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BarCode Overview

Why are bar codes so popular?

The answer is simple, they are very cheap to produce.

Where are barcodes used

There are three major applications for barcoding:
  • Mass market (everyday consumer products, these tend to use the UPC-8, UPC-13 or EAN-8, EAN-13 formats)
  • Standardized by a well know organization
  • MaxiCode - United Parcel Services
  • PostNet - US Postal Services
  • Many many others
  • Bespoke, 80% of all barcodes do not have international recognition

  • Bespoke barcodes tend to be for internal use, or specific to an industry / product and can be defined by any organization using any number of barcode formats, these are usually encoded in one of the following symbologies:
    I'll try to provide a list of these barcode types with a brief description of each, but this list is not necessarily fully inclusive.  This site concentrate on the 80% of the market that requires the more bespoke barcodes used internally by organizations or those that adhere to loose standardization such as seen on printed circuit boards, support tickets, etc.  Click on links above for details and the FREE fonts, or here for the free barcode string generator.

    Caveats to barcodes

    Barcode software can be expensive, I'll try to provide links and code developed personally to provide this free (and I do mean free, no catches).

    Mass Market Barcodes

    There are many barcodes you see in every day use, these include those on coca-cola tins (my favourite product) and other mass produced retail items, the format of these barcodes is usually EAN-13.  Another standard format is EAN-8 which is used by the likes of Wal-Mart for own brand products.

    If you wish to produce a product that is available and recognized by the general retail markets / industry, manufacturers codes will need to purchase from within your region but this will then be known world wide, refer to Global Standards Organization.  As a mass market producer you will also need to disseminate your full list of product codes in a standardized format. 

    To list the standards in barcodes we must start with a list that we see in very day use when purchasing items from supermarkets, convenience stores or any other general retail product, these barcodes include:
    • European
      • EAN-13
      • EAN-8
    • United States
      • UPC-A
      • UPC-E
    • Japan & Asia
      • JAN-13
      • JAN-8

    Examples with definitions

    2 characters - Country of Origin
    5 characters - Manufacturer
    5 characters - Product code
    1 character  - Checksum (see later)

    7 characters - Internal product code
    1 character  - Checksum (see later)


    These are values that produce a validation of all the previous numbers / characters within the barcode.  There are many formulas and algorithms to producing these values depending on the format required, I only provide detail for code 39 and code 128, but if you wish to see further information for the mass market barcodes click on one of the links below.

    Recommended further reading regarding mass produced standard barcodes
    (please refer to free barcode software before making any purchase):-

    Alternatives to barcoding

    RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification, this is a growing market sector as costs of producing and fitting these tags to mass market products is being reduced.  The tags are likely to be very cheap short wave communication devices that can identify themselves to a transmitter within 5 metres, but they basically transmit the same information as encoded within a 2-D barcode such as (PDF417), but without the requirement of the scan, just within a proximity, hence they are often known as proximity tags or proximity scanners).