952 their
patent was granted. Woodland stayed with IBM and in the late 1950's persuaded the
company to hire a consultant to evaluate bar codes. The consultant agreed that they
had great possibilities but said they would require a technology that lay at least five
years off. By now almost half the seventeen-year life of Woodland and Silver's patent
had expired.

IBM offered a couple of times to buy the patent, but for much less than they thought it
was worth. In 1962 Philco met their price, and they sold. (The following year Silver
died at age thirty-eight.) Philco later sold the patent to RCA. In 1971 RCA would jolt
several industries into action; before then, the next advances in information handling
would come out of the railroad industry.

Freight cars are nomads, wandering all across the country and often being lent from
one line to another. Keeping track of them is one of the most complex tasks the
railroad industry faces, and in the early 1960's it attracted the attention of David J.
Collins. Collins got his master's degree from MIT in 1959 and immediately went to
work for the Sylvania Corporation, which was trying to find military applications for
a computer it had built. During his undergraduate days Collins had worked for the
Pennsylvania Railroad and he knew that the railroads needed a way to identify cars
automatically and then to handle the information gathered. Sylvania's computer could
do the latter; all Collins needed was a means to retrieve the former. Some sort of
coded label seemed to be the easiest and cheapest approach.

Strictly speaking, the labels Collins came up with were not bar codes. Instead of
relying on black bars or rings, they used groups of orange and blue stripes made of a
reflective material, which could be arranged to represent the digits 0 through 9. Each
car was given a four-digit number to identify the railroad that owned it and a six-digit
number to identify the car itself. When cars went into a yard, readers would flash a
beam of colored light onto the codes and interpret the reflections. The Boston &
Maine conducted the first test of the system on its gravel cars in 1961. By 1967 most
of the kinks had been worked out, and a nationwide standard for a coding system was
adopted. All that remained was for railroads to buy and install the equipment.

Collins foresaw applications for automatic coding far beyond the railroads, and in
1967 he pitched the idea to his bosses at Sylvania. "I said what we'd like to do now is
develop the little black-and-white-line equivalent for conveyer control and for
everything else that moves," he remembers. In a classic case of corporate
shortsightedness, the company refused to fund him. "They said, 'We don't want to
invest further. We've got this big market, and let's go and make money out of it.' "
Collins quit and co founded Computer Identics Corporation.

Sylvania never even saw profits from serving the railroad industry. Carriers started
installing scanners in 1970, and the system worked as expected, but it was simply too
expensive. Although computers had been getting a lot smaller, faster, and cheaper,
they still cost too much to be economical in the quantities required. The recession in
the mid-1970's killed the system as a flurry of railroad bankruptcies gutted industry
budgets. Sylvania was left with a white elephant.
Meanwhile, Computer Identics prospered. Its system used lasers, which in the late
1960's were just becoming affordable. A milliwatt helium-neon laser beam could
easily match the job done by Woodland's unwieldy five-hundred-watt bulb. A thin
stripe moving over a bar code would be adsorbed by the black stripes and reflected by
the white ones, giving scanner sensors a clear on/off signal. Lasers could read bar
codes anywhere from three inches to several feet away, and they could sweep back
and forth like a searchlight hundreds of times a second, giving the reader many looks
at a single code from many different angles. That would prove to be a great help in
deciphering scratched or torn labels.

In the spring of 1969 computer Identics quietly installed its first two systems –
probably the first true bar code systems anywhere. One went into a General Motors
plant in Pontiac, Michigan, where it was used to monitor the production and
distribution of automobile axle units. The other went into a distribution facility run by
General Trading Company in Carlsbad, New Jersey, to help direct shipments to the
proper loading-bay doors. At this point the components were still being built by hand;
Collins made the enclosures for the scanners by turning a wastebasket upside down
and molding fiberglass around it. Both systems relied on extremely simple bar codes
bearing only two digits worth of information. But that was all they needed; the
Pontiac plant made only eighteen types of axle, and the General Trading facility had
fewer than a hundred doors.

Computer Identic's triumph proved the potential for bar codes in industrial settings,
but it was the grocery industry that would once again provide the impetus to push the
technology forward. In the early 1970's, the industry set out to propel to full
commercial maturity the technology that Woodland and Silver had dreamed up and
Computer Identics had proved feasible.

Already RCA was moving to assist the industry. RCA executives had attended a 1966
grocery industry meeting where bar-code development had been urged, and they
smelled new business. A special group went to work at an RCA laboratory in
Princeton New Jersey, and the Kroger grocery chain volunteered itself as a guinea pig.
Then, in mid 1970, an industry consortium established an ad hoc committee to look
into bar codes. The committee set guidelines for bar code development and created a
symbol selection subcommittee to help standardize the approach.

This would be the grocery industry's Manhattan Project, and Alan Haberman, who
headed the subcommittee as president of First National Stores, recalls proudly, "We
showed that it could be done on a massive scale, that cooperation without antitrust
implications was possible for the common good, and that business didn't need the
government to shove them in the right direction."

At the heart of the guidelines were a few basic principles. To make life easier for the
cashier, not harder, bar codes would have to be readable from almost any angle and at
a wide range of distances. Because they would be reproduced by the millions, the
labels would have to be cheap and easy to print. And to be affordable, automated
checkout systems would have to pay for themselves in two and a half years. This last
goal turned out to be quite plausible; a 1970 study by McKinsey & Company
predicted that the industry would save $150 million a year by adopting the systems.
"It turns out there were massive savings that we called hard savings, out-of-pocket
savings in labor and other areas," Haberman says. "And there were gigantic savings
available in the use of information and the ability to deal with it more easily than we
had before, but we never quantified that." Hard, quantifiable savings were what would
draw retailers. These included checking out items at twice the speed of cashiers using
traditional equipment, which would mean shorter lines without staff increases.

Still, while early bar-code systems would automate the checkout, they would not be
useful for monitoring inventory, because at first too few items would come labeled
with codes. Savings from using the collected information, instead of simply from
cutting labor costs, would have to wait until most items bore codes. After that
happened, management at every level would have to transform the way it operated.

In the spring of 1971 RCA demonstrated a bulls-eye bar code system at a grocery
industry meeting. Visitors got a round piece of tin; if the code on top contained the
right number, they won a prize. IBM executives at that meeting noticed the crowds
RCA was drawing and worried that they were losing out on a huge potential market.
Then Alec Jablonover, a marketing specialist at IBM, remembered that his company
had the bar code's inventor on staff. Soon Woodland-whose patent had expired in
1969-was transferred to IBM's facilities in North Carolina, where he played a
prominent role in developing the most popular and important version of the
technology: the Universal Product Code (UPC).

RCA continued to push its bull's-eye code. In July 1972 it began an eighteen-month
test in a Kroger store in Cincinnati. It turned out that the printing problems and
scanning difficulties limited the bull's-eye's usefulness. Printing presses sometimes
smear ink in the direction the paper is running. When this happened to bull's-eye
symbols, they did not scan properly. With the UPC, on the other hand, any extra ink
simply flows out the top or bottom and no information is lost.

For a time such exotica as starburst-shaped codes and computer readable characters
were considered, but eventually the technically elegant IBM-born UPC won the battle
to be chosen by the industry. No event in the history of modern logistics was more
important. The adoption of the Universal Product Code, on April 3, 1973, transformed
bar codes from a technological curiosity into a business juggernaut.

Before the UPC, various systems had begun to come into use around the world in
stores, libraries, factories, and the like, each with its own proprietary code. Afterward
bar code on any product could be read and understood in every suitably equipped
store in the country. Standardization made it worth the expense for manufacturers to
put the symbol on their packages and for printers to develop the new types of ink,
plates, and other technology to reproduce the code with the exact tolerances it

Budgets for the bar-code revolution were on a scale to make the Pentagon blanch.
Each of the nation's tens of thousands of grocery outlets would have to spend at least
$200,000 on new equipment. Chains would have to install new data processing
centers and retrain their employees. Manufacturers would potentially spend $200
million a year on the labels. Yet tests showed that the system would pay for itself in a
few years.
Standardization of the code meant the need for a standardized system of numbers to
go on it. "Before we had bar codes, every company had its own way of designating its
products," Haberman says. Some used letters, some used numbers, some used both,
and a few had no codes at all. When the UPC took over, these companies had to give
up their individual methods and register with a new Uniform Code Council (UCC).

The code is split into two halves of six digits each. The first one is always zero,
except for products like meat and produce that have variable weight, and a few other
special types of items. The next five are the manufacturer's code; the next five are the
product code; and the last is a "check digit" used to verify that the preceding digits
have been scanned properly. Hidden cues in the structure of the code tell the scanner
which end is which, so it can be scanned in any direction. Manufacturers register with
the UCC to get an identifier code for their company, then register each of their
products. Thus each package that passes over a checkout stand has its own unique
identification number.

Two technological developments of the 1960s finally made scanners simple and
affordable enough. Cheap lasers were one. The other was integrated circuits. When
Woodland and Silver first came up with their idea, they would have needed a wall full
of switches and relays to handle the information a scanner picked up; now it's all done
by a microchip.

On June 26, 1974, all the tests were done, all the proposals were complete, all the
standards were set, and at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio, a single pack of
chewing gum became the first retail product sold with the help of a scanner. Decades
of schemes and billions of dollars in investment now became a practical reality. The
use of scanners grew slowly at first. A minimum of 85 percent of all products would
have to carry the codes before the system could pay off, and when suppliers reached
that level, in the late 1970s, sales of the systems started to take off. In 1978 less than
one percent of grocery stores nationwide had scanners. By mid-1981 the figure was
10 percent; three years later it was 33 percent, and today more than 60 percent are so

Meanwhile, the technology has been creeping into other industries and organizations.
Researchers have mounted tiny bar codes on bees to track the insects' mating habits.
The U.S. Army has used two-foot-long bar codes to label fifty-foot boats in storage at
West Point. Hospital patients wear barcode ID bracelets. The codes appear on truck
parts, business documents, shipping cartons, marathon runners, and even logs in
lumberyards. Federal Express, the package-shipping giant, is probably the world's
biggest single user of the technology; its shipping labels bear a code called Codabar.
Along the way refinements of the basic UPC have been developed, including the
European Article Numbering System (EAN), developed by Joe Woodland, which has
an extra pair of digits and is on its way to becoming the world's most widely used
system. Other codes, which are given such fanciful names as Code 39, Code 16K, and
Interleaved 2 of 5, can sometimes contain letters as well as numbers.

Woodland never got rich from bar codes, though he was awarded the 1992 National
Medal of Technology by President Bush. But all those involved in the early days
speak of the rewards of having brought a new way of doing business into the world.
"This thing is a success story on the American way of doing things," Haberman says.
"Our own initiative – take it on ourselves, inviting the world to join in. It has
something to say about the little guys with lots of vision.

Tony Seideman is a free lance writer who lives in New York City


Five Advantages of Barcodes

Barcode systems provide an array of benefits, including operational efficiency, better
customer service, and improved visibility of key business information to management.


A bar code label of twelve characters can be wanded in approximately the time it
takes a keyboard operator to make two keystrokes.


For every 1,000 characters typed by a keyboard operator, there are an average of ten
keying errors. For an Optical Character Reader (OCR), there is one error in every
10,000 reads. With wands, barcode systems approach one error in every 3,000,000
characters, and with laser technology, they approach one error in 70 million entries.

Data Integrity

Probable number of substitution errors per 3,400,000 characters

Data Entry Method Errors
Keyboard Entry 10,000
OCR Scanning 300
Barcode scanning (Code 39) 1

Ease of Implementation

Operators of bar code scanners can learn to use the equipment effectively in less than
15 minutes. System costs are lower than other means of data entry because of the
existence of interfacing hardware and software. Barcode labels can cost less than a
penny apiece, are easily read by thousands of commonly available devices, and can be
printed universally.

Cost Effectiveness

Barcode systems have a demonstrated payback period of six to eighteen months, and
they provide the highest level of reliability in a wide variety of data collection
applications. Barcode systems create value not only by saving time, but also by
preventing costly errors.
What is the standard for your company's data? Information is your most valuable
asset, so you need the most reliable data management systems available for your
budget. Wrong information in your supply chain or operations can create unacceptable
risks, lost business and higher operating expenses. Protect your organization by
ensuring data accuracy and availability.


Four Ways You Can Improve

What benefits can you expect from the application of barcoding? From the receiving
dock to the shipping door, barcode data collection provides direct benefits to labor
productivity, production control, operational costs, customer service, space
requirements and inventory management.

Organize Shipping and Receiving

Whether you receive shipments with barcodes applied by suppliers or you need to
print and apply labels for internal use, barcodes provide a way to monitor the flow of
inputs. Labels identify the item, purchase order number, supplier, lot number, date of
delivery, and more. This information is then used to create a receiving and purchasing
record which becomes part of the material's history throughout its cycle, thereby
providing lot traceability.

When shipping packages, barcode labels are often mandatory. Barcode label software
can integrate with your database systems to provide convenient, efficient generation
of barcode labels. Once in transit, barcode labels provide an effective means of
tracking packages and collecting proof of delivery.

Manage Inventory Effectively

The most valuable characteristic of barcodes in inventory control is keeping track of

parts, supplies and materials that you purchase, stock, and consume. Knowing what
you have, and where to find it, prevents costly disruptions, saves money in
purchasing, and increases sales revenue.

Track Fixed and Circulating Assets

The application of bar coding to fixed assets was one of this technology's first uses.
By attaching a label to capital equipment, office furniture, computers and other
fixtures, you can keep an account of what you own, calculate depreciation easily,
conduct physical inventories, and perform preventative maintenance.

Circulating assets include equipment, tools, files and other valuable inventory that
changes hands within an organization. By tracking who has custody of each asset,
inefficiency and losses can be minimized.
Use Automatic Data Collection

Virtually any data collection process that currently runs on clipboard and paper can be
managed with barcodes and mobile computers, creating a leap in productivity and
accuracy. Whether you run a factory or a hospital, grow crops or harvest timber,
effective management depends upon timely, accurate information.

Barcode Scanning Technology

Which Scanning Technology Is Right for Your
Scanning technology is constantly evolving and providing industries with more
choices in data capture solutions. Two competing data capture devices: the laser
scanner and the digital imager have many businesses facing a tough decision.
Deciding which scanning technology is right for your application can be a difficult
task. Knowing the advantages and applications in which these two technologies are
used is the first step to success.

The key to deciding between these two technologies is determining which fits the
requirements and budget of your business most accurately.


2D Data Matrix Code

Both laser scanners and digital imagers are programmed to decode specific
symbologies, or the “language,” of barcodes. The symbology used in the application
can help determine which scanning technology will provide the most benefit. The use
of 2-dimensional (2D) symbologies is on the rise in many markets, making digital
imagers a better choice. However, for applications that don’t require reading 2D
barcodes, laser scanners are a cost-effective option.

Read More on Symbologies

Laser Scanners
Symbol LS2208

Laser scanners provide excellent scanning productivity and accuracy; this allows
operators to achieve high productivity in high-throughput areas of business. Laser
scanners are capable of decoding barcodes over wide ranges and can achieve 50%
more range than digital imagers. Because laser scanning technology has been refined,
scanners are less expensive than comparable digital imagers. Although laser scanners
are incapable of reading 2D symbologies, they are capable of reading a 2D-like
symbology, PDF417. Laser scanners offer a number of advantages for a multitude of
applications and should be considered the technology of choice for:

• Decoding at long distance

• Decoding UPC/EAN and other 1D barcodes used in retail
• Applications that require motion tolerance
• Self-Service shopping

While laser scanners prove to be advantageous in certain applications, other markets

are better suited for digital imagers or a combination of both technologies.

Digital Imagers

Intermec CK31 with

EX25 Imager

In addition to 1D barcodes, digital imagers (also known as area imagers) can decode
2D barcodes. 2D barcodes can be encoded with significantly more information than
1D barcodes, making digital imagers beneficial to transportation, logistics, and
tracking applications. Area imagers enable omni-directional reading of barcodes,
eliminating the need to accommodate the scanning device. In addition to reading one
and two-dimensional barcodes, high performance digital imagers can capture and
transfer images, enabling signature capture and the scanning of documents. Area
imagers have the capability of reading Direct Part Marking (DPM), a method of
permanently marking a product. DPM is growing in popularity and allows a product
to be tracked throughout its life. Digital imagers offer many advantages in certain
applications, but area imagers are not to be confused with linear imagers. Although
data is captured in a similar way, linear imagers aren’t capable of decoding entire
images or 2D barcodes as an area imager can. Area imagers offer significantly more
benefits and are the only choice for 2D barcode applications. Area imagers have
proven to be beneficial in the following areas:
• Decoding all kinds of 1D and 2D barcodes
• Decoding DPM (Direct Part Marking)
• Decoding critical tracking information
• Capturing images for inventory management
• Combining barcode decoding, image capture, and signature capture in a single

Need help choosing? Barcoding Inc. provides great recommendations.

Which one Should Your Use?

When used in appropriate markets, laser scanners and digital imagers both deliver
numerous benefits. At times, the combination of the two technologies may even be the
correct decision. Both are powerful technologies that will increase productivity,
improve efficiency, and reduce operational costs. When choosing a data capture
technology, businesses must apply a careful analysis of the capabilities and
advantages of each technology. Recognizing which technology, laser scanners or
digital imagers, provides the most benefits for your business applications is the key.

Barcoding Inc. representatives are trained on both technologies, their advantages,

along with their dis-advantages, and can help you choose the right technology for
your application.


Comparison of Barcode Printers

A number of different print technologies are available to print barcodes. These
technologies roughly break down into two categories: impact and non-impact printing
techniques. Impact printing includes dot matrix and drum (or formed character)
printers. Non-impact printing includes thermal direct, thermal transfer, electrostatic
(laser printers), laser etching and ink jet printers.

Barcode Printing Technology

There are four basic types of barcode printers: Dot Matrix, Inkjet, Laser, and
Thermal. Barcodes can be printed on documents, or more frequently, adhesive labels,
tags or other media, even ID bracelets.

Summary of Different Barcode Printing Technologies

Technology Print Scanner Initial Long Term Material
Quality Readability Installation Maintenance Waste
Dot Matrix Fair Low Low/Moderate Moderate/High High
Ink Jet Moderate Low/Moderate High Moderate/High High
Laser Moderate Moderate Moderate/High Moderate/High High
Direct Moderate/ Moderate/ Moderate/High Low Low
Excellent Excellent
Thermal Excellent Excellent Moderate/High Low Low

Dot Matrix

Dot matrix print technology is a longstanding method of producing barcodes on-site.

The barcode image is produced by hundreds of dots printed in a matrix to make the
series of lines and spaces commonly referred to as a barcode.


• Printers are easily accessible and a less expensive option of printing

• Various surfaces can be used to print on
• Multi-pass ribbons can reduce costs for ribbons and label materials


• Barcodes are low to medium density and may not match up to a users standard
• Reusable ribbons can produce illegible barcodes resulting in lower read rates.
• Ink saturation can result in bleeding on the paper resulting in image distortion
• Though many types of material can be printed on, often these labels are not
durable, nor can they be water or chemical resistant.
• Printing of single labels results in a great loss of media and is inefficient
• No graphics capability
• Speed is suffered when trying to produce best ink coverage for optimal

Ink Jet

Ink Jet printing is usually used in high production settings where production of
barcodes and human readable fonts need to be reproduced at high rates of speed.


• Direct ink jet printing requires only one step to finish the carton or readable
material, where other forms may require adhesion of a label to the finished
• A favorite on high-speed production lines due to its ability to mark “on the


• System installation is very costly as this method is designed for high-volume

barcode printing – not for individual or batch printing
• Requires constant supervision to prevent inkjet clogging and maintain proper
print quality
• Material use is restricted due to possible bleeding on certain materials
• Printing on dark backgrounds, such as corrugated cardboard, result in hard to
read barcodes. Scanning devices must be chosen carefully to ensure proper


A laser printer works much like a photo copier. Charging particles of the paper that
then attract ions from the ink. These two particles are then bonded together by the
heat and pressure of the drum.


• Print high-quality text and graphics on paper documents and can double as a
document printer when not being used to print barcodes.
• Density and resolution are relatively high, allowing the production of scanable
barcodes at any wavelength when read with an infrared scanner


• Not well suited for industrial environments

• Wasteful in small operations
• Label adhesives must be strong enough to withstand the heat and pressure of
the fuser
• Limited durability – cannot produce water resistant nor chemical resistant
labels. Toner costs are generally huge with laser printers as they require five
times more toner than normal text


Thermal printing includes Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer, as explained


Direct Thermal

Direct thermal printing is an older technology designed for use with copier and fax
machines that utilizes chemically coated paper. It has since been transformed into a
highly successful technology for barcoding. The direct thermal printhead consists of
a long, linear array of tiny resistive heating elements (roughly 100-300/in.) that are
arranged perpendicular to the flow of the paper. Each printhead element locally heats
an area directly below it on the paper. The image is produced by rows of dots caused
by chemical reactions that are formed as the media passes beneath the active edge of
the printhead.


• Produces sharp print quality with great scanability

• Ideal for applications with a short-shelf life such as shipping labels and
• Simple to operate and inexpensive to maintain – no ink, toner or ribbon to
monitor or replace
• Batch or single label printing is available with minimal waste. Generally
Thermal printers are built more durably than dot matrix or laser printers


• Sensitive to environmental conditions such as heat and light.

• Paper remains chemically coated after printing, sometimes requiring a coating
adhered to the paper to protect from UV light exposure, chemicals and

Thermal Transfer:

Thermal Transfer printers use the same basic technology as direct thermal printers,
but replace chemically coated paper with a non-sensitized face stock and a special,
inked ribbon. A durable, polyester ribbon film coated with dry thermal transfer ink is
placed between the thermal printhead and label. The thermal printhead transfers the
ink onto the label surface, where it cools and anchors to the media surface. The
polyester ribbon is then peeled away, leaving behind a stable, passive image.


• Crisp, high-definition text, graphics, and barcodes for maximum readability

and scanability
• Produces long life scanability
• Produce batch or single print labels with minimum waste
• Long-term maintenance is low compared to dot-matrix, inkjet, and laser
• Print on a high variety of media stock
• High durability


• Supply costs slightly higher than Direct Thermal as Thermal transfer requires
ribbon replacement, though their printhead lasts longer
• Ribbon can be wasteful if little is printed from it
• Poor candidate for recycling
• Ribbon and Media MUST be compatible


Barcode Scanner Comparison

Which barcode scanner do I need?
There are many options to consider when choosing a barcode scanner. It is not as
simple as picking the cheapest reader. Though cost savings maybe a large
consideration, choosing the cheapest scanner may force you to buy another scanner in
the long run. Depending on your work environment, you'll need a scanner with an
appropriate IP Rating, so it doesn't fail due to use or abuse.

Handheld vs. Hands-free Scanners

Hands-free scanners are more efficient when it is easier to bring the barcode to the
scanner rather than the scanner to the barcode. Such examples of this are Point-of-
Sale (POS) applications, or automated assembly lines. Handheld scanners are a better
fit with large, bulky items, or when you have to scan multiple items in different
locations. Most applications use handheld scanners.

Laser vs. CCD Scanning vs. Imaging

Laser scanners are generally more expensive than CCD scanners, but can often be
more efficient in their scanning ability. They can be designed to read barcodes from a
great distance, allowing workers to scan items on the top shelf of a warehouse without
having to move closer to the item. These scanners are also a better option when the
barcode is not on a flat, hard surface as CCD scanners are used in close contact
situations. Laser Scanners have different options for the distance you need to scan,
most come in standard, long range, and extra-long range capabilities. A situation for a
CCD scanner may be a bright location, typically outside, where placing the scanner
directly over the barcode will block out most outside light giving a quicker and more
accurate read. Imaging technology will take a picture of the barcode and then read the
barcode from that image. Though imaging technology may be slower out of the gate,
when the quality of a barcode decreases, the read rate for imagers increases as the
imager will look over the entire height of the barcode to find a complete strand

What Type of Laser Scanner do I Need?

Heat and light will cause thermal labels to darken. Dirt, oil or grease will cause bad
reads unless infrared scanners are used which can detect high-carbon inks below the
smears and stains that occur on factory floors. Remember, too, that if you laminate or
otherwise protect the label, this will affect your choice of scanner. In addition,
ambient light can also curtail the effectiveness of fixed beam readers. For these
conditions you would require a high density laser scanner, or an imager, as they both
will read poor quality barcodes with great accuracy.


Nine Factor to Consider When Selecting

Barcode Labels
Consumable media is a critical component of your printing system. Having the correct
labels for your application can improve accuracy, lower material handling costs, and
make your warehouse operation more efficient. With that said picking out the right
labels can be a difficult procedure. But, if you remember the nine letters in
B.A.R.C.O.D.I.N.G. you shouldn't have a problem.

B - Barcode Scanner: What kind of scanning device will you be using to read your
barcodes. Labels can have different light absorbing characteristics, which can improve
the performance and efficiency of your scanner.

A - Attach: What surface will your labels be attached to? Smooth, rough, grooved,
curved, or dirty surfaces can all AFFECT your label selection.

R - Rate: How many labels are you printing per minute? Per day? Per week? Per
year? Labels have many different materials and qualities, so the kind of labels will be
one factor in determining the final cost.

C - Clock: How long must the label last? What is the shelf-life of the product the label
is on? Is it a mailing label to be used once or an asset label that needs to be on a fixed
asset for life? This factor will not only determine the kind of label, but possibly the
kind of printer!

O - Operating Environment: One of the most important considerations is the

operating environment the labels will be exposed to. Will the label be exposed to
extreme heat or cold, dryness or wetness, light, extreme handling, or chemicals. If so,
there is a label for you, and can be your supplier.

D - Do-it-yourself: Did you know that you do not have to buy a printer for every label
application? Some applications, like tracking Fixed Assets with RioScan's Fixed Asset
software, require only pre-printed labels.

I - Inches: It is a matter of inches! The simple question, "how big is my label?" is the
first consideration. Choosing a label with a common size, or "stock size" can help
reduce costs. Labels can come as small as 1/8" x ½" or as large as 11" x 17".

N - Need: What exactly is you labeling need? For example, some barcoding
applications occur on tags that hang from an item, rather than stick to it. There are
many different ways to barcode on item such as hanging tags, ID cards, metal tags,
and direct print. Make sure that labels will suit your needs best.

G - Glue: The type of glue used to adhere the label to your surface is very important.
Do you want your label to be permanently adhered to the surface or you do want it to
be removable? Should your label leave behind a tamper-indication if is played with or
is it important for the label to leave behind little to no residue when it is removed?
These are all important questions and viable options for your labels program!

Other Factors that Affect Barcode Labels

For hand-held readers, bar height is at least one-quarter of an inch or 15 percent of the
entire code's length, whichever is greater.
The "X" dimension is the width of the narrowest element of the barcode. Other
elements of the code are multiples of the "X" dimension.

Density refers to the number of characters which can be encoded in a given unit of
length and is vitally important to the eventual application of a barcode.

Barcode symbologies are either continuous or discrete. Continuous symbologies use
the intercharacter gap as a character, whereas discrete symbologies do not.


The first read rate is the ratio of the number of successful reads to the number of
attempted reads.

The principal rule to remember with ribbons is that the ribbon you use in the office
will probably not meet the specifications or requirements of the bar coding

In many ways, the specifications which apply to paper also apply to laminates.
Laminates should not interfere with the scanning ability of the barcode reader.

Adhesives vary with each application. Some require labels to permanently affixed to
an item, such as a piece of capital equipment.


Types of Barcodes

Code 39

Code 39
Capable of encoding uppercase letters A-Z, digits 0-9 and special
characters such as SPACE, minus (-), period (.), dollar sign ($),
slash (/), percent (%) and plus (+).This barcode can be of any
length, but the more characters encoded, the larger the symbol
will be.

Code 39 (Full ASCII)

This extension to Code 39 allows the encoding of additional characters that aren’t part
of the Code 39 character set, such as lowercase letters and additional symbols.
Encoding of the Full ASCII character set is possible by encoding one of four Code 39
characters (+ $ % /) followed by one of the 26 alphabetic Code 39 characters.
Code 39 (HIBC)
Code 39 (HIBC) is an alphanumeric symbol that is exactly the same as the normal
Code 39, but requires the special character (+) plus as the start character for each

Capable of encoding digits 0-9, six special characters, (-) dash, (:)
colon, (.) period, ($) dollar sign, (/) slash and (+) plus and the
start/stop characters A, B, C, and D.

Code 93
Code 93is capable of encoding the exact same characters as the
normal Code 39 barcode, uppercase letters A-Z, digits 0-9 and
special characters such as SPACE, minus (-), period (.), dollar
sign ($), slash (/), percent (%) and plus (+). The only
difference is that this symbol is more compact.

Code 128
This is an alphanumeric symbol capable of encoding digits 0-9, upper
and lowercase letters A-Z and all standard ASCII symbols. Code 128
is variable length, the more characters, the larger the symbol will be.

This symbol is capable of encoding the same characters as a normal Code 128
barcode, digits 0-9, upper and lowercase letters A-Z and
all standard ASCII symbols. However, UCC/EAN 128
formats the data in a different way so that the type of
information encoded can be identified. This is done with
application identifiers; these 2, 3, or 4 digit numbers are
enclosed in parenthesis and identify the type of data which

Interleaved 2 of 5
This is a numeric only barcode that must contain an even number of digits.

This numeric only symbol is capable of encoding digits 0-9 and can be printed as a 5-
digit PostNET barcode, a 9-digit Zip+4 PostNET
barcode, or a 9-digit DPBC PostNET barcode.

This fixed length, numeric only symbol must contain 12 digits.

This fixed length, numeric only symbol is a compressed version of the
UPC-A. All barcodes must contain 6 digits and because the UPC-E is used for the
number system zero, all symbols must begin with a zero.
This fixed length, numeric only symbol is a compressed version of the UPC-A. All
barcodes must contain 6 digits and because the UPC-E is used for the number system
zero, all symbols must begin with a zero.

This fixed length, numeric only symbol is similar to the UPC-A, but
encodes 13 characters instead of 12.


This variant of the Plessey barcode is capable of encoding the digits 0-9 and is
variable length.

Bookland encodes an ISBN number in an EAN-13 format. It is numeric only and
always begins with 978, which is the Bookland EAN prefix
(this generator will automatically add this prefix to your
ISBN). The additional 10 digits are the ISBN number.


Barcode Labels & Ribbons

A successful barcode system implementation depends upon
barcode labels that stick when they should, come off when
necessary, and are readable when scanned. For best results,
you need the right combination of barcode printers, barcode
label software, label stock, and ribbons for your application.
Barcoding Inc. can provide virtually any kind of label:

Barcode Label Options

• Featured - Zebra Z-Slip
• Permanent adhesive labels
• Tamper evident labels
• Removeable labels
• Jewelry labels
• Asset tags
• Freezer labels
• Cryogenic labels
• Labels for oily surfaces
• Heat resistant labels
• Specimen labels
• ID cards
• Patient identification bracelets
• Etching barcodes onto metal surfaces

For more information about barcode labels and ribbons, contact Barcoding Inc.

Industries with Specific Barcode Label Requirements

• Automotive • Postal/Parcel
• Chemical Industry • Retail
• Distribution • RFID Supplies
• Electronics • Rubber and Plastic Manufacturing
• Government • Security
• Hospitality • Specialty Applications
• Law Enforcement • Transportation
• Life Sciences/Health Services • Utilities
• Logistics
• Wholesale
• Manufacturing


• Receiving and cross docking

• Inventory control
• Work-in-process tracking
• Lifetime product identification and security marking
• Shipping and compliance labeling
• Data integration with ERP and WMS systems
• Automated routing through assembly, paint shop and
other production operations
• Shipment labeling and other logistics applications

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Chemical Industry

• Long-lasting label/ribbon combinations

• Withstand harsh environments for extended periods of time
• Identify potentially hazardous product containers
• NEPA Hazard Labels
• Chemical Drum Labels

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• Maintaining goods inventories

• Assembling
• Sorting
• Breaking bulk and handling
• Refrigeration
• Shipping and Delivery
• Removable Shelf/Bin/Tote Labels
• Rough Surface Identification Labels
• Outer Pack/Container Labels
• Compliance Shipping
• Recyclable Label Stock

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• High resolutions barcoding of circuit boards

• Serial plates
• Product identification labels
• UL-recognized/CSA-accepted solutions
• Tamper evident labels
• Self-laminating piggyback labels for harsh environments

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• Make all types of logistics operations highly automated

and efficient with bar code and RFID smart label printers,
including mobile and wireless models
• Create employee ID and visitor badges with easy-to-use
desktop printers
• Efficiently meet record keeping and data recording
requirements by using bar codes and smart labels to track
files, evidence, property, IT equipment, and other assets
• Take advantage of Zebra's comprehensive solutions for
healthcare to create secure patient wristbands, track
equipment and supplies, improve inventory management
and security in the pharmacy, and ensure patient safety with unit-of-use
pharmaceutical labeling
• Create security and tracking programs for all personnel, visitors, and
equipment with our wide range of printers for creating asset tracking tags,
shipment protection, component ID labels, location labels for guard tour and
unattended check-in/check-out applications, document authentication, and

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• Curbside check-in
• Tableside order entry and bill payment
• Guest meal and room charge tracking
• Security card encoding
• Membership card encoding
• Patron loyalty cards
• Remote ticket printing for games and lotteries
• Entertainment tickets and access passes

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Law Enforcement

• Tag evidence at the scene with permanent, accurate,

tamper-proof labels from mobile bar code printers.
• Apply bar code labels to samples and forms files for
streamlined case management and automated data entry.
• Use mobile printers to replace hand-written parking
tickets and eliminate transcription and data entry at
• Save time in inventory and asset management by applying
bar code labels to tools and equipment for lifetime
• Create tamper-proof employee ID badges with photos, bar codes, magnetic
stripes, wireless chips and other security features to restrict access to property
rooms, holding areas and other locations. Easy-to-use desktop ID card and
wristband printing systems make it convenient to use electronic security
systems for access control, staff identification, and inmate management.
• Use RFID smart label printers to create wireless prisoner ID wrist and ankle
bands. Readers can be integrated with databases for contact-free identification,
prisoner photo and record retrieval, and linked to automatic locks and alarms.

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Life Sciences/Health Services

• Provide unit-of-use coding with RSS

• Identify lab samples and ensure accurate test data
• Accurately track clinical trial supplies
• Improve medical device and pharmaceutical
• Aid compliance with FDA labeling and product
traceability requirements
• Improve quality and reduce costs of prescription
• Track patient records, drug dispensing, medical supplies, and equipment
• Streamline admissions and patient data entry
• Improve security for people, facilities, and equipment
• Identify and track blood bags
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• Reliable printers to create all types of bar code

shipping labels
• Mobile printers for re-labeling incoming
materials at the receiving dock for fast
• Software to automatically generate shipping
labels and manage customer compliance formats
• RFID smart labels for asset, container, and
returns management
• Two-dimensional bar codes for advanced sorting and delivery applications
• Software that integrates shipping operations with enterprise resource planning
(ERP) systems to optimize carrier and delivery planning and customer
• Wireless printers for unattended, real-time management and control
• Mobile printers to automate pickup and delivery processes

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• Reduce raw materials inventory

• Automate item flow through different production
• Deliver work instructions for mixed model
assembly lines
• Automatically track work in process
• Perform automated testing and quality control
• Comply with traceability requirements
• Conduct efficient, targeted recalls
• Improve materials, distribution, and logistics planning

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• Mobile printers for mail carriers and delivery drivers to

sell postage, issue delivery receipts, collect payments
and label parcel pick-ups.
• RFID smart label printers for express parcel security
and track-and-trace applications.
• Reliable, compact countertop printers for creating
receipts, mailing labels and postage marks.
• Mobile transaction systems for queue-busting in retail operations.
• High duty cycle industrial printers to meet all depot printing needs.

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• Conduct 100% accurate shelf-price audits and

item re-labeling with wireless mobile printers
that communicate with the master price
database in real-time.
• Serve customers faster with line-busting mobile
transactions systems for point-of-sale and
returns processing
• Do your own RFID label printing to take
advantage of "smart shelves" and other
advanced inventory management and security
• Manage DSD vendors more quickly and
efficiently with Zebra's unique wireless DEX
communications interface.
• Fulfill web and catalog orders fast and
accurately with shipping label printers and software that seamlessly interface
with enterprise applications.
• Create customized customer loyalty cards and secure gift cards on demand
with easy-to-use desktop card printing systems.
• Use card printers for employee ID cards for automated time recording and
access control systems.
• Re-label items at receipt and generate transfer and return labels with our
shipping and receiving printing solutions.

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RFID Supplies

• Ultra-thin RFID transponders can be read, programmed

and reprogrammed using radio waves
• Read through paint, dirt, and non-metallic containers
• Change and update data on the fly anytime during the
labels lifetime
• Redirect packages or pallets instantaneously

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Rubber and Plastic Manufacturing

• Product identification labels for curved surfaces

• UL-recognized/CSA-accepted labels
• Removable labels
• Aggressive labels suitable for labeling a wide variety of surfaces, including
plastics and rubber
• Resistant to dirt, oil and alcohol

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• Plastic card printers create ID cards and security badges

with text, graphics, signature scans, holographs, and
photographic images on plastic cards.
• Add bar codes, magnetic stripe encoding, smart card
programming, and even biometrics for increased levels of
personalization and security.
• Use bar code and RFID label printers to track, secure, and authenticate assets,
files, and documents.
• Improve security with convenient, desktop card and label printing systems,
including specialty tamper-evident supplies.

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Specialty Applications

• Ring and jewelry labels

• Nursery tags and labels
• Asset tracking
• Color-coded tags

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• Desktop printers that can produce crisp images, bar codes,

and security marks on durable ticket stock
• Smart label printers for hands-free fare collection systems
• Card printers for creating employee identification and
access control cards plus passenger passes or frequent
travel cards
• Label printers for baggage claim tickets and baggage
tracking labels
• Mobile and wireless printers for mobile ticket sales and

Speak with a label and ribbon expert

• Rugged mobile printers create receipts, service records,
inspection labels, and other reports in the field and save
subsequent data entry and processing.
• ID card systems control access to unattended depots or
remote equipment.
• Bar code and RFID smart label printers create lifetime asset
identification labels for automated tracking, asset
management, inventory control and self-service equipment
checkout applications.
• Software tracks assets and integrates service and maintenance operations with
enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management
(CRM) applications.

Speak with a label and ribbon expert


• Label goods at the receiving dock with wireless

and mobile printers
• Share information among inventory, shipping,
customer service, and billing applications with
integration software
• Label items, racks, and shelves to automate
picking and put-away with forklift-mounted and
wearable printers
• Easily generate shipping labels with a complete range of software and printer
• Identify, route and manage pallets, bins and shipping containers without
human intervention with RFID smart labels
• Efficiently manage reverse logistics by labeling returns in the field with
mobile printers
• Track inventory, invoice on the spot, and issue receipts with route accounting
• Utilize wireless solutions to support printing wherever it's needed in the


Barcode Glossary
Excerpts have been taken, with permission, from the book Behind Bars: Barcoding
Principles and Applications Grieco, Gozzo & Long.

AIAG - Automotive Industry Action Group

AIM - Automatic Identification Manufacturers ALPHANUMERIC-Description of a
symbology's character set which consists of letters and numerals.
ANSI - American National Standards Institute
APERTURE - Measure of the size of the beam which reads the bar code.
AUTODISCRIMINATE - Ability for one bar code reader to interpret several
different codes.

CAD - Computer Aided Design

CAM - Computer Aided Manufacturing
CCBBA - Committee for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation
CCD - Charge Coupled Device. This scanner type has is usually inexpensive and light
weight. The disadvantage is that the scanner must touch the barcode and usually can
only scan a barcode the same length as the device. Meaning, if you have a 4" barcode
and the CCD is only 3", there is a good chance that it may not read it correctly.
CHECK CHARACTER - Character added to guard against undetected errors.
CIM - Computer Integrated Manufacturing
CODABAR - Standard bar code symbology used principally by the blood products
CODE 39 - Standard bar code symbology and one of the most widely used.
CONTINUOUS - Symbologies in which intercharacter gaps are treated as characters.

CORE SIZE - The core size is the measurement of the diameter of the cardboard
tube that contains the labels.

DECODER-Converts signal from scanner into a signal which the computer can
DENSITY - The number of characters which can be encoded in a given unit of
DEPTH OF FIELD - The distance between the closest and farthest point at which a
bar code can be scanned. DISCRETE - Symbologies in which intercharacter gaps are
not treated as characters.
DOT MATRIX PRINTER - Printer which forms characters when an array of pins
hits an inked ribbon which transfers the image to the media.
DRUM or FORMED-CHARACTER PRINTERS - Images formed from hammer
striking ribbon and media against reversed image on a rotating drum.

EAN - European Article Number

ELECTROSTATIC PRINTER - Sensitized drum attracts toner which is transferred
to media.

FIRST READ RATE - The ratio of the number of successful reads to the number of
attempted first reads.
FIXED LENGTH - Description of a symbology which only allows bar codes of a set
number of characters.

HEIGHT - Vertical measurement of a bar code.

HIBCC - Health Industry Bar Code Council

INK JET PRINTERS - Controlled jets of ink spray from nozzles to form image.
IP RATING - The ingress protection rating of electronic equipment, such as barcode
JAN - Japanese Article Number
JIT - Just-In-Time

LABELS - Labels can come in all widths, sizes and colors. They can also be made
out of different materials such as wax, resin and Valeron. This allows the label to be
used in different environments such as humid climates, exterior warehouses and low
level lighted areas. In order to purchase labels, it is a good idea to know the "core"
size and the inches between each label. Labels are purchased per case.
LASER ETCHERS - Burn image into media or burn protective coating off of media
to form image.
LASER RADIO TERMINAL (LRT) - 35-46 keys, hand held scanner. When a
barcode is scanned, it is instantly sent to a specific location (real time tracking).
LED - Light Emitting Diode
LOGMARS - Logistics Application of Automated Marking and Reading Symbols

MAGNETIC STRIPE - Technology allowing the encoding of information on special

labels with magnetism.
MRP-Material Requirements Planning
MRP II - Manufacturing Resource Planning

NUMERIC - Description of a symbology's character set which consists of only


OCR - Optical Character Reader

OPTICAL THROW - Least distance at which a scanner can read a bar code.

PORTABLE DATA TERMINAL (PDT) - Handheld terminal, 35-46 keys, scanner.

Information is kept within the terminal as you scan the item. When done, terminal is
put in a cradle. Than the information is exported to a PC.
PRINT CONTRAST - Ratio of the difference of reflected light between the bars and
spaces of a bar code. Print Contrast equals Space Reflectance minus Bar Reflectance
divided by Space Reflectance.
PRINTERS - In order to create a barcode for an item, it must be produced by a
printer. All printers have a media width, amount of speed and duty cycle. Below are
the two main types of printers.

• THERMAL DIRECT PRINTER - Forms images by pressing heated areas of

printing head against heat-sensitive paper. (No ribbon is needed)
• THERMAL TRANSFER PRINTER - Forms images by pressing heated
areas of printing head against heat-sensitive ribbon which presses against

QUIET ZONE - Area leading or trailing a bar code with no encoded information.

READER - A bar code scanner and decoder.

REFLECTIVITY - Amount of light reflected back by the surface upon which the bar
code is printed.
RESOLUTION - Measure of the size of the spot of light reflected back to the reader.
SCANNER - Bar code device which produces a signal representing the bars and
spaces of a bar code.
SELF-CHECKING - Ability of a symbology to guard against undetected errors.
SOFTWARE SHELL - Simulates keyboard entry of bar code signals.
SPEED FOR PRINTERS - How many labels it prints per seconds. May be
measured by how many centimeters the printer prints per second.
START AND STOP CHARACTERS - Character which tells a scanner or reader
when a bar code begins and ends. SUBSTITUTION ERROR RATE-The ratio of the
number of incorrect characters to the total number of entered characters.

TBC-Total Business Concept

THERMAL DIRECT PRINTER - Forms images by pressing heated areas of
printing head against heat-sensitive paper.
THERMAL TRANSFER PRINTER - Forms images by pressing heated areas of
printing head against heat-sensitive ribbon which presses against media.
TQC-Total Quality Control

UCC - Uniform Code Council

UPC-Universal Product Code; standard symbology used by the grocery and retail
USS-Uniform Symbology Specifications

VARIABLE LENGTH - Description of a symbology which allows bar codes of

varying numbers of characters.
VISION SYSTEM - Vision systems digitize an object's image so that it can be
understood by a computer.

WEDGE READER - Converts bar code signal into a keyboard signal which the
computer is able to read. WIDE-TO-NARROW RATIO - Ratio of the wide bars to the
narrow bars in a symbology.
WIDTH - Measurement of the narrowest element of a bar code. Same as "X"

"X" DIMENSION - Measurement of the narrowest element of a bar code. Same as



Since their invention in the 20th century, barcodes — especially the UPC — have
slowly become an essential part of modern civilization. Their use is widespread, and
the technology behind barcodes is constantly improving. Some modern applications
of barcodes include:
• Practically every item purchased from a grocery store, department store, and
mass merchandiser has a barcode on it. This greatly helps in keeping track of
the large number of items in a store and also reduces instances of shoplifting
(since shoplifters could no longer easily switch price tags from a lower-cost
item to a higher-priced one). Since the adoption of barcodes, both consumers
and retailers have benefited from the savings generated.
• Document Management tools often allow for barcoded sheets to facilitate the
separation and indexing of documents that have been imaged in batch
scanning applications.
• The tracking of item movement, including rental cars, airline luggage, nuclear
waste, mail and parcels.
• Since 2005, airlines use an IATA-standard 2D bar code on boarding passes
(BCBP), and since 2008 2D bar codes sent to mobile phones enable electronic
boarding passes. Additional information about airline industry standards on
• Recently, researchers have placed tiny barcodes on individual bees to track the
insects' mating habits.
• Many tickets now have barcodes that need to be validated before allowing the
holder to enter sports arenas, cinemas, theatres, fairgrounds, transportation etc.
• Used on automobiles, can be located on front or back.
• Joined with in-motion checkweighers to identify the item being weighed in a
conveyor line for data collection


In point-of-sale management, the use of barcodes can provide very detailed up-to-date
information on key aspects of the business, enabling decisions to be made much more
quickly and with more confidence. For example:

• Fast-selling items can be identified quickly and automatically reordered to

meet consumer demand,
• Slow-selling items can be identified, preventing a build-up of unwanted stock,
• The effects of repositioning a given product within a store can be monitored,
allowing fast-moving more profitable items to occupy the best space,
• Historical data can be used to predict seasonal fluctuations very accurately.
• Items may be repriced on the shelf to reflect both sale prices and price

Besides sales and inventory tracking, barcodes are very useful in


• When a manufacturer packs a box with any given item, a Unique Identifying
Number (UID) can be assigned to the box.
• A relational database can be created to relate the UID to relevant information
about the box; such as order number, items packed, qty packed, final
destination, etc…
• The information can be transmitted through a communication system such as
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) so the retailer has the information about a
shipment before it arrives.
• Tracking results when shipments are sent to a Distribution Center (DC) before
being forwarded to the final destination.
• When the shipment gets to the final destination, the UID gets scanned, and the
store knows where the order came from, what's inside the box, and how much
to pay the manufacturer.

The reason bar codes are business-friendly is that bar code scanners are relatively low
cost and extremely accurate compared to key-entry– only about 1 substitution error in
15,000 to 36 trillion characters entered. [7] The error rate depends on the type of