Barcode Testers: What to Look For
A barcode tester is a purpose-built device that reads and evaluates the quality of a printed barcode. It produces a final grade that represents the quality of the barcode. It is important to use a barcode tester if you are the provider of those barcodes. For example if you are the graphics designer, pre-press service or printer, you might have legal responsibility for the barcodes. Even if you have contract language that protects you, your customer might be less than loyal if they encounter a problem with barcodes you provided.
The standard used when a barcode tester grades a barcode is an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) or an international (ISO) specification—they are basically the same except that ANSI grading is alphabetical (A through F); ISO grading is numerical (4.0 – 0.0).
Some people claim that a barcode scanner is an acceptable barcode tester. This is a dangerous belief, because scanners are not built to be a measurement tool. They are decoders. Using a scanner as a barcode tester is like using a stethoscope to diagnose a heart problem—it tells you a few things, but leaves out a lot of detail. It’s really not the right tool for the job.
When a barcode is marginal, some scanners won’t read it, others will. Which one do you believe? What is the problem? Is it getting better or worse as the print run continues? You just don’t know, and a scanner gives you no clues about what to do to improve the results. A barcode tester gives you all of this information—and more.
Some barcode testers just read the barcode and grade it, others do a lot more. For example, some can be programmed to test the barcode for certain industry standards such as the GS1 application standard. These barcode testers will tell you if the barcode is correctly structured to be compliant to the GS1 specification. This is important if the barcode is a consumer product going into retail point-of-sale, or a drug or healthcare device going into a medical point-of-care or patient care situation. Some barcode testers can be programmed to match the barcode to the product it was assigned to while also testing and grading its quality to the ANSI/ISO specifications. This is important—a barcode than scans perfectly but is on the wrong product is even more of a disaster than a barcode that doesn’t scan at all.
There are portable barcode testers, self-contained desk top barcode testers, and computer-tethered barcode testers. Some are convertible and can be PC-tethered or portable.
The best one is whatever works for you—and what your people will use. Think about what’s right for you and ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of barcodes do I need to test? Are they 1D like UPC, or 2D like QR Code? Make a list.
- How small is the smallest one—and the biggest one? Measure left-to-right across the bars. Make a list.
- Do I need to save or print the report or just view it? Do I need to store the report with job records?
- Will it sometimes be necessary to email the report?
- Can I use a barcode tester connected to a computer, or does it have to be portable?
Understanding your own needs and how the barcode tester should fit into your process and situation is helpful in selecting the right one. But you should also consider how important barcode quality is to your business, your sales, marketing and customer retention strategies, and your reputation. Sometimes processes and practices need to adjust in order for you to protect and control business risks.
A barcode tester is a quality control tool whose primary purpose is to help you control barcode-related risk.
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