Avoiding the Unreadable Barcode

With so much modern technology going into the labels we use, it can become easy to forget that the barcode was one of the first security labels. Barcode technology has endured, even as new forms like holographic and tamper-evident labels have come onto the scene.

However, as simple as barcodes are, the effects of an unreadable barcode can be utterly disastrous. If a barcode cannot remain readable from warehouse to final destination, it can, in effect, become ‘lost’. And this directly affects a business’s bottom line. But this can all be avoided by keeping a few things in mind.

Barcode Orientation and Size

There are two ways a barcode can appear on security labels; it can either be placed horizontally much like the rungs of a ladder, or vertically like a fence. The latter is preferable, because the likelihood that the barcode will be unreadable is far less.

The size of a barcode can also affect its readability. Generally speaking, barcodes become more difficult to read the smaller they get. In order for a small barcode to be readable, it must be incredibly clear. And this is where image resolution comes in.

High-Res Images

The more dots per inch any image has, the more clarity it will have. This is certainly true of barcodes. Small barcodes need to be of incredibly high resolution in order to be able to be read by scanners. As well, any numbers situated beneath the barcode should be readable as well, but by the naked eye.

Printer Maintenance

One of the most common and yet overlooked causes of unreadable barcodes is lack of print quality. And lack of print quality can often be attributed to poor printer maintenance. Specifically, there are two printer parts responsible for the clarity of all printed items including barcodes. These are the platen roller and the thermal print head. Both will have a dramatic effect on the print quality of your barcodes.

A worn platen roller can cause areas of missing print, or in the case of barcodes, missing gaps. This can render a barcode unreadable. If the thermal print head is dirty or contains foreign objects like dust particles, a fuzzy printout will be the result. This can be especially disastrous for small barcodes.

Both the platen roller and thermal print head can be cleaned with wipes specifically for this purpose. It is recommended that this type of cleaning be done for the roller and the print head whenever your print media changes.

Printer Calibration

The way in which a printer is calibrated can also contribute to poorly-printed barcodes. Things like print head pressure, temperature and other factors can make the proper printing of barcodes nearly impossible. Where the calibration of a printer is in question and more input is needed, it can help to have a professional take a look and calibrate the machine.

Media Type

Another very common cause of unreadable bar codes is using the incorrect media or ribbon. Some ribbon materials can work well with a label type, whilst others do not. If this is the problem, it can help to consult the information that came with the printer, which can sometimes reveal the answer. The information included with the ribbon can also provide clues as to which media may work best. A good way to determine if the media/ribbon combination is incorrect is when the printed bar code is difficult to read. Another indicator is if the ink smudges easily.

When combined with the right label material, the ink of a bar code can sink into the substrate, allowing it to remain readable for much longer, thereby allowing it to be tracked regardless of the distance an object must travel.

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