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Not Your Grandfather’s Barcode: Using 2D Barcodes in the 21st Century

A lot has changed over the years, and 2D is quickly becoming more prominent in many industries including healthcare and manufacturing.  Why?  Because data matrix codes can house much more data than a linear (1D) barcode.  The availability of more data means more information can be utilized to track lot and item information, customer requirements, specifications and a whole lot more.  Here’s a side-by-side comparison to show you what we mean:

QR Code (Quick Response Code)

  • 2D Barcode
  • Developed in the 90’s
  • Can be scanned with a smartphone or 2D scanner
  • Holds over 4,000 alphanumeric characters
  • Often contains data that leads to a website or application
  • Fast readability and greater storage than UPC

Data Matrix

  • 2D Barcode
  • Developed in the 80’s
  • Can be scanned with a smartphone or 2D scanner
  • Can contain up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters
  • Ability to house large amounts of data in a small space
  • Most secure barcode available

Linear Codes

  • 1D Barcode
  • Developed in 60s
  • Can be scanned with a 1D scanner and most 2D scanners
  • Code 39 and Code 128 are most popular
  • Code 39 uses 0-9 and alpha characters along with special characters
  • Code 128 can hold any of the ASCII 128 character set
  • Other codes include Code 93 and Interleaved 2 of 5

Size Matters

Obviously one major reason 2D codes have gained in popularity is the amount of data that will fit on it vs. a 1D code. In this age of information, we can do more when we have access to critical data.  From smarter decision-making and being more responsive to customer needs, to being able to quickly handle product recalls and track inventory, using data matrix codes just makes sense.

The other advantage is the size of the barcode itself.  A data matrix code, for example, can be tiny enough to fit on the tag of a pair of earrings and still contain thousands of characters.  High density barcodes are very convenient for small items like electronic components and patient wristbands because the amount of data doesn’t have to be limited solely based on the size of the code itself. 

Keeping it Simple

If scanning faster and more easily is a job requirement, using 2D barcodes is the way to go.  With regard to scanning, you don’t have to worry about lining up the barcode with the scanner’s aiming line.  Just scan and go from any angle.  With 1D, the barcode must be scanned horizontally, edge to edge, for the scanner to get a positive read.  When speed and accuracy are top priorities, data matrix barcodes ensure the user keeps moving without having to worry about scanning angles. 

A nice feature of 2D handheld barcode scanners is the ability to scan 1D and 2D codes.  You cannot scan a 2D code with a 1D barcode scanner.  Today’s environment could have both types of barcodes under one roof and still be able to use one device with two different barcodes.

Designed for Rough & Tumble Environments

When it comes to unreadable and damaged barcodes, 2D codes make scanning easy! Faded, ripped, smudged, wrinkled…bring it on!  2D barcodes are robust and ideal for harsh environments.  In addition, the quiet zone on a 2D barcode is formulated differently than a 1D code, enabling 2D codes to be in closer proximity without confusing the barcode reader.  Linear barcodes are required to have enough white space (quiet zone) around the code so it does not pick up other information around the barcode.

Scanning Distance

In the past, long-range scanning required a reflective label and a large barcode in order to scan from a distance of about 45 feet (think tall warehouse shelving).  Today, with a scanner like Zebra’s DS3678-ER, barcodes can be scanned from 70 feet away with a barcode that’s printed on a 3-4” square label instead of one that’s nearly a foot long. For location labeling, smaller barcodes mean they can increase the amount of material on the shelves and keep things in order. Locations are more meaningful now as well because more data can be captured on the label when it is being scanned.

Other Great Reasons to Use 2D Barcodes

  • Mobile Coupons offer the ability to scan barcodes right from a smartphone, which satisfies the demands of today’s mobile consumer and saves paper and waste.
  • QR codes are popular in marketing promotions because they can direction consumers to an application link or a website URL where they can get more information. Like the data matrix code, it’s an extremely easy barcode to print on most any material.