What is Barcode Quality?
It seems like an unnecessarily obvious question until you think about it. At first it also seems overly obvious to ask, “What is not barcode quality?” Obviously it is a barcode that does not scan–and yet, as we have recently written, a barcode that scans perfectly can be disastrous. You can read about that here. Barcode quality is a barcode that scans on the first attempt on whatever scanner type the user happens to have, and presents the correct information in its proper format. Not quite so obvious, it is?
Print quality is certainly an important consideration. The barcode must be printed in a color that is visible to a red-spectrum scanner. The combination of the barcode and the background must have at least a minimum amount of reflectance difference for the scanner to be able to decode it. The barcode image must not be excessively spread or gained such that the background spaces get too small. There are several key characteristics (parameters) that comprise the international standards to which 1D and 2D symbols must comply.
ISO 15416 is the standard that describes the print quality characteristics of a 1D barcode. These are the barcodes that are comprised of parallel bars an spaces of various widths.
ISO 15415 covers 2D barcodes such as QR Code and Datamatrix.
Print quality is half the story. The other half is data formatting. The data encoded in the barcode must be presented in the correct format. Data format consists of correctly identifying the data packets by using an internationally accepted prefix, and then inserting the correct number of data characters in their correct sequence. Data formatting is unique to different industries: the auto industries is different than blood banking, medical devices are different than books and periodicals. There are also protocols on which type of barcode (symbology) can be used in certain supply chains. Foods and drugs will use different barcode types than defense contractors supplying parts to the military.
The standards for data formatting are mostly covered by a global organization called GS1, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. Affiliates are located in most developed nations. The US affiliate, called GS1 US is headquartered in Ewing, NJ, near Princeton. Satellite offices are located in Chicago, IL and Dayton, OH. GS1 US is a non-profit organization, but other nations’ GS1 offices may be for-profit entities.
Standardizing print and data quality is important in the same way traffic control is important. Without standards, barcodes could be printed in colors, shapes and sizes incompatible with scanners, encoded in symbol types unfamiliar to the user’s scanner, and located on unpredictable areas of a package. Barcode print and data quality is all about predictability. Unpredictability makes supply chains vulnerable, and that opens the possibility of a wide range of consequences which could be disastrous for economies and the companies that drive them.
That barcode shown on the right–that’s a good, high-quality barcode, right? Well, no it is not. That little scissor image violates the quiet zone, so the bottom third of that barcode does not scan.
If you have questions, comments or wish to know more about barcodes and barcode quality, contact us here.
And if your barcode does not comply, there could significant amount liability in the form of a chargeback from trading partners downstream of your supply chain.