We’re all familiar with the black and white vertical stripes of the traditional retail barcode design but what are these strange, psychedelic block designs which seem to have recently taken their place?

Barcode label printing – 1d or 2?

What are barcodes?

Basically, the barcode has evolved as the need to store and retrieve more and more information has developed.  The traditional Universal Product Code barcode has been around in its present form for some time now – since around the mid 1970’s, in fact.  Those vertical black and white lines are simply a representation of numeric characters which can be quickly and accurately read by an optical reading device and transferred to an IT system.  It’s no exaggeration to say that its use has revolutionised stock control applications, particularly in the retail sector, allowing a degree of automation and IT data storage which would otherwise have been impossible.

And yet, the one-dimensional barcode – or 1d for short – has its limitations.  Most critically, its practical limit for data storage is around 20 characters.  It’s also, as anyone who’s ever chosen the “wrong” checkout line in a supermarket, pretty picky about how it’s read.  This can lead to multiple attempts being required by the optical reader to extract the data, often culminating in the need for the checkout operator to enter the code manually.

Enter 2d barcode label printing

The 2d barcode does essentially the same job – it just does it better.  Instead of the 20 or so characters in the traditional linear 1d barcode design, the 2d square patterns can represent upwards of 1000 characters.  As well as the traditional barcode applications, this opens up a world of exciting possibilities via mobile phone technology and the internet, as described in this recent Guardian Newspaper article.

2D Barcode