A Closer Look at 2D Barcodes

2D barcodes are increasingly being adopted in many industries because of their numerous benefits.  Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the different types of 2D barcodes and the benefits they provide.  The biggest benefit and probably the one you’re most familiar with is the fact that 2D symbols can encode more data than 1D barcodes of the same size.  But there is more to 2D barcodes than just increased data storage.

There are two main categories of 2D symbologies, stacked and matrix.  The difference between these categories is simply the way data is encoded and how they are read.

Stacked Symbologies

Stacked symbologies resemble a set of linear barcodes literally “stacked” on top of each other.  The most common stacked symbology is PDF417, pictured at left.  Other stacked symbologies include: Code 49, Code 16K and GS1 Databar.  There is also a wide range of other stacked symbologies with capacities of up to 2000 or more characters.  Most stacked symbologies are capable of error detection and correction.  They can be read by laser scanners, linear imagers and area imagers, although some symbol sizes cannot be processed by certain readers.

Matrix Symbologies

Matrix symbologies are made up of a pattern of cells that can be square, hexagonal, or circular in shape.  The key variable for encoding matrix barcodes is the position of each element relative to the center of the symbol.  The most common matrix barcode is Data Matrix, other examples include Maxi Code, Aztec Code, Code One and QR Code, pictured at left.  Matrix symbologies are decoded by processing the entire image; this means that laser scanners cannot read matrix symbols.  Area imaging is the only barcode scanning technology capable of reading matrix symbols because it can view the entire image at once.  Area imaging provides orientation-independent scanning, a major benefit when scanning barcodes.  This means matrix barcodes, as well as other barcodes, can be read at any angle with an area imager.  In most cases, matrix barcodes offer higher data densities than stacked barcodes.  However, much like stacked symbologies, a wide range of matrix symbologies have capacities of up to 2000 or more characters.  Additionally, matrix symbols are also capable of error detection and correction.

Now that you’re familiar with the two main categories of 2D barcodes, let’s look at some of the additional benefits provided by 2D symbologies:

  • Capacity– 2D codes allow you to store more data in a smaller space than 1D codes
  • Portability– 2D codes don’t require database access for decoding, instead data travels with the item
  • Flexibility– compact Matrix 2D codes can be read on curved surfaces
  • Increased efficiency– increased data capacity and flexibility make goods move more quickly
  • Emerging standards– new standards set the stage for millions of new products to be marked by 2D symbols in the coming years

If you have any questions or would like more information about 2D barcodes, please contact me at ehodges@barcode.com.  Tomorrow I’ll be looking at a technological advance having a big impact on 2D barcodes, near-far area imaging.  Check out this teaser for one of the Intermec products I’ll be focusing on and don’t forget to read the entire post tomorrow.