How do you know your barcode will work?

 In Barcode Advice

Whether it is the barcode on your product, or the barcode you printed for a customer, you are confident it should work right. Well maybe your confidence is misplaced; if  something goes wrong, soon enough you will know and it will be a memorable experience—one you do not want to relive.

How do you find out for sure if your barcode is good? The obvious answer would be to scan it. Scan it with what? How about your smartphone? What about a scanner? What would that tell you if, for instance, the barcode did not scan? Not much. Taking it a step further, what would it tell you if your smartphone or scanner did successfully scan  your barcode? That question requires a bit more consideration.

Let’s start with the basics: what is a scanner really? Whether it is a smartphone camera or a purpose-built barcode scanner, the intent is to decode the barcode. Most scanners signal a successful decode with a “beep”. Smartphones just display some relevant information if the barcode scans. Think about that—the barcode decoded something. Do you know if it decoded correctly? Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Let’s get back to the scan failure situation. Does a smartphone or scanner give you any indication of why the barcode failed to scan? No—all it did was not “beep”.

The BIG Question+

Here is the BIG question: with an apparently successful scan (when the scanner “beeps”) how reliably does that result predict that the same thing will happen on somebody else’s smartphone or somebody else’s scanner? That smartphone OS could be Nokia, Palm, HP Web, iOS, Symbian, Android, Windows or Blackberry, built virtually anywhere from parts sourced from virtually anywhere. The scanner could be laser, CCD or camera—we’ll omit wand scanners since they are pretty much obsolete.

The BIG Answer

The BIG answer is, you have no idea if the apparently successful scan was indeed successful, and you have no way of predicting whether or not that same barcode is going to “beep” on anybody else’s smartphone or scanner.

This gets us back to the original question—then how do you know your barcode will work? The only way to reliably predict barcode performance is to test it against a known and internationally accepted standard that defines the quality of its various characteristics—things like reflective differences between the bars and spaces and the reflective consistency of the symbol and its background.


You must use an ISO compliant verifier to reliably predict your barcode will work. There is significant potential liability when barcodes fail. When your barcodes comply with the international standard but fail on some scanner somewhere, you have a strong defense against that liability. Scanners that don’t “beep” for a good barcode are often found to be malfunctioning, damaged or defective.  If that barcode is on your product or you printed it, that’s a problem—but not your problem. Smile!

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