The Problem With Poor Quality Barcodes
At the retail checkout, whenever a barcode fails to scan, it slows down the trading process because it forces the cashier—or the customer at self-checkout counters—to manually key in the product number or price of the affected item, which also presents the risk of human errors.
At the supply chain level, the failure of the barcode to read can halt shipments, disturb manufacturing processes, and provide incorrect product information.
But that’s not even the worst possible outcome. In some cases, vendors end up rejecting an entire consignment of goods due to problematic barcodes, resulting in lost sales and, as we’ve talked about earlier, may incur serious fines.
Barcode verification fixes all this by identifying any issues with the barcode prior to release and eliminating all issues right at the source.
With the recent change in retailers’ policies regarding barcode verification in Australia, certified vendors can now perform barcode verification in-house, saving them serious time, money, and effort in packaging updates.
Intermax has been supplying Axicon ISO Graaded verifiers in Australia for well over a decade and has been a trainer in these systems for just as long. As such, we have been accepted as a trainer by Axicon to certify companies like yours to comply with the required verification standards.
Got questions about barcodes and the barcode verification process?
We’ve got all the answers right here!
There are many reasons for having an ISO grade barcode verifier in your organisation. Aside from providing for prompt and timely testing of your barcodes, it ensures that issues are discovered and fixed immediately prior to production. Many substrates (surface material) can affect barcode printing through bleeding or shrinkage, and only a barcode verifier can detect these deformations! While ISO grade verifiers are not cheap and for new or small businesses, using a third party for this service is the most easy and economical way. However, for companies with large product ranges, self verification assists with substantial savings in administration and distribution costs as well as enabling more frequent and timely testing.
Even prior to package completion, barcode verifiers are an invaluable tool that assists in pre-testing of samples and packaging design analysis. An Axicon ISO verifier can tell you if your packaging background is suitable for a barcode even before one is printed onto it! Issues with printing bleed or shrinkage are measured quickly and can be adjusted prior to the costly printing process starting.
Testing of SSCC (GS128) labels is often missed by companies due to the print and apply times being generally too short to involve GS1 or other third party testing. Having an in-house verification system allows immediate and regular testing of not only the barcode quality but also the content of the label such as best before date, batch number, quantity, or weight, ensuring they are all correct prior to dispatch of goods.
Many companies today use automated production systems and rely on barcodes to identify different stages of the work in progress. Having an in-house verification system ensures that barcode issues can be identified and rectified immediately, saving huge time and money in production losses.
Non-retail item applications such as loyalty cards, discount coupons, and asset labelling all require accuracy and quality in the barcode production to ensure the success of the solution. Regular in-house testing ensures that these areas are also covered and mistakes are identified quickly.
There are approximately 30 linear (1D) barcodes presently in use in the world, plus a number of 2D codes. All of these codes perform a similar function in that they automate the reading of the embedded code. However, they are not all open to be used by anyone in any industry.
In fact, most are designed for specific tasks and should not be used while others may not function as required due to restrictions in their abilities.
Standard Linear Barcodes
In general, if you are going to use a barcode ONLY within the walls of your business AND you know that these codes will not be used in any other way outside of your business, then you can use a standard linear barcode.
The symbologies most suitable and openly available are Code 128 or Code 39 Symbologies. Both of these codes are able to handle numbers and characters (and some symbols), so they can be used for items or location labels.
There are other 1D codes available, such as Interleave 2 of 5 (code 2of5). However, the structure of this symbology allows for a scanner to only do partial reads if the reading beam cuts diagonal through the code without cutting all lines from start to finish, which can cause reading issues. This problem can be solved by either printing a thick box around the code to prevent this from happening or by setting a minimum/maximum reading count in your scanner. However, it is much easier to pick one of the previous options.
There are other linear codes that could be used, but most have been allocated to special requirements or industries and would not be suitable for general use.
Check out our Barcode Symbologies Guide to learn more!
Standard 2D Codes
2D codes are relatively new to the industry and were predominantly created to hold much larger amounts of data than just a short numeric or alphanumeric string.
There are different formats in existence, and they have different benefits.
- PDF417 is a stacked linear format and is basically thin strips of normal linear barcodes stacked on top of each other.
- A QR code or datamatrix code both are true 2D codes having a physical x,y structure. These types of codes have the ability to hold anywhere between a few characters of information and thousands of characters.
2D codes are now becoming popular in industries that wish to have greater amounts of changing information, such as use-by or production dates. The courier industry is also now using these for holding address information that would be too large for a normal linear code.
GS1 Barcodes – 1D and 2D
Barcode numbers (GTINs) are unique identifiers for items (single units, packs, pallets, or global “addresses”) that ensure that any coded item can be tracked, traced, and identified from its source to its final destination, be it on a supermarket shelf or in a factory being assembled further into a finished product. When allocating identifier numbers, you need to determine the type of trade item you wish to number.
There are different GS1 ID keys to suit different uses. You can use GS1 ID keys to identify anything from a product or place to a consignment note or crate. Simply put, ID keys identify objects within the supply chain.
- For a detailed listing of these ID Keys, please click on the following link: Types of GS1 ID Keys
- A separate unique barcode number (Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)) must be allocated to every different variant of an item (e.g., colour, size, model, pack size, style).
It is strongly recommended that someone within your company be assigned to manage the allocation of barcode numbers (GTINs) and keep accurate and updated records of the numbers created to avoid duplication.
For guidelines on items requiring separate numbers and when to change a barcode number (GTIN) on an item, you are advised to contact GS1 or download their GTIN allocation guide here: GTIN Management
If you already have your numbers but require some more assistance, please feel free to contact us.
If you need to attain your GS1 barcodes, click here: Join GS1
If you have received your numbers and wish to get a GS1 barcode image for your package design to provide to your printer, we can help with that.
Likewise, if you have a limited number of products and simply want to attach barcode labels to each one, we can help with that too.
A GS1 Barcode will guarantee that your code remains unique to your item and that it will not be read by mistake as something else.
Do you intend to use your barcodes ONLY within your own business or will they be used outside as well?
This is an extremely important question because it will dictate whether you can use a FREE generic barcode symbology (such as code 128 or code 39) or need to get a GS1 barcode.
GS1 barcodes are assigned with unique numbering to ensure that they remain assigned only to your company’s products and will not be used by anybody else in the world. For information on how to get a GS1 barcode, read on.
Choosing the right barcode is an important decision that should be made with a clear direction. Where and what it is to be used on may change the type needed.
Click the following link to view the GS1 General Specifications guide: GS1 General Specifications Guide
If you’re looking to use barcodes within your business for stock locations, in-house identification, in-house item tracking, or work in progress tracking, then you can use a generic symbology such as Code128 or Code39.
These codes are easy to produce, free to use, and have a strong structure that will ensure accurate reading. Their code content can be alphanumeric and designed to best suit your business’ needs.
There are also no particular sizing constraints when producing internal barcodes. However, it is important to consider what scanners will be used and ensure codes are large enough to suit the reading criteria of the model used.
Note: These codes should never be used for any application outside your business because it may conflict with another business’ codes.
Read our Barcode Symbology Guide for more information!
External-Use Barcodes – GS1 Barcodes
For all external retail requirements, you’ll need to use a GS1 barcode to ensure your products comply with the retail standard and are uniquely identified anywhere in the world.
To attain GS1 barcodes for your business, you must either obtain your barcodes from a reliable online barcode seller or register your company with GS1 as a member.
Online sellers can supply one-off costs for barcodes that were supplied prior to the GS1 subscription, so there are no ongoing fees to worry about.
GS1 memberships come with annual fees but also give you access to ongoing support with using the GS1 systems and assistance with code placement on your products. You will also be provided with a limited access to their test center to ensure that your barcodes read correctly and meet both regional and international standards.
Wherever you obtain your barcodes from, though, the onus is on you to ensure that the code is unique and can read correctly.
For online barcodes, we have provided a link to one a reseller you can use, but there are several to choose from: Buy a Barcode
If you want to obtain GS1 barcodes, we have provided a link to the GS1 Australia website to get you started: JOIN GS1 and Get a Barcode!
Online Barcode Sales
The large retail organizations have now changed their policies so that the supplier of the barcoded goods are responsible for the barcodes being unique and readable.
In recent years, a business has started selling barcodes online, which, while not illegal, uses American GS1 barcodes that start with a zero or told UCPA American barcodes. The use of these barcodes has now generally been accepted by all retailers, so there should be little issue in using them. They also certainly do cost less than an annual subscription to the GS1. However, you should check with your clients first if they have any issues before you start printing them on all of your packaging just to be sure.
Further information on a type of barcode is provided in the next section: “What type of barcode do I need for my business”
Getting a Barcode Image to Use in Your Package Printing
If you have received your barcode numbers and wish to get an image of your barcode to provide to your packaging designer or printing company to include in your design, you will need an EPS image. We can either provide the image service on a one-by-one basis or supply you a system that will create these images for you on the fly. Please contact us for more information.
An EPS file is a graphics file saved in the Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) file format. It may contain 2D vector graphics, bitmap images, and text. The EPS format was released in 1992 and intended to be a standard image format that could be used to exchange images across different platforms.
Getting Barcode Labels to Stick on Your Products
If you are just starting out or have a limited number of products and simply want to attach printed barcode labels, we can help you with that.
Whether you need 10 or 10,000, we can design and print the labels to your requirements.
If you have larger quantity requirements but still want to use adhesive labels, we can also set you up with a cost-effective printer, the software to design your labels, and all the consumables to allow you to do this in-house just as easily. Please contact us for more information.
To check a GTIN for its registered ownership credentials, simply go to the following link and input the GTIN in question: Search by GTIN
Barcodes that have been purchased online, however, may not be as easy to check because the codes supplied are likely to have come from previous US companies and are not registered to you. This does not at all mean that you cannot use them or that they are not legal. You just won’t be able to search your company on the GS1 database.
The good news is that some of the businesses selling these codes online offer their own databases that you can use instead.
The issue here is that while your scanner may read the codes without issue, the next scanner may not. This means your scanner does not allow you to actually gauge the quality, accuracy, and readability of your codes.
While many of the new handheld scanners on the market use a “fuzzy technology” to assist in reading poor quality barcodes, allowing them to guess the code with a fairly high level of accuracy, the expensive retail store scanners work in the opposite way. They are calibrated to NOT read poor quality barcodes to eliminate the risk of incorrect reads.
Unfortunately, many suppliers still test their codes using regular scanners—only to find that they fail in the store or distribution centre. The result? These suppliers are forced to recall everything to be repackaged, relabelled, or sent to the reject shop, losing serious money in the process.
While ISO barcode verifiers are more expensive than regular scanners, they are actual laboratory devices designed specifically to check the quality of your codes—and they work extremely well. They not only indicate that your barcode passes the required grade when they do, but also tell you why your barcode may fail so you can fix it before it is rolled out.
At the end of the day, if your barcode verifier saves you just one instance of a product going out with the wrong number or poorly printed, then it has paid for itself many times over.
2D barcodes offer an attractive alternative to linear codes. They are not only generally smaller, but they also hold significantly more data. Why not just use them on everything?
A 2D barcode is a graphical image that stores information both horizontally (as one-dimensional bar codes do) and vertically. As a result of this difference in construction, 2D codes can store significantly more data: up to 7,089 characters in some. This is significantly more than that of a linear (1D) barcode.
However, using these 2D codes on products requires careful consideration.
If the product is to be used outside your business, then you need to ensure that your 2D codes are unique to your products. To do this, you need to register with GS1 and use their standards for 2D codes.
In addition, since 2D codes are still fairly new and not yet widely accepted in all areas of business, you must consider who will be scanning your products and whether they will have the necessary equipment to read 2D barcodes.
2D barcodes require a different type of scanner to standard 1D readers, and while most new scanners are able to read both, a significant amount of older ones that cannot read 2D codes still exist in the field.
If you’re looking to only use 2D codes internally, though, then they are definitely a great choice.
An area where 2D barcodes are growing rapidly in advertising. The QR 2D barcodes, also known as quick response codes because they enable fast data access, are being used in stores and on magazines to offer more information on a product when used in conjunction with smartphones. The user simply scans the 2D QR barcode with their phone’s camera or QR reader app, and they are redirected to a website about said product. Some 2D barcode systems also deliver information in the form of a message for users without web access. These codes are what you have been scanning in on your mobile phones during the Covid 19 Pandemic.
This capability has made 2D barcodes revolutionary for mobile marketing.