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All About Barcode

What is a bar code?
What is Automatic Identification?
What are the benefits of barcode applications?
Who uses barcode scanner technologies?
What types of data collection technologies are available?
What does a bar code system consist of?
What the types of Data Collection System?
What need to be considered before installing a barcode system?
What is the alternative to barcodes?
Bar Codes Glossary
Industry links
More information on barcodes technology

Bar Codes Introduction

In today's business environment, enterprises strive to stay competitive. Applying barcode data collection technology into an operation is an efficient way to improve the bottom line and meet competitive challenges your organization faces everyday.

This special guide from OCR Canada Ltd. ( is designed to provide you with information about bar coding technology. You will learn how bar code data-capture technology can provide a rapid, accurate, and efficient means to collect, process, transmit, record, and manage data in a variety of industries. A barcode system will be beneficial in just about any industry: manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, retail, packaging, delivering, healthcare, and hospitality.

Whatever the application, whatever the environment, OCR Canada provides full working bar coding solutions since the 1980s. Please click Barcode Canada for product details. Also, see our barcode and RFID reference pages to read about barcode and RFID technology and how these technologies are used in the AIDC industry.

What is a bar code?

A bar code is a precise arrangement of parallel lines (bars) and space that vary in width to represent data for identification purpose. Barcode labels are read with a scanner, which reflects light and interprets the code into numbers and letters that are passed on to a computer.

An example of a barcode (Symbology is Code 3 of 9, data encoded is "ABC123"): Barcode Example

When people say they need a barcode for their product, what they are really saying is that they need a Universal Product Code (UPC) assigned to their product from the GS1 Standards Council. This UPC is then printed on their product as a barcode to identify it to a Point of Sale (POS) system.

What is Automatic Identification?

Automatic Identification (Auto ID) encompasses a spectrum of technologies to identify, track, and manage just about any physical item. The emergence of Auto ID systems, including bar code and the related printers, scanners, and software, has significantly increased the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of data collection and entry. Evolving from basic point-of-sale, item tracking, inventory control, bar code applications appear in basically all aspects of businesses including time and attendance, work-in-process, quality control, sorting, order entry, document tracking, shipping and receiving, and many more. As a result, Auto ID systems comprehensively improve operational efficiency with real-time information by linking production, warehousing, distribution, sales, and service to management information systems


What are the benefits of barcode applications?

Bar code data collect systems provide many benefits to any business or organization. By capturing data utilizing bar code technologies data is entered and transmitted faster and more accurate. Other benefits include lower data management costs and inventory management is much more efficient.

Who uses barcode technologies?

Basically any industry can benefit from barcode and wireless LAN technologies. Below are just a few examples and they are not limited to the list.

Distribution Barcode Solutions

barcode scanners, data collection terminals, barcode printers, and barcode software solutions can help you in planning, scheduling, and resource management throughout the supply chain. With a barcode system integrated into your operations, you will gain the control and traceability to optimize inventory levels and identify packages with ease. You will also find significant improvement in inventory management, shipment accuracy, labeling compliance, and integration between distribution and enterprise operations.

Education Barcode Solutions

Educational institutions of all sizes can benefit from barcode scanners and labeling solutions to improve institutional operations. With reliable and ease-of-use barcode scanners and wireless LAN products, your workforce can be more productive, whether it is in student registration office, cafeteria, health centre, or bookstore.

Energy and Natural Resources Barcode Solutions

Energy and resource providers know that in regulated and commodity- oriented environments, getting the edge on competitors depends on their ability to achieve new cost-cutting efficiencies while continually delivering superior service to their customers. From remote site monitoring, to fuel transportation to field and meter reading & service, efficient and secure access to – and capture of – real-time data is crucial.

Entertainment Barcode Solutions

With increasing competition for your patron's entertainment dollar, it is tough to sustain or increase your subscriber, revenue, and brand performance. There is customized barcode software that support ticket sale plans with easily configurable taxes, service charges, discounts, gift certificate, general admission and assigned seating tickets.

Field Service Barcode Solutions

Consistently providing stellar service is a requirement for field service operations across industries. Too often, service organizations lose productivity and margins due to insufficient customer information, redundant manual data processes and service reporting errors in the field…all because of limited access to information.

Government Barcode Solutions

Governments can modernize and improve efficiency in their general operation including public safety, personnel administration, voter ID, benefits, military logistics, healthcare medical records, revenue collection, and other public-sector applications. Barcode and wireless LAN equipment can significantly help reduce paperwork, data entry, and time spent searching for records.

Health Care Barcode Solutions

Health care staff can utilize barcode technology for accurately identifying and checking patients and their medication prior to dispensing the drug. Bar code scanners and label printers can be used in manual or automated dispensing operations, bedside delivery and documentation, blood bag and lab sample tracking, employee ID, file management, and much more.

Hospitality Barcode Solutions

There are tools to make your patrons happier and your staff more productive. Mobile handheld terminals, wireless barcode scanners and label printers help your staff efficiently by taking meal orders, settling bills, and performing check-in or check out from virtually anywhere in the facility.

Library Barcode Solutions

Libraries can take advantage a broad range of barcode scanners and labeling solutions which will greatly improve the counter, shelf and inventory operations. The combination of our easy-to-use printers and durable media creates barcode labels that will stick with books, video, CDs, and other resources.

Manufacturing Barcode Solutions

In today's competitive manufacturing environment manufacturers require made-to-order and just-in-time production capabilities in order to gain competitive advantages. By applying barcode control to operations you will reduce waste and scrap, slash lookup and minimize recording time and improve productivity in maintenance, production and administration. There are bar coding solutions for more efficient management of raw materials, components, finished goods, as well as communication through plant facilities and back office. They enable your employees to work more efficiently and effectively with timely information that improves the performance of enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain, and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

Logistics Barcode Solutions

Wireless LAN and bar coding equipment can help you gain competitive advantages with better control and management of your parcel delivery services. With timely and accurate information, your staff can provide quick and efficient services that your customers demand.

Retail Barcode Solutions

With a wide range of barcode and wireless solutions, you can improve front-store, back-room, and warehouse operation in the retailing environment. You can save time and reduce costs by managing inventory, customer checkout, shipping and receiving, and labeling efficiently and effectively.

Transportation Barcode Solutions

Your passengers and employees can get where they need to go safely, swiftly, and securely with barcode and wireless LAN equipment. This equipment can help in the area of transportation tickets, transfers, and passes anywhere to help reduce lines and improve passenger convenience. Passenger service, employee security, and baggage handling can be more efficiently managed with mobile data collection tools.

Warehousing Barcode Solutions

Productivity perks up when your staff can access information when and where they are needed. Mobile barcode terminals and scanners allow your employees to obtain timely information and eliminate time-wasting trips to the central office for information. By avoiding numerous trips back and forth from a centralized office, warehouse workers will be able to take actions quickly and efficiently and hence improve your bottom line.

Wholesale Barcode Solutions

You as wholesalers require real-time information to balance supply and demand in order to keep your customers happy while minimizing the inventory level. You can be in control by utilizing bar code and wireless systems that track and route products from receiving to storage and final shipping.


What types of data collection technologies are available?

There are a broad range of barcode and wireless LAN technologies. They included:

Barcode Scanners

Barcode equipment designed to read imprinted barcodes or 2D matrix code symbologies and send the information to a host computer. Barcode scanners and barcode decoders can be slot card scanners, wand scanners, CCD scanners, laser scanners, area imagers, fixed mount scanners, or hands-free scanners.

Barcode Printers

Printers used to print bar code labels that can be adhered to inventory items or other assets that require tracking.

Data Collection Terminals

Hand-held barcode equipment used to collect data by reading both 1D and 2D matrix barcodes. They store data for later processing or can be used as online terminals in a wireless LAN environment.

Radio Frequency Devices

They are wireless devices that send and receive information by Radio Frequency (RF). Wireless LAN products extend the range of typical wired LANs to cover remote areas of a plant facility. Wireless LANs allow real-time, two-way exchange of data between workers on a plant floor and the host computer.

OCR/MIRC Scanners

Stands for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) devices. These devices read specially encoded characters (OCR-A, OCR-B, E13B, EMCA-11, etc.) printed on forms or remittance stubs and transmits the information to a host computer.

Barcode Verifiers

Devices that make measurements of the bars, spaces, quiet zones and optical characteristics of a barcode symbol to determine if it meets the requirements of a specification or standard. Used to ensure barcodes can be read by barcode scanners.

Magnetic Stripe Slot Readers

Input devices that read magnetic stripe media off of identity cards such as credit cards or ID cards. Typically consists of a reader, decoder, and host interface cable.

Barcode Software

AIDC software that utilizes barcode, OCR, MICR, RFID, technologies to track inventory, asset tracking, or other property. Software is used to print bar codes, track items, perform time and attendance, and other functions.


What does a barcode system consist of?

Barcode systems require three elements:

  1. Origin of Bar Codes

    You must have a source of bar codes that can be pre-printed or printed on demanded. Pre-printed barcode labels are more economical and usually have higher quality when you demand a large quantity. In contrast, on-demand bar codes can tailor to specific information that you want to encrypt in the labels.

  2. Barcode Reader

    You must have a reader to read the bar codes into the computer. The reader includes an input device to scan the bar code, a decoder to convert the symbology to ASCII text, and a cable to connect the device to your computer. The input devices (wands, CCDs, badge scanners, and lasers, imagers) are the direct contact between the user and the bar code.

    Noticed that the type of barcode readers or barcode scanners make a great impact on the usability of the bar code system. There are many choices and they vary in prices. Some factors you need to consider when selecting for an input device. First of all, the volume of barcode scanning determines the quality of the barcode scanners you should purchase. If you have a low-volume operation, any input device will probably work well for you. On the other hand, a high-volume operation will generally be better off with a high-grade barcode reader because it can read faster and is more reliable. Another factor is the quality of the bar codes that will also affect your decision. In many industrial environments, barcode labels might be hard to read or damaged. Thus you need a high-quality input device that can read poor or damaged labels in order to save time and reduce errors.

  3. Computer System

    Once you have decided on the scanner technology, you must have a system to process the bar code input. There are four types of computer systems, which included single user, multi-user, local area network, and portable system.

    • Single User:

      These systems use a single PC with a single bar code reader to process data. These are generally the best type of system to start with, as they give you experience with bar code technology without some of the complexities of multi-user systems.

    • Multi-User:

      Consists of a single computer that is hooked to several bar code readers, terminal, or both.

    • Local Area Network:

      This systems connect several essentially single-user systems and common file server using a network. These are the most flexible systems and currently the most popular.

    • Portable Systems:

      Portables can be used with all systems mentioned above. They are used with computers to keep data current either in real time or in batch mode.


Types of Data Collection Systems

Bar code data collection systems fall into three basic types: wireless, batch, and hybrid. A wireless system consists of one or more portables connected in real time to a computer. In these systems, the central computer manages data collection and verification as the user enters data. A batch system uses one or more portables to gather data that is stored for later input to a computer. This is the most common and most economical portable system. It can do only limited validity checking. A hybrid system is a combination of the two.

Wireless Systems

Wireless systems have several advantages over batch systems, which include:

  1. Immediate Data Verification

    Since the central computer is in control of the data collection and verification it can check the validity of the data entered and provide variable responses depending on that validity.

  2. Sophisticated Data Verification

    When performing data verification, a wireless system can check more variables. For example, a batch system can check the status of a part number only against the last part numbers that was sent to the portable. A wireless system can check the status of a part number against the entire inventory at any time.

  3. User Interaction

    Wireless system can provide users immediate feedback when an error occurs and allow the users to solve problem with the real-time data.

  4. Error Reduction

    All of the above advantages tend to reduce errors in a wireless system. The loss of productivity and revenue will be minimized with fewer errors.

  5. Easy Setup

    Much like programming for a PC, wireless systems use standard programming techniques and error checking. You can process each transaction and verify data in real time. Batch processing has to process data in batches and needs a mechanism to correct errors after the fact.

Batch Systems

Batch Systems can be used with portable readers or used in some fixed-mount systems where the reader can continue to collect data even if the computer system goes down. While wireless systems are superior in the ways listed above, batch systems do have some advantages:

  1. Economical for Standard Portables

    Some portables can be used for both wireless and batch applications. Wireless applications require a costly radio frequency (RF) network. On average, setup costs for batch systems are less than half the costs of RF systems.

  2. Reliable

    Since batch processing distributes data collection to stand-alone units, operation is not dependent on the central computer. If a particular unit fails, it can be replaced. If the central computer fails, data collection can continue.

Hybrid Systems

Hybrid systems combine attributes of both wireless and batch processing. They are:

  1. Radio Frequency Systems

    Radio Frequency Systems use RF signals to connect portable readers to a central computer in an interactive manner. This give the advantages of a wireless system combined with portability. RF can be classified into two types:

    • The simplest RF bar code device is a portable scanner that communicates with a single receiver connected to a computer or terminal.

    • Another type of RF system connects one or more portables to a typical computer network through a RF access point. The access point can 'roam' from one point to another that allows connectivity throughout a large facility.

  2. Batch/Wireless Hybrids

    Batch/Wireless hybrids use local batch processing combined with a wireless link to a central computer. These work primarily as wireless system, but they can function independently for a period of time if the central computer fails. While most batch systems simply upload data to a central computer, dual mode batch systems can also download data from the computer to the batch system and use it for data verification and other uses.

  3. Multiple Interactive Systems

    Multiple wireless systems connect more than one wireless system to a network. This way, if one computer fails, another can still manage critical parts of the system.


What need to be considered before installing a barcode system?


Be sure to take into consideration of your company's future needs while evaluating its current needs. You should plan on expanding virtually every system you install, because a lot of possible hassles can be avoided when upgrading a system. Do not install a system that you will not be able to expand in the future. In particular, keep these factors in mind:

  1. Extra Terminals or Stations:

    Install more RAM and a larger hard drive than you currently need. This will allow for the addition of new terminals or workstations.

  2. Wiring:

    Wire for extra workstations can usually be added when the cabling is pulled with virtually no extra costs. Be sure to pull some extra cables if you can, at least in the more difficult run.

  3. Network Length Limitations:

    Many networks have a definite length for the total cable making up the network. These limitations are most prevalent on Ethernet networks. Don't select a network that does not allow a few extra terminals to be added easily.

  4. Speed:

    When selecting a computer or terminal, be sure it has upgradeable speed. In most cases you are much better off obtaining better performance of a little extra money. Be sure to use the best disk cache you can, and don't skimp on RAM.


  1. Power Supply:

    In all systems you must ensure that each workstation has a reliable power source. In most cases you can use any convenient power outlet. In industrial situations it is always a good idea to add a surge suppressor to the equipment at installation. In manufacturing environment with large equipment, you may need a dedicated power line, an uninterruptible power supply, or both.

  2. Backup Hardware:

    As a system is integrated into an operational process, it will gradually become more critical. It will be advantageous to have backup hardware somewhere in the facility to take care of some inevitable failures. In many cases, you can keep a spare PC in use for another purpose as long as it can be quickly brought on line in case of a failure. Be sure to keep the software on the spare PC up to date so that you can be switched quickly. Also, ensure you have a backup tape and be able to perform automatic daily backups.

  3. Utilities:

    When you install a system, you should include diagnostic and troubleshooting utilities to take care of inevitable problems. You should always include some disk and virus-detection utilities to void virus attacks.


What is the alternative of bar coding?

As an alternative to barcode equipment, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), uses non-contact readers to activate small radio transponders that emit a unique ID code or other information in its memory. These wireless AIDC systems allow are effective in manufacturing and other hostile environments where bar code labels could not survive. RFID has established itself in a wide range of markets including livestock identification and automated vehicle identification (AVI) systems because of its ability to track moving objects.

Key Benefits:

  • Lower cost transponders offering multi-read capabilities
  • Read/write electronic storage technology
  • Wide range of products satisfying a range of data storage and data transfer needs
  • Low to reasonably high (64Kbits) data storage capability
  • Wide range of data transfer rates, depending on device and carrier frequency used. Generally speaking, the higher the carrier frequency the higher the data transfer rates achievable
  • Close proximity (inductive systems) to tens of meters (radiating systems), without the need for line-of-sight interrogation, depending upon type of transponders and interrogation hardware
  • Robust constructions available, allowing use in reasonably harsh conditions.

Barcode Glossary


American Standard Code for Information Interchange is a computer code, as described in ISO standard 646, consisting of 128 alphanumeric and control characters, each encoded with 7 bits (an 8th bit may or may not be used to include a parity check) that is used for the exchange of information between computerized systems.

Asset Tracking

A simple bar code system that gives a company the ability to consistently locate each asset.

Automatic Identification Data Collection (AIDC)

AIDC is a term used to describe direct entry of data into a computer system, programmable logic controller (PLC) or other microprocessor-controlled device without using a keyboard.

Automatic Identification System

The application of various technologies, such as bar code recognition, image recognition, voice recognition and RF/MW transponders, for the purpose of data entry into a data processing system and bypassing the key-entry component of traditional data entry.

Bar Code Character

A single group of bars and spaces which represent an individual number, letter, punctuation mark or other symbol.

Bar Code Density

The number of characters represented in a linear unit of measure, often expressed in characters per inch (CPI).

Bar Code Label

A label with a bar code that is suitable to be affixed to an article or item.

Bar Code Reader

A device used to read or decode a bar code symbol.

Bar Code Symbol

The combination of symbol characters and features required by a particular symbology, including quiet zones, start and stop characters, data characters, check characters and other auxiliary patterns, that together form a complete entity that can be scanned.


Denotes that a machine-readable symbol can be read successfully in two directions - either backwards or forwards. Also identifies a scanner that can operate or a bar code that can be read independent of scanning direction.


Charge Coupled Device is an array (linear or matrix) of transductive elements where packets of electrons are set in each element as a result of the quantity of light received during an exposure interval, and these packets are recovered from the array in the form of a pulse height-modulated electric signal.

Data Collection System

A system with input devices located at points where data is created. Once captured, the data is immediately transmitted by cable, telephone line or radio signal to a central location, usually in or near a computer room for automatic recording. The data may also be transmitted to a storage medium such as tape, disk or semiconductor memory for later transfer to a host computer application program.

Data Collection Terminals

Terminals or scanners with a built-in scanner from an input port that is capable of accepting data from laser and/or CCD scanners. Data collected from scan is routinely stored and transmitted to a host.

Data Identifier

A specified character or string of characters that defines the intended use of the data element that follows. For the purposes of automatic data capture technologies, data identifier refers to the alphanumeric identifiers as defined in ANSI MH10.8.2, formerly known as ANSI/FACT data identifiers.


An electronic package that receives the signals from the scanning function, performs the algorithm to interpret the signals into meaningful data and provides the interface to other devices.

Inventory Control

Applications where bar coding and other forms of AIDC are used to add items or delete items from inventory with 100 percent item accuracy.

Laser Scanner

An optical bar code reading device using a coherent laser light beam as its source of illumination.

Matrix Symbols

A 2-dimensional array of regular polygon shaped cells where the center-to-center distance of adjacent elements is uniform. The arrangement of the cells represents data and/or symbology functions. Matrix symbols may include recognition patterns that do not follow the same rule as the other elements within the symbol (i.e., Data Matrix and MaxiCode).


Bar codes read in any orientation relative to the scanner.

Radio Frequency

Non-optical automatic identification devices that use radio waves to transmit data.

Radio Frequency Data Communication (RFDC)

Handheld or vehicle mounted units that send and receive messages by radio frequency. Information from the units is displayed on a screen for workers and allows real-time, two-way exchange of data between terminals when one terminal is mobile and the other is a host computer at a remote location.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

The use of small radio transponders that are activated by a reading transmitter. The transponder carries a unique ID code or other information in its memory and can be read at a distance without line of sight. Radio Frequency Tag is an electronic tag capable of receiving, storing and/or transmitting digital information.

Radio Frequency Terminals (RF Terminals)

A wireless portable device used to interact with a remote host computer.


An electronic device that converts optical information into electrical signals.


Numbers, letters and computer-recognized characters represented in a combination of bars and spaces, similar to Morse Code that encodes characters in dots and dashes. The rules for encoding the characters in wide and narrow bars and spaces are called a symbology.

Two-dimensional symbology

A machine-readable symbol which must be examined both vertically and horizontally to read the entire message. A 2D symbol may be one of two types of machine-readable symbols: a Matrix Symbol or a stacked symbol. 2D symbols differ from linear bar codes with the ability for high data content, small size, data efficiency and error correction capability.


A device that makes measurements of the bars, spaces, quiet zones and optical characteristics of a symbol to determine if the symbol meets the requirements of a specification or standard.

Vertical Bar Code

A bar code pattern presented in such orientation that the symbol from start to stop is perpendicular to the horizon. The individual bars are in an array appearing as rungs of a ladder.

Wand Scanner

A handheld scanning device used as a contact bar code or OCR reader.

Warehouse Management

An application that uses bar codes or other forms of AIDC within a warehouse to keep track of receiving, inspecting, storing, controlling inventory, picking and shipping of items and locations within the warehouse facility.


A device that plugs in between a keyboard and a terminal and allows data to be entered by a keyboard or by various types of scanners.


An application or process that monitors product flow during the manufacturing process through to the finished goods stage, and also monitors processes within a warehouse.


Industry Links

GS1 Canada:

A member of GS1, the world's leading supply chain standards organization. Need a UPC Barcode, look here.


The leading voice for the U.S. technology industry and the "Champion of Innovation."

Data Interchange Standards Association (DISA):

The home for the development of cross-industry electronic business interchange standards.

IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers:

The world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.


The world's leading supply chain standards organization.

More Information on Bar code Technology

For more in-depth information on bar code technology, you can visit our homepage and talk to our knowledgeable project specialists. OCR Ltd. has been recognized as a leader in the delivery and installation of innovative Automated Identification Data Capture (AIDC) solutions since 1981. Customers across a variety of industries can gain competitive advantage by utilizing OCR's broad range of barcode and wireless LAN equipment to increase operational efficiency and decrease costs. Products we carry include: barcode readers, barcode scanners, barcode laser scanners, barcode laser readers, portable barcode scanners, portable barcode readers, and RFID equipment. Our professional implementation team provides the best working solutions utilizing the newest technologies and will ensure a smooth transition in operational processes. You can rely on us for top quality barcode equipment because we only select the "best of breed" from world leading Auto-ID manufacturers which include: Motorola, Symbol Technologies, Intermec, Honeywell, Datalogic, Psion, Teklogix, Teklynx, Zebex, Sato, Sick Optic, AML, Datamax, Metrologic, HHP, PSC, Denso, Linx Data Terminals, Opticon, Unitech, and others.

A good resource site for everything to do with POS software visit possoftware. It offers a list of full of newsletters, articles, links and other resources in one easy to navigate site to save time and money.

Also, see our barcode and RFID reference pages to read about barcode and RFID technology and how these technologies are used in the AIDC industry.