Barcode Printing Best Practices

Bar CodeWhile barcodes have been an integral part of the business world for several decades, they have  recently become important to the average consumer, too.

Because of the rise in popularity of mobile barcodes, barcode labels are now considered an indispensable element of marketing strategy. The use of mobile barcodes by consumers rose over 1,000 percent over the course of 2011. Why? Barcodes can provide consumers with discounts, valuable information or quick access to a website.

When using barcodes, it is important to keep a few rules in mind to ensure they are quickly recognized and easily scannable.

How Barcodes Work
The first barcode most people have come to recognize is the UPC product code. This type of barcode is known as a one-dimensional (1-D) barcode because the information is encoded only in its width and is not dependent on height. These barcodes hold information that is encoded through the width and spacing of the vertical bars. The information contained by the barcode consists of a series of numbers, letters, common symbols or instructions for the barcode reader. The barcode reader is an infrared or laser device that identifies barcodes and decodes the information they contain.

Today, two-dimensional (2-D) barcodes are becoming the standard because they can contain much more information and a more complex set of instructions than 1-D barcodes. Two-dimensional barcodes are usually square, and the information is embedded through the location of small square marks within the larger square grid. Mobile barcodes may be read by laser scanners, but new technology allows for image-recognition scanning through mobile phone cameras.

Choosing Proper Barcode Size
One of the most important aspects of printing barcodes is the size. In theory, barcodes can be of any size. In practice, the minimum barcode size is restricted by printing resolution and resolution of the scanner. The maximum size is limited by the size of the scanner or the distance from which it can be read. When using 1-D barcodes, the minimum width for a barcode containing 15 characters printed at 100 dpi is 6 inches. At 300 dpi, the minimum width is reduced to 2 inches.

The size of 2-D barcodes depends on several factors. When printing mobile barcodes or barcode labels, a minimum size of 1 inch by 1 inch is recommended. On large posters, barcodes should be larger, especially if people may be standing some distance away while scanning.

Optimizing Barcode Recognition
Several techniques can help in optimizing the recognition of a barcode by a scanner. In addition to size, two important factors are color and placement. Barcodes should always be printed in black on a white background, and they should be placed only on flat surfaces without wrinkles or folds. In addition, barcodes should be placed within arm’s reach to prevent having to scan them at an angle. Barcodes should also be given a space separate from other images, especially when they are to be scanned with a mobile phone. Many people are tempted to incorporate barcodes into some form of branding, but this only confuses imaging scanners.

Barcodes have recently become very important to consumers, and consumers are using them more than ever before. Because their use is new for many people, printing and placement strategies are largely unknown. The factor that is most important to remember is that the benefits of barcodes are lost if they cannot be quickly and easily scanned.