Why are bar codes so popular?
The answer is simple, they are very cheap to produce.
Where are barcodes used
There are three major applications for barcoding:
Bespoke, 80% of all barcodes do not have international recognition
- Mass market (everyday consumer products, these tend to use the UPC-8, UPC-13 or
EAN-8, EAN-13 formats)
- Standardized by a well know organization
- MaxiCode - United Parcel Services
- PostNet - US Postal Services
Bespoke barcodes tend to be for internal use, or specific to an industry / product
and can be defined by any organization using any number of barcode formats, these
are usually encoded in one of the following symbologies:
I'll try to provide a list of these barcode types with a brief description of each,
but this list is not necessarily fully inclusive. This site concentrate on
the 80% of the market that requires the more bespoke barcodes used internally by
organizations or those that adhere to loose standardization such as seen on printed
circuit boards, support tickets, etc. Click on links above for details and
the FREE fonts, or
for the free barcode string generator.
Caveats to barcodes
Barcode software can be expensive, I'll try to provide links and code developed
personally to provide this free (and I do mean free, no catches).
Mass Market Barcodes
There are many barcodes you see in every day use, these include those on coca-cola
tins (my favourite product) and other mass produced retail items, the format of these
barcodes is usually EAN-13. Another standard format is EAN-8 which is used
by the likes of Wal-Mart for own brand products.
If you wish to produce a product that is available and recognized by the general
retail markets / industry, manufacturers codes will need to purchase from within
your region but this will then be known world wide, refer to
Global Standards Organization.
As a mass market producer you will also need to disseminate your full list of product
codes in a standardized format.
To list the standards in barcodes we must start with a list that we see in very
day use when purchasing items from supermarkets, convenience stores or any other
general retail product, these barcodes include:
- United States
- Japan & Asia
Examples with definitions
2 characters - Country of Origin
5 characters - Manufacturer
5 characters - Product code
1 character - Checksum (see later)
7 characters - Internal product code
1 character - Checksum (see later)
These are values that produce a validation of all the previous numbers / characters
within the barcode. There are many formulas and algorithms to producing these
values depending on the format required, I only provide detail for code 39 and code
128, but if you wish to see further information for the mass market barcodes click
on one of the links below.
Recommended further reading regarding mass produced standard barcodes
(please refer to free barcode software before making
Alternatives to barcoding
RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification, this is a growing market sector as costs
of producing and fitting these tags to mass market products is being reduced.
The tags are likely to be very cheap short wave communication devices that can identify
themselves to a transmitter within 5 metres, but they basically transmit the same
information as encoded within a 2-D barcode such as (PDF417), but without the requirement
of the scan, just within a proximity, hence they are often known as proximity tags
or proximity scanners).