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Five Things to know about barcodes


#1 You don't have to buy a printer

Many of our clients are using our systems for asset management, for inspections, or to track the issue and return of tools. For these applications you don't need a printer. Barcode printers are expensive to buy, tricky to set up, inherently prone to failure (because of all the moving mechanical parts), they need software, and you have to design the labels.

So what is the alternative? Buy labels pre-printed. We offer labels to your specification.

#2 Print black stripes on a white background

One of the most frequent questions we have is "do barcodes have to be printed on a white background". The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that you may be able to get away with printing on other colours, but it is unreliable.

We have had cases where labels on textured backgrounds worked well with some readers, but rendered other readers "blind". So this becomes a solution of last resort. Our advice is don't do it. If you feel you really have to, talk to us or to another competent authority.

#3 Use 1D barcodes

Some suppliers promote 2D barcode labels on the grounds that they can encode the whole Gettysburg address. But we have never had a project where we needed to encode the Gettysburg address in a barcode. Our strong advice is to use a 1D barcode as a reference to a database that holds all the data you want. Even two Gettysburg addresses.

The result is the same, scan the barcode and see the data. But the readers are cheaper, and you can use pre-printed barcodes. A 1D barcode used this way can do anything a 2D barcode can do. If you think you have an application that really, really needs 2D, then talk to us before you go ahead.

#4 Use Code 128C - and an even number of characters

OK, so this one is a cross between poetry and perfectionism. Many systems still use Code 39 as a symbology. But Code 128 has a smaller footprint, has more error checking, and can handle the full range of ascii characters. If you want to go for perfectionism, limit the ID you are encoding to numeric, and keep an even number of characters. This will enable the barcode to be printed using Code 128C, which is even more compact and easier to read.

#5 Barcodes need room, and quiet space

One of the most common errors that can render a barcode unreadable, or worse, intermittently readable, is lack of quiet space.

Barcode reader operates by distinguishing the white spaces from the black bars. But it needs to understand what white is. So it calibrates itself with the white space either side of the bars.A common error is to print to the edge of the label. The read then becomes unreliable.

Two real life examples:  labels which read when placed on a white cabinet, but not when placed on a black cabinet, and the executive who trimmed the white space each side of the barcodes on his office equipment, to "make them look nicer".

Call us if you need more quiet space. On your barcodes.

If you found this useful, you might also want to review:

an introduction to barcode technology

an introduction to RFID

mobile data collectors

consulting services: barcodes and their applications


SageData is based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

We design, supply and support systems built around RFID, Barcodes and Handheld computers.

For further information, or for advice and assistance with your application, contact Doreen Garvin or Trinity Joseph.

Click here to reach SageData by email.

To reach us by phone:
from outside Ottawa, dial 1-888-838-1067
from Ottawa, dial 613-225-4404

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