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Bar Code Standards

Barcode Standards make everything workFor help with keeping our supply chains under control and for tracking and traceability of all kinds of items, bar codes have an important role to play.

Of course, when a barcode label is printed and applied to an item, it is expected that any scanner will be able to read and decode the encoded data so that it can be put to use.

The idea of Bar Code Standards is that by printing a specific type of barcode symbology and encoding the data in an accepted format, we can be very confident that the printed bar code will perform its task when needed.

This is the first of a series of posts that will discuss the various types of barcode and the standards that determine how the data needs to be encoded.

Obviously in the case where an organization is using barcodes for internal reason only, the type of symbology used and the way the data is formatted can be anything at all. It is when the items with the barcode move outside of the organization and the barcoded data still needs to be read and used, that the symbology and data have to comply to standards.

Fortunatly standards bodies such as GS1 exist to make it easy to ensure that your barcode labels can be used anywhere in the global supply chain. There are also industry specific standards such as the SPEC 2000 used in the aviation industry, the UID mandate from the Department of Defense and the proposed Unique Device Identification rule for medical devices from the FDA.

Types of Bar Code


The barcodes that our customers mostly ask us to print are:

UPC/GTIN – the most common barcode of all – part of the GS1 family.

Code 39 – developed by our friends at Intermec back in the 1970’s and used for many product serialization applications.

Code 128 – Another linear code, I prefer it to Code 39 because if takes up less space for the number of characters. The GS1 encoding of this code (GS1 128) is becoming very common.

PDF417 – A stacked barcode that we print on a lot of labels for the Department of Defense. This is specified in MIL-STD-129.

Datamatrix – the most popular industrial 2D barcode. Used in the DoD’s MIL-STD-130 and many other applications.

I’ll also discuss other bar code types such as QR Code as this series progresses.

What barcode standards do you have to comply to? Are there any topics you’d like to see addressed in this series?

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