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.

Barcode Testing and Why You Need To Do It

When barcodes break, it can mean many headaches. But did you know that you can actually prevent the loss of downtime with broken barcodes and have a better bottom line as a result? In order to work properly, a barcode must be able to communicate properly with the scanner, and the scanner must also be in proper working order to communicate with the barcode.

Not only that, but a failed barcode is not easy to find. Imagine a sea of inventory where a single barcode is broken. How do you go about locating the non-functioning code?


You may wonder what kind of information barcode testing or verification could provide you with. First of all, it should be known that barcode testing is mandatory by international standards. It is the only way to ensure that the image created for the barcode is acceptable and able to be read by the scanner.

It is a common misconception that a barcode scanner is enough to test barcodes. These security labels not only need to be scanned, but need to be tested for the colour contrast performance as well as their reflectivity, something that a scanner alone cannot do.

In addition to the above, the code must also be tested for performance related to scanning, such as bar and space width, quality of the code’s edges, and the spacing of bars and spaces as well as their proximity to one another. Any one of these items found not to be in place can be enough to cause a barcode to fail.

Barcode Verification Method

This method is a scientific approach to barcode testing, and is generally accepted as a valid means of testing barcodes the world over. The reason why this method was developed was because single parameter measurements such as reflectance were not enough to verify the accuracy of a barcode.

The method that was developed included the checking of several parameters including, but not limited to light margins, defects, digits, contrast and reflectance.

Risks of Not Testing Your Barcodes

Should the data obtained by a barcode scanner be incomplete, chaos can be the result. Suddenly, the check-out line becomes endless, manufacturing is a mess and doing inventory becomes a nightmare. Indeed, a broken barcode can cause slowdowns across every level of your company.

At its worst, failed barcodes can negatively affect the security of your entire operation. Without a means to track your assets with barcodes, this leaves your inventory wide open to theft, whether from your warehouse or your sales floor.

Quality Management

More and more, distribution centres as well as warehouses are using automated systems to track their inventory. Where barcodes are used, there is still a requirement for accuracy, not only with the print quality of a barcode, but also with the data they contain and the format used.

Many wonder whether there is a guaranteed way to ensure that barcode data and print quality is valid. The good news is that there is. However, this is only true when the correct equipment and verification method is used. As well, the print quality remains an important part of the process.


In addition to the above, grading of bar codes is important, because doing so will allow a company to predict the consistency of that bar code throughout its life cycle. This consistency will not only apply once a coded item has reached a destination, but will also apply when gauging the accurate delivery of products to customers as well as the monitoring of differing levels of security access.

There is no doubt that testing barcodes before they fail is crucial to maintaining consistency and efficiency at every level of your organisation.

Questions and Answers about 2D Barcodes

Everything we buy, ship, receive or track has some kind of barcode. The original linear barcode was actually patented in the 1940s. However, it didn’t become ubiquitous until the 1980s. Until the 2D barcode arrived on scene, the original barcode design had barely changed at all.

The 2D barcode is really just a more modern version of the linear barcode. Appearing most often has a black and white square on everything from letters to product packaging (called a QR code), the 2D barcode, like its linear ancestor is still readable by machines. But there is a difference: the 2D barcode includes far more information than the linear kind.

Why Are 2D Barcodes Better Than Linear Barcodes?

There are many benefits to 2D barcodes that linear barcodes and other security labels simply don’t have.

First off, 2D barcodes have built-in systems to check for any errors, thanks to their increased capacity for information. Not only that, but 2D barcodes can hold the same information in various ways. This means that even if the code is damaged, much of it is still be able to be read. A linear bar code holds very little information; information that only exists in one area of the code.

The linear barcode cannot have additional information placed on it unless it’s been manipulated in some way, such as making the lines taller or the code itself longer. This is because the information in a traditional barcode can only be read in one direction. But a 2D barcodes can be both printed and read in two directions. The more modern code can hold far more information; about 2000 characters of it, to be precise.

Where linear codes can only be read by a barcode reading machine, a 2D code can be read by any device with this capability. It can also be sent as an SMS text message between devices.

The information located in the newer 2D code can also be encrypted so that the information is not able to be copied. Not so for the linear code.

Components of the 2D Barcode

There are several types of 2D barcode, even though they all may look the same to the untrained eye. This is because these codes were meant to be read not by humans, but by machines. Of course, the QR code is likely the most well-known of them all. But all 2D codes contain similar features.

Information in a 2D barcode is actually stored in several different areas.

The alignment pattern is the part of the code located in the middle of the image. It allows the code to be read regardless of angle, surface curvature or other kind of distortion. The finder pattern can be seen in three of the four corners of a 2D code. These denote a code’s type; specifically, the fact that it is a QR code, and not another type like Aztec or Semacode.

A timing pattern is that which runs between the three square finder patterns. Its job is to provide information when the rest of the code has become distorted or damaged.

Even the blank area around it, known as the quiet zone serves a purpose. It allows for the code to be isolated from other elements that could distract a machine from reading it, such as dirt on an envelope or smudging on packaging.

2D barcodes are very convenient, as they can be placed anywhere that a traditional linear barcode can. As well, the 2D barcode can be used in much the same way as its linear counterpart for tracking virtually anything. It’s also been able to go where linear codes have not, with many businesses using the 2D code to take potential shoppers to their web sites.