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Label Printers
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Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs

Barcoding FAQ

What is a Barcode?
What components make up a barcode?
What other information do I need to consider?
What are barcodes used for?
What is a scanner?
How does a scanner work?
Are there different kinds of scanners?
Is there any other equipment which can be used in the scanning process?
What printers can print barcodes?
How does each type of printer operate?
What is the best printer for printing barcodes and why?
What is a symbology?
Are there many different types of symbologies?


What is a Barcode?
A barcode is a symbol which is made up of a series of narrow and wide bars and spaces, used for automatically encoding information
What components make up a barcode?
Barcodes are made up of several different components. Each component has a specific purpose:

The 'quiet zone'
The blank area surrounding the barcode. This makes a distinction between the barcode and other printed areas, avoiding misinterpretation by the scanner.

The start/stop pattern
The start/stop pattern defines the beginning and end of the data contained in the barcode. Each different barcode symbology has its own specific type of start/stop pattern.

The Data
The data is the section in the barcode where the information is stored.

Human Readable Information (HRI)

HRI displays the content of the data stored in a barcode in a text format which can be read by the user. It is displayed underneath, above or beside the bars and spaces of the barcode.
What other information do I need to consider?
The 'X' Dimension
This is the narrowest line or space in the pattern where all design and specifications of the barcode start. To determine the X Dimension, different criteria are taken into consideration such as printing space available, material and ribbon specifications, printing method, and type of scanner.

Orientation
Orientation of barcodes can either be horizontal (ladder) or vertical (picket fence). The orientation is determined by printing and scanning techniques employed.

Height Dimension
This is the height or length of the barcode (depending on orientation).
What are barcodes used for?
Barcodes have a wide range of uses, including:

Tracking
In the electronics industry, barcodes are often applied to Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) at the start of the production process for tracking purposes.

Stock Control
Stock can be automatically re-ordered electronically by the use of barcodes.

Storing important information

One popular use is for ease of storing and retrieving relevant information on a particular product.

Quality Control
Barcodes can be applied to verify that the correct components are being used in the manufacturing process.
What is a scanner?
A scanner is a piece of equipment used to 'read' information contained in a barcode.
How does a scanner work?
The scanner reads the spaces in the barcode by projecting a light onto them. The information is then reflected back through a lens or a series of lenses and changed into analogue signals. The scanner does not 'read' the bars which is why the information is encoded within the spaces between the bars.
Are there different kinds of scanners?
Yes, there are three main types:

Charge-Coupled Devices (CCDs)
This type of scanner can be classified as a 'near code' scanner i.e. to read the data, the scanner must be in close proximity to the barcode. The operator presses a button on the scanner to operate, and holds it slightly above the data.
   
Laser
The laser scanner can read barcode information from a distance of up to 12 inches (some models can scan up to 4 feet) hence the name 'non contact' scanner. The laser scanner also has the added capability of reading smaller barcodes and damaged/distorted barcodes unlike the Pen & CCD scanners.

Is there any other equipment which can be used in the scanning process?
Yes, a Keyboard Wedge. This allows software previously solely capable of accepting data from the keyboard, to also accept data from the scanner.
What printers can print barcodes?
1. Direct Thermal Printer
2. Thermal Transfer Printer
3. Dot Matrix Printer
4. Laser Printer
5. Laser Etching Printer
How does each type of printer operate?
1. Direct Thermal Printer
Heat is used in this printing process. The print head heats up and activates an ink in the paper which changes colour to black where it has been heated.

2. Thermal Transfer Printer
This printer operates in much the same way as a direct thermal printer using heat but with a ribbon which is used to transfer the ink onto the label.
Ink is released from the print ribbon in a 'melting' process. The ink is transferred onto a range of media below (i.e. different types of labels).

3. Dot Matrix Printers
This printer operates by 'hammering' images onto the chosen material via a ribbon. The print head is made up of a number of pins which are formed into a 'matrix' pattern (hence the name dot matrix printer). These pins print a series of dots which create the barcode.

4. Laser Printer
A Laser Printers is good for overprinting variable data. It bonds toner onto the page being printed using a technique similar to a photocopier.

5. Laser Etching Printer
A special material with a coloured top coat is passed through this printer. This process burns off areas of that coating, leaving the printed areas intact
What is the best printer for printing barcodes and why?
Thermal Transfer Printers are the best option for printing barcodes for several reasons:
  • They offer the best print quality compared with other types of printers
  • Labels printed by Thermal Transfer are more durable than Direct Thermal. Those printed by this method can tend to fade over time, and are therefore better to use on more permanent applications.
  • Thermal Transfer printers have the capability to print on a wide range of materials where other printers are limited.

What is a symbology?
A 'symbology' is the pattern of bars and spaces which make up a barcode. This is the 'language' used for determining the barcode type
Are there many different types of symbologies?
Yes, including the following:

Interleaved 2-of-5 (I-2/5 or ITF)
Data Permissible: Numeric only
Required: An even number of digits

Symbol Height
For general applications, the height of the bars within the code should not be less than 5mm or 15% of the symbol length depending upon whichever is greater.

Other information
  • Data is encoded by use of both bars and spaces in this code
  • Flexible - number of digits allowed in the format can range from 2 to 30
  • Consists of five bars, two of which are wide
Code 39
This is widely accepted to be the simplest format to use with the least requirements.
Data Permissible
Full alphanumeric data (the letters A-Z & the numbers 0-9) and special characters - $ / + %

Symbol Height
The minimum bar height of Code 39 format has to be 5mm or 15% of the symbol length, whichever is greater.

Other information
  • Can be printed with either small bars or very large bars
  • T" he barcode consists of nine bars and spaces for each character. Three of these bars and spaces are wide and six of them are narrow.
E.A.N(European Article Numbering code)
These codes are most widely used in the retail sector, identifying details of the manufacturer and the product. There are several different types of E.A.N. symbols, two popular formats being E.A.N. 8 & E.A.N. 13. Both contain a check digit which is determined by a standard algorithm created for the E.A.N. system. Authorisation from the applicable governing body must be sought to use an E.A.N. barcode.
All types of E.A.N. have the following characteristics:

Data Permissible: Numeric only

Other information
  • The symbol size varies according to the required size of the barcode also taking into account the quality which can be achieved by the printing process
  • The nominal size is the term which refers to the specified dimensions of a particular size of symbol. This nominal size can be increased by up to double the original size.
Code 128
Data Permissible
Stores all 128 ASCII characters (a character set defined by the American National Standard Code for Information Interchange). Although it has the capacity to store alphanumeric data, if used the code will not be as compact.

Other information
  • A very compact form of barcode
  • Consists of three distinct bar/space widths
  • A code 128 barcode can consist of three different code sets - Code Set A, B or C.
2 Dimensional Barcodes
The 2d barcodes listed below are applied in more specialised fields than the most commonly used barcodes (listed above).

Data-Matrix

PDF417
Codabar

2d barcodes are capable of storing a large amount of data in a very compact form.
Special scanners are required to read 2d barcodes.