Five Simple Steps to Barcode Reliability
Barcodes are so commonplace, it is easy to become complacent. A “no news is good news” attitude is a form of neglect that can lead to serious and expensive trouble. Unfortunate when it is so simple and easy to maintain good barcode quality.
Review the barcode pre-press file. Pay special attention to the Bar Width Reduction setting. There should be one, and it should not be “zero”! This is the compensation for anticipated on-press gain, which is common to all print methods including digital. Knowing this setting makes it easy to interpret the condition of the barcodes coming off the press.
Compare the barcode file settings and data to retains from earlier print runs. Barcode files supplied by your customer or vendor might have unexpected changes. Bar Width Reduction mentioned above is just one of them. Know about changes before somebody else tells you, in the form of a quality alert and a chargeback!
Check the barcode data. This is the information stored in the barcode. The string of numbers and letters adjacent to the barcode should match what is in the barcode. Again, compare it to retains from the same item. If the barcode includes variable data, such as an expiration date or batch number, of course that will change. But the GTIN portion that identifies the brand and the item should not change.
Visually inspect the barcode. 1D and 2D barcodes should contain only two colors: a very dark (preferably black) color for the barcode and a very light (preferably white) background. Additional colors will disrupt scanning. If the background is not opaque, show-through from the product or printing on the reverse side of the package will cause problems. Printed patterns also cause problems. Shrink wrap seams can also be a problem.
Make sure that text, graphics or package corners are not too close to the barcode. There must be a blank space at both ends of 1D barcodes such as UPC. Text or graphics too must not be too close to the barcode. 2D symbols such as QR and Datamatrix Code have full surround quiet zones.
A close visual examination accomplishes these steps quite effectively, but an ISO compliant verifier does it conclusively. Purchasing a verifier is a good idea if it is in the budget—and it should be. The cost of a verifier can be offset by preventing just one chargeback.
Alternatively, a barcode test lab (like us) can be helpful. We are fast, comprehensive, knowledgeable, ISO compliant and reasonably priced. That’s a mouthful! Actually, companies with verifiers also use us to crosscheck and confirm their internal quality checking.
Diligence makes maintaining quality easy and stress-free. No surprises is a great recipe for sound sleep.
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