Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are there different barcodes?

There are about 300 different bar codes used. Bar codes can hold numerical data, alphabetical and numerical - called "alphanumeric" - data, or just alphabetical information. There are three basic "types" or symbologies used: Linear, Two Dimensional, and Composite. Linear bar codes use the familiar black bars of varying widths separated by white spaces to hold data. Two dimensional bar codes - also called 2D - use varying graphical symbols to hold data. Composite bar codes combine linear and 2D symbologies. Common linear bar code "fonts" are Code 3 of 9 (sometimes called Code 39), UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN-8, Code 128, and Interleaved 2 of 5. 2D bar codes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are broadly categorized as Matrix or Multi-Row symbologies. Matrix codes use arrangements of dots or patterns to hold data, while Multi-Row codes look like "traditional" bar codes stacked on top of one another. 2D codes are used in different industries for specialized data applications. Special printers and readers are sometimes required to use 2D bar codes.

Q: How do barcodes work?

A barcode is really little more than a "license plate" that identifies an item. It is made up of dark and light spaces which can be read by a machine which detects the relative widths of the dark and light spaces. When the letters or numbers in the bar code are read, a computer can look up additional information about that product in a database, such as price, color, size, etc. Bar codes are read using laser lights or by scanning the digital "picture" taken by specialized readers.

Q: How do I print a barcode?

Bar codes can be printed on virtually any printer, but the main thing to remember is that the bar code must be readable by a scanner. This requires that the barcode must be in compliance with industry specifications and that it be readable by the scanners used for that symbology. Generally, a bar code scanner has to be able to clearly distinguish between the white spaces and the black bars. Theoretically, you could print a bar code using a dot matrix or laser printer - but some printers are unable to render the bar code in the required resolution for scanners to read.
Finally, many manufacturing processes use "auto application" machinery which takes the printed labels and automatically apply them to packages - without a human worker in the process.

Q: What size should my barcode label be?

If you don't have to worry about suppliers or customers using the same bar code, you can choose virtually any label size you want. Keep in mind that your scanning equipment must be able to "read" the data. If you're complying with suppliers' or customers' requirements, you need to first be aware of their labeling needs, which typically involve specifications for the bar code symbology, the dimensions of the bar code elements (to facilitate scanning), and the height and width of the code.

Q: Whats the difference between Thermal Transfer and Thermal Direct?

Both Thermal Transfer and Thermal Direct printers use a heated printhead to print an image on a label. A Thermal Transfer printer uses heat to melt a wax- or resin-based material from a ribbon onto a label, while a Thermal Direct printer uses no ribbon, instead relying on the action of the heat of its printhead to darken the specially treated material on a label. There are costs associated with both: Thermal Transfer printers can use paper labels - which are cheaper - but use ribbons. Direct Thermal printers use no ribbons, but require specially prepared or treated materials for labels which react to the heat.

Q: Whats the difference between 802.11a and 802.11.b?

Both are wireless data networking standards. 802.11b operates in the 2.4GHz frequency, while 802.11a operates at 5GHz. The other main differences are in speed and range: 802.11b transmits at 11Mbps (megabits per secone), while 802.11a transmits at 54 Mbps. 802.11b is effective to about 300 feet, while 802.11a is good only to about 60 feet - and speed goes down as distance increases.

Q: What is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, and is a technology dating back to World War II, when Allied bombers used radio transmitters to broadcast a signal that could be interpreted by ground controllers as belonging to "friendly" aircraft. (Thus the name, "Identification, Friend or Foe," or more familiarly, "IFF.") Today, RFID typically means the ability to mark goods using a small chip or tag which transmits a signal when it comes within range of an RFID antenna. RFID differs from traditional bar code, in that no "line of sight" between the tag and the scanning device (or in RFID's case, an antenna). A bar code scanner must be in a direct line with the label so it can "see" it and "read" it. An RFID tag, on the other hand, can be sensed without a direct line of sight. Also, RFID Tags can generally hold more data, so more information about a product can be attached to a product.