Barcode Names: What Do They Mean?

 In 101
[Note to people who call all barcodes “UPC’s” and all photo-copiers “Xerox machines”– don’t bother reading any further—this article will not interest you.]

Not all barcode names have significance—UPC or Universal Product Code and Data Matrix, for example, are just generic names with no intrinsic meaning. Other barcode names are much more descriptive and interesting–at least to some of us.

Code 39 is an alpha-numeric barcode with bars or spaces in two possible widths only: Narrow (or X) is the basic building block and wide is a multiple of narrow within a range of 1:2 or 1:3. Code Code 3939, also called Code 3 of 9, was invented in 1974 by Dr. David Allais who explains that each encoded character is made up of 9 elements (bars or spaces), three of which must be wide; hence the name “Code 39”.


 

Dr. Allais is also responsible for Code 39’s cousin, Code 93. He explains, “I developed Code 93 to be a higher density equivalent to Code 39 with the same character set. 93 seemed like a clever Code 93 Imagename being 39 backwards but also it is a (9,3) symbology because it involves three bars within 9 modules for each character.” By contrast UPC/EAN is a (7,2) symbology and Code 128 is an (11,3) symbology.


 

 

Two-of-Five is similar to Code 39: the name derives from its five element structure of which two are wide. Even more interesting is Interleaved Two-of-Five (AKA ITF) in which the odd-Code 128 (2) position characters (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.) are represented in bars only, separated by the even-position characters (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) represented in spaces only. Think of it as lacing your fingers together—the left hand is the bars, the right hand is the spaces. Obviously ITF must have an even number of encoded characters.

 


 

Code 128 is a very high density symbology which can be full alpha-numeric or numeric only depending on which version is used. Code 128 was invented by Computer Identics Corporation in Code 128 Image19981, and is so-named because it can encode the entire 128 character ASCII character set.


QR Code Image

QR Code, also known as Quick Response Code was invented by Denso Wave Corporation of Japan, a parts supplier to Toyota and owned by Toyota like Delphi used to be owned by GM. IT was developed to enable fast reading of parts arriving in their Just-In-Time intercompany system—hence the name Quick Response.


 

 

Aztec Code was invented by Andy Longacre of Welch Allyn which became a part of Honeywell, who explains, “The original test print of data surrounding a square bullseye reminded me visuallyAztec Code Image of the patterns in a southwestern rug in my parent’s house, in fact a Navaho rug but in a moment of severe geographic confusion I dubbed the symbology “Aztec Code. Later in the development of decoding algorithms, we started creating screen images in which (quoting from Annex C of ISO/IEC Aztec Code) ‘the square central bullseye of an Aztec Code jumps numerically out of this image much as the ancient Aztec pyramids seem to rise vertically out of the undergrowth.’ Again geographic confusions—they’re Mayan pyramids of course.”


 

MaxiCode Image MaxiCode (AKA UPS Code)was created by UPS for managing and tracking packages. UPS workers also refer to Maxicode as “Bird’s Eye” or “Target” code because of the center  target finder pattern. What is the significance of the name? Frankly I do not know, but you know there must be a story behind it, and it is more a interesting name than “Data  Matrix”.

There are a great many more barcodes with interesting names. Please comment on ones you know about or post images of them at our sister site, BarcodesGoneWild.

 

 

John helps companies resolve current barcode problems and avoid future barcode problems to stabilize and secure their supply chain and strengthen their trading partner relationships.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Niels Wartenberg
    Reply

    Thanks Mr. Nachtrieb,
    Great piece of bar code trivia!!
    One additional comment would be on being careful not to confuse “Interleaved 2 of 5” with “Industrial 2 of 5”. I have seen either abbreviated as “ITF” or “I2of5”.
    It is my understanding that “Industrial 2 of 5” is a predecessor of “Interleaved 2 of 5”. The element patterns are the same, but where the light elements (spaces) encode the even characters in “Interleaved 2 of 5”, they are all of identical width in “Industrial 2 of 5” and does not carry information.
    I have seen examples of “Industrial 2 of 5” being selected for symbol creation by mistake, only to raise questions as to a readers capability to read “I2of5”.

  • Niels Wartenberg
    Reply

    Thanks Mr. Nachtrieb,
    Great piece of bar code trivia!!
    One additional comment would be on being careful not to confuse “Interleaved 2 of 5” with “Industrial 2 of 5”. I have seen either abbreviated as “ITF” or “I2of5”.
    It is my understanding that “Industrial 2 of 5” is a predecessor of “Interleaved 2 of 5”. The element patterns are the same, but where the light elements (spaces) encode the even characters in “Interleaved 2 of 5”, they are all of identical width in “Industrial 2 of 5” and does not carry information.
    I have seen examples of “Industrial 2 of 5” being selected for symbol creation by mistake, only to raise questions as to a readers capability to read “I2of5”.

  • Aron Pomerleau
    Reply

    Thanks for the article. It’s great that there’s interest in both reading and writing about symbologies. Another story behind the name “Code 39” is that the original symbology contained 40 patterns, created from the combination of 2-of-5 wide bars with 1-of-3 wide spaces. Reserving one pattern for start/stop left “39” available for encoding.

  • Aron Pomerleau
    Reply

    Thanks for the article. It’s great that there’s interest in both reading and writing about symbologies. Another story behind the name “Code 39” is that the original symbology contained 40 patterns, created from the combination of 2-of-5 wide bars with 1-of-3 wide spaces. Reserving one pattern for start/stop left “39” available for encoding.

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