Barcode Types: Choosing The Right One for Your Business

Finding the best barcoding solution for your business might become a challenge. This post will tell you all you need to know about barcode types and which one best fits your business.

Barcode types are complex. We know. And finding the best barcoding solution for your business might become a challenge when there are many different barcode types around.

If you’re finding difficult to understand the types of barcodes that exist, read on. This post will tell you all you need to know about:

  • 1D and 2D barcodes
  • Barcode types or symbologies
  • Specialist barcode types
  • Choosing the right barcode for your business application

1D and 2D barcodes

The first decision you need to make when building a barcode solution is whether you want to use 1D or 2D barcodes.  1D barcodes generally look like the black and white “picket fence” lines. On the other hand, 2D barcodes tend to look like a square block of more complex patterns.

1D and 2D barcodes

On the left, we have a 1D barcode, and on the right a 2D one.

Even today, we see more demand for 1D scanner solutions and the reasons are:

  1. They are generally simpler to work with;
  2. It’s all you need for shorter ID type codes;
  3. They only require 1D barcode scanners, so the equipment is cheaper;
  4. Familiarity of the barcode: we’ve all seen them on parcels and in the shops;
  5. Easy to print out using a whole host of software and fonts that are available.

Why should I choose a 2D barcode solution?

Our answer to that question is quite simple:

  1. They store a lot more data in a smaller space.  If you need to store a full address or product description, for example, then a 1D barcode would end up 30 cm wide.  A 2D barcode will store far more data in it.
  2. 2D barcodes can be more secure.
  3. They’re more robust so you can damage them more and they still scan.
  4. Future proof. If you have equipment that can scan 2D barcodes, then it will scan all barcode types, other than the specialist ones we talk about further down.
  5. 2D barcodes read more accurately, and where 1D barcodes give about 1 misread in every 1-20 million reads, 2D give 1 misread in 600M+ reads.


Raptor Barcodes

In the image above you can see the same barcode data “Raptor Barcode Blog 2017” in QR Code, Code 128, PDF417, Code 93 and lastly Code 39.

Barcode types

Barcodes come in a range of different types or what we call “symbologies”.  Whilst many have been developed for specific industries or purposes, there are also lots that are designed to be used in bespoke barcode scanning applications.  A quick Google search will soon tell you that there are lots of types to choose from, but don’t worry because despite this we still see most people using just a few in about 90% of the scanner solutions we see.  These codes can be created and printed freely and they are:

Code 39

Often referred to as “3 of 9”, code 39 is probably the easiest symbology to use.  It allows you to include the main characters needed to ID quickly including 0-9, upper case A-Z, and some symbols too –. $ / + %.  There is an extended Code39 that allows you to also use lower case characters if you need it.

This code allows the use of checksum ( digits to ensure you have barcodes that read correctly.

Code 128

Code 128 is another barcode we see a lot here and the reason is that it’s a higher density barcode than Code 39 but it also allows for more characters to be used within it.  In fact, you can use any character from ASCII 0 to 128, thus the name. This is a more complex barcode to use as it requires printing with 3 check digits and it also comes in 5 or 6 sub-types that are all aimed at specific scenarios.  If you need something that will handle more characters though then this is the one for you.

Code 93

This is not as popular as the 2 types above but Intermec designed this in the 1980’s to try and create a more compact version of the Code 39 symbology.

Interleaved 2 of 5

This code is not as popular as it once was. We’ve decided to mention it here as this is a numeric-only barcode.  It’s simple, often there’s no point in using it with Code 128 now available, but in some older systems you need to integrate with you might come across it and need to use it. If you’re starting fresh though, and you don’t have any specific requirements like super compact or micro barcodes then you’re likely to be using Code 39 or 128.


Specialist Barcodes

Sometimes you need a more specific barcode to your needs.  You might be in an industry where a barcode type is used, such as the postal service barcode you see on letters. Or you might simply need super small barcodes to attach to small products.  Some industries such as the motor trade, even have specialist metal stamped barcodes with specific scanner hardware required to scan them.

Most commonly, we see barcodes that have to fit onto small products or into tiny spaces and these also require a specific type of barcode symbology.  You can’t just shrink your barcodes as they rely on very fine margins of size and ratios of the all the lines to read accurately and efficiently.

Below are some more specialist barcodes that you could use.


4 State specialist barcode 

“4 State” Developed by the Royal Mail. These very specific barcodes are found on all letters now and used to quickly identify where they should go. Some hand scanners can now read them.


ISBN is used in libraries to quickly identify a book as a product but also within a library catalogue system.

ISBN Barcode used by libraries
 UPC-A used in retail for years 


We all see these all around the world on a daily basis.  Retail has been using the UPC-A barcode for decades to identify a product.  This one you have to apply for.

Choosing a barcode for your business

To finish off, let’s recap what you need to think about when creating your own barcode solution:

  1. Check that you don’t need to use a barcode type to comply with your industry or if there’s one that can be used already.  Why create a barcode for your products if they all have one already?
  2. Work out the type of content your barcode will have in it and test it for size.  You might need to use 2D or a more compact barcode type, but remember this will bring hardware costs up.
  3. Make sure you create and print your barcodes according to their specification for size and ratio.  If you simply resize a barcode it can make it difficult to read or misread completely.
  4. Always find someone who will help you.  If in doubt use the expertise of a Data capture specialist.  We’ve seen most of the how to do it’s along with the how not to do it’s!

If you’re looking for a rugged handheld with a barcode scanner inbuilt, take a look at our Raptor E5.

Posted by "Durable" Dave

My background is web/mobile software, mobile hardware, where I worked with some of the earliest PDA's on the market from HP and Microsoft and data capture where i've sold all of the main brands of rugged kit you'll find!

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