The best source for information on Barcodes. What is a Barcode? What are they used for? and how can you get barcodes?
What is a Barcode?
A Barcode is an image used to contain a small amount of information. In the majority of cases this information is simply a number which is then linked to other information in a computer system to represent more information, however in some cases barcodes can hold up to 7089 characters of information (QR Codes), and can incorporate letters, numbers and non-alphanumeric characters via code.
Barcodes can be scanned either by Barcode scanners or with cellphone apps. This allows for the quick transfer of information to a computer and can save people time, and reduce room for human error in a wide variety of different ways.
What are Barcodes Used For?
Barcodes are used for a variety of different reasons. Below a few of these reasons are described.
The most common way barcodes are used is in retail stores. Here the checkout operator needs to quickly be able to quickly pull up the product information (price etc) for every product in the store, in order to accurately make an itemized receipt. Of course the checkout operator could type in the price and name of each product as it goes through, but this would drastically increase the amount of time the process takes and also inevitably lead to human error (i.e. incorrectly typing in the price etc). Barcodes on every product ensures that the process goes smoothly with as few mistakes as possible.
Code-39 and Code-128 Barcodes are common in libraries as a means of keeping track of books. Here each book is assigned a barcode, which is scanned when it leaves and comes back to the library. This is an easy way of keeping track of books.
Gyms used barcodes in much a similar way to libraries. When people enter the Gym, they scan their membership card and when they leave they may do the same.
Couriers use barcodes to track parcels at each stage of delivery.
Large Businesses, Hospitals and various other places used barcodes to rapidly transfer information.
What Kinds of Retail Barcodes are there?
There are two main kinds of retail barcodes. Both of these are used in the same way (i.e. on retail products) and both are designed for international use. This means that either type of barcode can generally be used.
EAN-13 Barcodes are 13 digit numbers encoded into EAN-13 symbology. These types of barcodes are used almost exclusively throughout the world and only differ in this exact form for books and magazines (books and magazines use ISBN and ISSN numbers which are the encoded using the same EAN-13 Symbology). The only country that doesn’t used EAN-13 Barcodes predominantly is the USA where, although the accept EAN-13 Barcodes, UPC-A Barcodes are more common
UPC-A Barcodes are 12 digit retail barcodes for use on products. These are used as the main type of retail barcode in the USA but are not commonly seen elsewhere. Again UPC-A Barcodes are generally accepted internationally.
Are there any other kinds of Barcodes used in retail?
UPC-A and EAN-13 Barcodes are the only ones used as point of sale barcodes for retrieving the price at the checkout, however there are other barcodes used which are related to retail
ITF-14 Barcodes – The are carton codes used on the outer of a set amount of your product (i.e. a box of 12 might have an ITF-14 Barcode on it). These are created from the EAN-13 on the product withing the box and are required by larger retail stores which use them for keeping track of stock.
SSCC Pallet Barcodes – These are 18 digit barcodes used on pallets going into some really large retail chains. In this case a seperate SSCC Pallet Barcode is required for each and every pallet.
GLN Numbers (Global Location Numbers) are sometimes required also, however these are not technically a ‘Barcode’. Instead they are a unique number used as a location identifier, however, a barcode is never created from the number.
How to get various types of barcodes?
Depending on if you require retail barcode numbers or whether you require images to be created for any of the barcodes discussed above, there are a few different options.
1. GS1 – GS1 can supply you with retail barcode numbers for your product. To do this, they first charge you a joining fee and then charge you annual membership fees every year. Furthermore when they supply you with the barcodes, they only give you the numbers, so you are still stuck trying to figure out how to create the images.
2. Download/ Use online Software – Generally online barcode generators aren’t worth using – they can supply you with barcode images, but usually in just one format for one kind of barcode.
Downloadable software can be purchased for generating barcodes. Generally this costs around $300 for some good software. This is good for producing a wide variety of different kinds of barcodes (Good software can produce QR Codes, EAN-13 Barcodes, ITF-14 and Code-128 as well as anything in between), however it will still not provide you with legal barcode numbers for used on retail products. This option is mainly for business using barcodes for other purposes.
3. Purchase from an alternative barcode retailers – Legal retail barcodes can be purchased for a one-off cost from good alternative barcode retailers. The price differs depending on which country you are from, however these are almost always below $80 for one barcode (and generally the price drops the more you buy). These suppliers also offer barcode images with the barcode numbers and can produce images for any other kind of barcode for a small fee.
Below is a list of various alternative barcode retailers in various countries that can be trusted to help you through the barcoding process with as little hassle and cost as possible: