How Do Barcodes Work? Discover What Lies Behind the Stripes

ByNikolina Cveticanin
November 21,2022

Do you ever wonder how those little black-on-white lines can hold so much information? Or how do barcodes work, and why are they so important to businesses? In this article, we will explore the world of barcodes and learn how these simple markings can do so much.

Stay tuned for an in-depth look at one of the essential pieces of technology in the modern world.

What Is a Barcode?

A barcode is a machine-readable code in the form of numbers and parallel lines printed on product packaging. Barcodes were first developed in the 1970s from an earlier idea based on Morse code.

They have since become an essential tool for businesses of all sizes. Barcodes can be printed on labels or directly onto products and are read by scanners that are connected to a computer system.

Barcodes are used extensively in retail and have helped streamline the checkout process. In addition, barcode technology can be used to track inventory levels and product movement throughout the supply chain. As barcodes become more ubiquitous, they are also being used in other industries, such as health care and manufacturing.

How Does a Barcode Work?

Barcodes are read by optical scanners that use a beam of light to scan the code. The scanner converts the light reflections into electrical impulses sent to a computer system. The computer system then decodes the impulses and translates them into the product information stored in the barcode. 

What’s also important to note is that barcodes can store a large amount of information in a very small space. This means that businesses can track a variety of product data, such as price, color, and size.

Types of Barcodes

All barcodes can be split into two categories - linear and two-dimensional. Linear barcodes, also known as one-dimensional (1D) barcodes, are the most common type. They are composed of a series of parallel lines that represent numbers or other characters.

Two-dimensional barcodes are less common but are becoming more popular due to their ability to store more information. These barcodes are composed of a series of dots or squares that can be read in two dimensions. Now, let’s take a closer look at the different barcode types.


The most common type of 1D barcode is the Universal Product Code (UPC). UPC barcodes are used extensively in the retail industry and can be found on nearly every product sold in a retail store. 

The universal product code consists of 12 digits divided into two parts: The first six are the manufacturer’s identifier, and the last six are the product’s identifier. The UPC barcode is printed on every product sold in stores and is a vital part of the retail industry. Thanks to the UPC, retailers can efficiently track inventory and sales and ensure that customers get the right products.

EAN Code

The European Article Number (EAN) is another 1D barcode example used extensively in Europe. EANs are very similar to UPCs but have a few key differences. 

EANs are composed of eight or 13 numbers depending on the product size. If the product is small, such as a book, it will have an 8-digit EAN. If the product is larger, such as a piece of furniture, it will have a 13-digit EAN. These numbers combine a country code, company code, and article number, while the last digit represents the check digit.

EANs are often used on products sold internationally, as scanners in any country can read them. This makes them a vital part of the global supply chain.

Data Matrix Code

Data Matrix codes are 2D barcodes that can encode a large amount of data in a small space. They are made up of black and white squares that form a big square or rectangle and are used in industries where tracking and traceability are critical.

These codes have a maximum encoding capacity of 3,116 numerical characters and 2,335 alphabetic characters. Each Data Matrix has its own perimeter finder and timing pattern, and they are made up of square or rectangular blocks of black and white cells. Data Matrix codes may store both large and small symbols. A barcode scanner can more easily read the code if there is a blank space around its perimeter.

PDF417 Code

PDF417 is a type of 2D barcode used to store information. The name stands for Portable Data File 417. PDF417 codes are used in various contexts, including but not limited to driver’s licenses, passports, and other identification documents. 

The information stored in a PDF417 code can include text, numbers, and other data. These codes are read by scanning them with a barcode reader. The reader decodes the information, displays it on a screen, or prints it out. 

PDF417 codes are also used in some financial transactions, such as mobile payments. In these cases, the code typically represents a unique identifier for the transaction. PDF417 codes have been used since the early 1990s and are now one of the most common barcode types.

QR Code

QR codes are becoming increasingly popular, especially as a way of sharing information or accessing content quickly and easily. But what exactly is a QR code? Simply put, a QR code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be read by a smartphone or other devices with a camera. 

When scanned, the QR code will direct the device to a specific website or online content. QR codes can be used for various purposes, including sharing contact information, providing directions, or linking to a video or social media account. 

Businesses have also begun using QR codes to offer customers special deals or promotions. While QR codes are most commonly used with phones, they can also be scanned with laptops and tablets. So, the next time you see a QR code, go ahead and give it a try.

Benefits of Using Barcodes

Barcodes have become essential to modern life, appearing on everything from groceries to library books. While they may seem like a simple way to handle inventory tracking, barcodes offer businesses various financial benefits. Here are some of the key benefits of using barcode systems:

Improved accuracy: Barcodes can be read quickly and accurately, which reduces the chances of human error. This is especially important for businesses that need to track a large number of items.

Reduced costs: Using barcodes can help businesses save money on labor costs associated with inventory management. Barcodes can also be used to automate the ordering process, which can lead to further cost savings. So if you’re unsure how to use a barcode system, consider hiring a professional to help get you started.

Faster transactions: Barcodes can be read quickly, which helps speed up transactions. This is especially beneficial for businesses that experience high volumes of traffic, such as supermarkets and department stores.

Improved customer service: Barcodes can help businesses keep track of sales data and customer purchase history. This information can be used to improve marketing efforts and customize the shopping experience for individual customers.

Improved security: Barcodes can be used to track products and prevent theft. This is especially important for businesses that sell high-value items or handle sensitive information.

As you can see, barcodes offer a variety of financial benefits for businesses, large and small.

How Does a Barcode Scanner Work?

A barcode scanner is a device that can read and interpret barcodes. It encodes the data from the barcode into a form that a computer can read. The computer then uses this data to look up information about the product, such as the price, in a database.

Barcode scanners come in various shapes and sizes, but they all work using the same basic principle. So, how are barcodes read? A barcode scanner contains a light source, a photosensor, and an electronic decoder. 

The light source is used to illuminate the barcode. The photosensor is used to detect the reflected light from the barcode. The electronic decoder is used to interpret the data encoded in the barcode.

Barcode scanners can be handheld or fixed. Handheld barcode scanners are portable devices that can be held in one hand while scanning barcodes. Fixed barcode scanners are mounted on stands or other surfaces and are used to scan barcodes placed within the scanner’s range.

Barcode scanners are commonly used in retail settings for pricing and inventory control. However, barcode scanners can also be used for other purposes, such as tracking assets or collecting data.

Final Thoughts

Barcodes are essential to many businesses, helping track inventory and product movement throughout the supply chain. By understanding how they work, you can ensure you’re making the most out of them. There are different barcode types, so choose the one that best suits your needs.

What part of the barcode is scanned?

The entire barcode is scanned. However, the scanner only reads the black-on-white bars, not the numbers. It uses lasers to read the reflective difference between the black stripes and the white background. The width of each bar and space is translated into a binary code a computer can read.

Are any two barcodes the same?

No, every barcode is unique to a particular product. Barcodes are generated using a mathematical algorithm, ensuring that each code differs from every other. This is important as it allows businesses to track individual products and prevent counterfeiting.

What do the numbers in a barcode mean?

The number sequence of a barcode corresponds to information about the product it is attached to. The first few digits usually identify the country of origin, followed by a manufacturer and product codes. The final digit, known as a check digit, is used to verify that the barcode has been scanned correctly.

Can a barcode be tracked?

Now that we’ve answered “How do barcodes work?” you’re probably wondering if barcodes can be tracked. The answer is yes. In fact, one of the main benefits of barcodes is that they allow businesses to track individual products. This information can be used to improve marketing efforts and customize the shopping experience for individual customers.

What do the first three numbers in a barcode mean?

The first three numbers in a barcode are known as the GS1 Company Prefix. The GS1 Company Prefix is a unique number assigned to each company by GS1, The Global Standards Organization, which manages barcodes and other standards for supply chains. This number identifies the country in which the manufacturer of the product is based.

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By Djordje Tresac · November 17,2022
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By Milos Djurovic · November 17,2022
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Moreover, Amazon Business is one of the prime wholesale websites where you can find supplies in bulk and pay less, especially if you're stocking up for your company.  There are also advantages if you’re using Amazon Marketplace to sell your products. You can benefit from Amazon’s FBA inventory management service. The Fulfillment by Amazon program takes care of the entire process from order to delivery. The only thing left to do is optimize the keyword research for your product and push it up Amazon Marketplace rankings. Then sit back and watch your sales volume go through the roof. Bottom Line Amazon has become synonymous with eCommerce for good reason; the company has revolutionized the way we shop. Certainly, a big part of Amazon's success is the efficient management of its massive inventory. By leveraging a combination of fulfillment centers, robots, and artificial intelligence, Amazon is able to keep track of every single item in its inventory at all times and ensure that popular items are always in stock.
By Djordje Tresac · November 10,2022

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