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1D Or 2D Barcodes: An In-Depth Analysis Of Both Label Types

1D Or 2D Barcodes: An In-Depth Analysis Of Both Label Types

September 14, 2022 admin Comments Off

Numerous businesses in Singapore utilise barcodes to monitor their products and inventory levels. If you are reading this article, chances are your company requires barcode scanners to streamline its business processes. By now, you would have familiarised yourself with the advantages barcode scanning technology brings to your enterprise. In that case, you may have come across two different barcode symbologies during your research – 1D and 2D barcode systems.

Both options provide similar benefits, allowing you to store information about your product in a machine-readable format that can be scanned with barcode scanners or, more recently, smartphones. So are there any differences in either symbology? Is one system superior to the other when it comes to labelling inventory, parts, equipment, and consumer products? These are undoubtedly questions that pop into your mind as you consider your options.

Naturally, you will want to have all the relevant information to avoid making a hasty decision. This guide will seek to address these queries and help you differentiate between 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes so that you can identify the barcode symbology most suited to your business operations.


What is the basic function of a barcode scanner?

What is the basic function of a barcode scanner Barcode scanner Singapore

At its core, a barcode scanner refers to an optical scanner that utilises light to copy the coded data printed on a label, decode it, and transmit the information to a computer. This information is transmitted through wired or wireless connections depending on the model of the barcode scanner.

Barcode components Barcode scanner Singapore

Source: https://www.denso-wave.com/en/adcd/fundamental/barcode/barcode/index.html

The best way to describe how this device work is to reference an ID Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode (similar to the image above). As you can see, the barcode is divided into numerous segments – or modules – where specific columns are white while others are dark.

Light is emitted from the barcode scanner and shown across the barcode when someone uses a scanner. When this happens, the dark modules displayed on the barcode will absorb the light. In contrast, the light modules reflect light back into the photoelectric cell of the scanner.

Subsequently, the photoelectric cell will produce a set of off-on pulses based on whether the light has been reflected back to it. The light is then converted via an electronic circuit to on-off pulses, registering as 0s and 1s in the computer.

If the light is reflected back to the barcode scanner, the scanner will register the input as a ‘0’. Conversely, light absorbed by a dark module is marked as a ‘1’. This pattern of 0s and 1s generates a number. When the reading is transferred to the computer, the device will cross-reference this number to identify the product this particular number corresponds to in the database.

What are the different types of barcode symbologies?

What are the different types of barcode symbologies Barcode scanner Singapore

If you plan on utilising barcode scanning technology, you must ensure that the system you implement is suited to your business operations. To achieve this, you should familiarise yourself with the different barcode symbologies and the types of barcode scanners available on the market. Let us start with the former.

Barcodes are divided into two main categories: one-dimensional (1D) and two-dimensional (2D). Both symbologies support different amounts and types of data. Your choice will impact the equipment you need to purchase, such as the barcode printer and barcode scanner.

1D barcodes encode data horizontally along the label, and they are generally more restrictive, as they can only store a limited amount of information. The maximum capacity is approximately 85 characters. But they can also be much less depending on the code type. When more data is required, the barcode is wider.

2D barcodes, as the name implies, utilise a two-dimensional way of representing information – horizontally and vertically. This symbology can contain much more data in a much smaller space than 1D barcodes. When more information is encoded into a 2D barcode, the size increases in both directions, allowing the barcode to maintain a manageable shape for easy scanning. To successfully decode the data, your barcode scanner must be able to read the entire symbol.

What are the different types of barcode scanners available on the market?

What are the different types of barcode scanners available on the market Barcode scanner Singapore

Now that you have a basic understanding of 1D and 2D barcodes, let us move on to the various types of barcode scanners on offer. As we have highlighted, the barcode symbology you use affects the type of scanner you have to purchase. This is because each scanner is designed for different applications. Some can read one particular symbology but not the other, while others can read multiple barcodes simultaneously. Here are the common barcode scanners available on the market.

1. Pen-type scanners

Pen-type scanners utilise a photodiode and a light source. These items are placed adjacently in the device to enable the photodiode to register the intensity of the light reflected back at the scanner. The barcode scanner then generates waveforms that measure the widths of the spaces and bars to decode the data contained within the barcode.

2. Laser scanners

This type of barcode scanner is similar to pen-type scanners. However, it uses a laser beam in place of a light source and a rotating prism or reciprocating mirror to enable the device to detect and scan the barcode.

3. Charge-coupled device (CCD) scanners

Unlike laser and pen-type scanners, a CCD scanner, also known as a LED scanner, detects and scans barcodes without producing any light beam. Instead, this device contains hundreds of tiny light sensors lined up horizontally across the tip of the reader to identify the intensity of the light reflected at it. When the barcode scanner detects the label, the sensors generate a voltage pattern identical to that of the barcode.

4. Camera-based scanners

Most people will probably be familiar with camera-based scanners since they function similarly to QR code scanning applications found on smartphones. The principle behind camera-based scanners is identical to CCD scanners. However, instead of light sensors, these devices use a small video camera to capture an image of the barcode before decoding the information with digital imaging software.

5. Omnidirectional scanners

An omnidirectional scanner is the most versatile barcode scanner on the market. Thanks to the device’s ability to direct multidirectional laser scanning lines in several orientations, thereby offering an arrangement that can detect a barcode’s bars and spaces from multiple angles, it can scan both 1D and 2D barcodes.

It uses a single rotating polygonal mirror, plus additional fixed mirrors, to generate the complex patterns required to read multiple barcode symbologies. Because of the device’s versatility and ease of use, it is commonly found in retail businesses like supermarkets since it is ideal for detecting ruffled, damaged, or poorly printed barcodes.

Additional features to note

When selecting your ideal barcode scanner, it is vital to note that you are not only purchasing the equipment based on the barcode symbology you intend to use. Your decision will also depend on your business needs.

If your employees need to move about your workplace to scan multiple inventories and monitor the stock count, a wireless handheld barcode scanner will be most efficient. Conversely, if you require the barcode scanner at a fixed location to scan multiple items, like the checkout counters of a supermarket, a stationary device is sufficient.

At the end of the day, regardless of your business needs, we still recommend purchasing quality equipment from a reliable brand, like Zebra scanners, to minimise the risk of your devices breaking down and affecting your business operations.


Overview of the main barcode formats

Both 1D and 2D barcodes are used widely in Singapore. Examples of the former include the UPC barcodes found on grocery products in supermarkets. As for the latter, you can commonly find them in retail stores and restaurants, which utilise QR codes for digital payment apps like PayNow and GrabPay. Some restaurants even use a QR code in place of physical menus for customers to order their food online.

However, both barcode symbologies contain different formats within their respective category. For example, the 1D barcodes you see in a bookstore may differ from other 1D barcodes in another retail outlet. This is because each barcode belongs to a system that assigns different meanings to the bars and spaces. Here are the common barcode formats found in Singapore.

1D barcode symbologies

1. UPC and EAN

UPC and EAN barcodes are globally recognised. As such, they are the most commonly used barcode in the retail industry – with labels printed on nearly every consumer product worldwide. The data contained within these barcodes are numeric-only – from 0 to 9 – and do not contain any letters or punctuations.

The UPC system is more commonly found in the United States, and its barcodes are in a machine-readable form that comprises 12-digit numbers underneath them. This number represents the product’s Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

Meanwhile, EAN is the international version of the UPC system. There is a slight difference between the two systems, as EAN barcodes contain 13 digits. In the latter case, there is an additional zero added as the leading digit.

2. Code 39

Code 39 barcodes, also called Code 3 of 9, utilise ASCII codes to encode data. It is one of the oldest and most commonly used barcode formats, along with UPC and EAN barcodes.

Older versions are more restrictive and can contain only a limited set of characters, typically 26 capital letters plus numerals and 7 special characters. Meanwhile, the newer versions can support all 128 ASCII characters.

Unfortunately, Code 39 barcodes usually occupy significant space on a barcode label. Therefore, it is ill-suited for small objects. Nevertheless, it is still utilised in numerous other settings, mainly for item identification, shipment tracking, and inventory management.

3. Code 128

Like Code 39, Code 128 barcodes also utilise ASCII characters. But thanks to its denser linear symbology, Code 128 barcodes are more compact, making them suitable for tagging smaller items as well. This symbology is often used to encode data like expiration dates and serial numbers, making it suitable for companies in the shipping industry to track their cargo through global supply chains.

2D barcode symbologies

1. Aztec

Aztec barcodes feature a square bull’s eye pattern in the middle, with surrounding bars and spaces arranged variably. This 2D matrix symbology does not have a quiet zone, so it requires less space for printing than other 2D barcodes. Furthermore, it can contain 12 to 3067 alphabetic characters or 13 to 3,832 numeric characters. This barcode is most widely used for transport ticketing like boarding passes.

2. Data matrix

A data matrix barcode is laid out in rectangular and square grids, with data encoded vertically and horizontally in a series of light and dark blocks. Due to this layout, the barcode cannot be detected with laser scanners. It can only be read with imagers like CCD and camera-based scanners.

This barcode symbology is generally used to mark small items since it can contain a significant amount of data in a relatively compact space. In fact, it is ideal for shipment tracking and pharmaceutical applications.

3. QR code

QR codes, which stand for Quick Response Code, are the most commonly used 2D barcode globally. As a result, they are the first thing that surfaces in consumers’ minds when someone mentions 2D barcodes. This is due to their ability to encrypt binary codes, numeric strings, and alphanumeric strings and the fact that they can contain between 4000 to 7000 characters in a single barcode.

Visually, the barcode contains prominent squares on specific corners – the top right, top left, and bottom left – while the rest of the area is filled with different combinations of lines, spaces, dots, and other geometric figures. QR codes are most commonly used for mobile barcoding applications, such as coupon codes or loyalty cards.

4. PDF417

The Portable Data Format 417 (PDF417) is another extremely useful 2D barcode in modern commerce, as it can store large amounts of data and text securely. It utilises high-density symbology that encodes numbers, text, data bytes, and files.

This data is encoded both vertically and horizontally. As more information is embedded, the size can be expanded in both directions, allowing users to maintain a manageable shape for scanning. This barcode format is widely used in inventory management and transportation applications.

What are the differences between a 1D and 2D barcode?

What are the differences between a 1D and 2D barcode Barcode scanner Singapore

We have shared plenty about the common barcode scanners and barcode formats utilised worldwide. The hope is that these pieces of information can provide you with a deeper understanding of which barcode scanning technology is most suitable for your business. However, if you require more information to make a sound decision, read on to learn the significant differences between 1D and 2D barcodes.

Difference #1: Number of dimensions

Naturally, the immediate difference you will notice between a 1D and 2D barcode is the number of dimensions required to create each barcode’s distinct patterns. The former needs one, whereas the latter requires two. Therefore, different barcode scanners are required to scan each symbology.

1D barcodes utilise a combination of bars and spaces that run in one direction – either horizontally or vertically – to encode data. Each bar and space have variable widths, with a unique identifier generated from these variations.

Conversely, 2D barcodes run in both directions. As a result, geometric patterns are common visual elements in most 2D barcodes. Unique identifiers are created through a combination of these geometric patterns and other shapes, such as spaces, dots, and lines.

Difference #2: Y-Axis redundancy

Y-axis redundancy is a feature of 1D barcodes. Redundancy in the y-axis (the vertical direction) means that a bar or space in a 1D barcode can extend upwards or downwards without affecting the barcode’s meaning since the top, bottom, and middle regions remain the same.

As a result, a barcode scanner can read the label in any of these sections and yield the same result. However, this is not possible with 2D barcodes. This is because 2D barcodes contain unique markings flanking the top and bottom sections of their horizontal symbols.

Difference #3: Types of information encoded

Due to its y-axis redundancy, a 1D barcode can only encode alphanumeric and numeric characters. Conversely, a 2D barcode can not only encode the aforementioned characters but also images, URLs, sounds, and any types of information that can be processed by a computer.

Additionally, a 1D barcode is usually limited to 10 to 20 characters in a single string. Although some symbologies, such as Code 39 and Code 128, can encrypt much longer combinations, the barcode may be too wide to fit standard-size labels. Moreover, the generated character strings are useless if they are not assigned to a specific product and its characteristics.

By comparison, a 2D barcode can encode hundreds to thousands of characters easily, making them more suitable for complex data storage. Furthermore, there is no need for re-assignment since 2D barcodes can embed sufficient details about a product.

Difference #4: The need for an elaborate database

If you plan on utilising 1D barcodes, you will require an elaborate database to record the assignments for each character string. In contrast, you can directly encode items, like images and sounds, onto a 2D barcode. As such, it can function without a complex repository, reducing the number of steps needed to record your business information.

Difference #5: Scanning technology required

As we have shared earlier, different barcodes require specific barcode scanners. For example, you may need a laser scanner to identify a 1D barcode’s character string. Meanwhile, 2D barcodes, like QR codes and matrix barcodes, can only be detected by specific barcode scanners, like camera-based scanners.

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between the two barcode symbologies, it does appear as if 2D barcodes hold a slight advantage over 1D barcodes. So does this mean 2D barcodes are better? Not exactly. In fact, each symbology has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of 1D barcodes over 2D barcodes

Advantages of 1D barcodes over 2D barcodes Barcode scanner Singapore

Advantage #1: It is cheaper to print 1D barcodes

2D barcodes contain complex data. Hence, you will require higher-resolution barcode printers to reduce reading errors. Naturally, the higher the resolution of a barcode printer, the more expensive the equipment. So if you want to reduce costs, you can utilise 1D barcodes for simple data and 2D barcodes for complicated encryptions.

Advantage #2: It is more practical to use 1D barcodes for simple data

2D barcodes are more appropriate for complex data. So if you require barcode scanning technology to encrypt simple information like the price of your inventory, then 1D barcodes are more suitable and practical. This will help to reduce your expenses since printing 2D barcode labels are more expensive.

Advantage #3: 1D barcode scanners are more affordable

2D barcode scanners are generally more expensive than their 1D counterparts due to the technology required to detect 2D barcodes. However, thanks to the advancement in technology, there are now more affordable models available on the market.

Advantages of 2D barcodes over 1D barcodes

Advantages of 2D barcodes over 1D barcodes Barcode scanner Singapore

Advantage #1: 2D barcodes are more versatile

Since 2D barcodes can encode more forms of information, like images, audio, and videos, there are a lot more uses for these cyphers compared to 1D barcodes. You can use 2D barcodes to encrypt shipping details, flight information, and anything that requires more complex data.

Advantage #2: 2D barcodes make scanning faster

2D barcode scanners are generally sharper and more accurate. This makes the scanning process more efficient. Moreover, users can scan 2D barcodes containing slight distortions, saving them the time and hassle of printing new labels to minimise barcode reading errors.

Advantage #3: 2D barcodes speed up information recording

To recap, 1D barcodes’ character strings are meaningless without proper assignments. As such, you need to set up a recording database beforehand to assign each character string to a product. However, you can skip this process entirely when you use 2D barcodes. Eliminating an additional procedure enables you to speed up the information recording process for your business.

Advantage #4: 2D barcodes can be printed on smaller labels

2D barcodes possess an error-correction mechanism. With this feature, you can print your barcode on a smaller label, and it will not affect the barcode’s readability. Conversely, printing a 1D barcode on a tiny label will significantly impact their scannability.

What are the factors that may cause readability issues?

What are the factors that may cause readability issues barcode scanner Singapore

2D barcodes may be easier to scan compared to 1D barcodes. However, there are several factors that can impact readability issues for both barcode symbologies. These aspects include low contrast, inadequate quiet zones, printing or marking inconsistencies, distorted symbols, and scanning angles and distance. So whether you plan to implement 1D or 2D barcodes, it is imperative for you to know how to minimise these elements’ impact on your business operations.

1. Purchase high-quality equipment

The most common cause of readability issues stems from poor printing equipment. This can result in poor contrast, markings that breach the quiet zone, or inconsistent markings, rendering a barcode unreadable. Therefore, you must invest in a quality barcode printer. Thermal printers, in particular, offer the highest first-time scan rates of any printing technology.

We recommend purchasing your printer from a renowned manufacturer, like Zebra, as Zebra printers have a reputation for quality and excellence. When your equipment can provide reliable performance over the long run, you minimise maintenance needs and costs.

However, it is not always a flaw in the printing process that creates readability issues. 1D and 2D barcode symbols can be distorted over time when they are exposed to external factors like stains, scratches, and moisture. This results in distorted or faded symbols that are unreadable.

So you should not neglect the quality of your barcode labels too. You can consider using high-quality Zebra labels to print your barcodes. These products are designed to be chemical and water resistant, ensuring they are durable enough to last for years. As a result, you no longer have to worry about damaged or smeared labels.

2. Utilise the correct barcode scanning technology

Utilising the correct barcode scanner based on your application requirements makes a world of difference. For example, if your employees need to scan numerous items labelled with different barcode symbologies and at various angles, an omnidirectional scanner is the ideal option, as it provides greater flexibility in scanning orientation and angles.

3. Ensure nothing is interfering with the symbology

Any object that obscures the barcode can affect its readability. Therefore, you must ensure that your barcode is printed on a clean surface, with nothing interfering with the symbology. For example, if you are printing a barcode on an employee ID badge to enable your workers to access a restricted zone, the area surrounding the barcode should be free of holes, bolts, or other attachments to minimise reading error.

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to which barcode symbology is superior. Determining the ideal barcode symbology depends on your business needs. If you simply need to encrypt simple data, like an item identification number or price point, 1D barcodes are a suitable and cheaper solution.

Conversely, if you need to encode a large amount of data and make this information readily accessible to everyone, 2D barcodes are the obvious choice. While it may be more expensive to print 2D barcodes, they can be printed on smaller labels. This allows the barcode to maintain a manageable shape for easy scanning.

Once you have decided on the ideal symbology for your business needs, you will require quality equipment to maintain efficient business operations. At Comtrol Solutions, we are a specialised provider of Zebra products in Singapore, with a comprehensive selection of Zebra scanners and printers available. Do not hesitate to contact us today if you require the most up-to-date barcode scanning and printing technology.