What Is a Barcode?
A barcode is simply a machine-readable language. It is letters and numbers put in a form that machines (computers) can then easily read. Check out the hardware section for more details of the scanners and other readers available. They range from the size of a pen that links to your computer or EPOS all the way up to large readers which can be mounted to forklifts for a large warehouse. Software programs are written that translate data, usually numeric and alpha codes, into barcodes so that a scanner can read it and input it into a computer.
Aren't There Different Types of Barcodes?
Yes. There are a number of different types of barcodes, all of the them accomplish the same task; converting data into a form that a machine can easily recognise. The different formats are almost like different languages. Just as the word "telephone" is said differently in English, French, German, or Spanish, so too different barcodes can be used to represent the same set of data.
The different languages are called ‘barcode symbologies’. Currently there are more than 22 of them that have different capabilities for the amount of information you need to convey about your product. Sometimes you just want to record that one tin of beans has left the shop floor and needs reordering; other times you may want to record an entire address and the nature of merchandise being sent out so you can track it on a delivery run.
For those of you that like to know the technical terms - some of the symbologies include:
- Code 39
- Code 93
- Code 128
- I 2 of 5
- Industrial 2 of 5
- Matrix 2 of 5
- Coda Bar
- Book Land
- UCC/EAN 128
- Maxi Code
- Data Matrix
Can I Create a Barcode Label with Regular Print on It?
Most barcode labels have both barcode (machine readable) and human-readable characters on them. The software program will allow you to print almost anything that you would want on a barcode label. On your computer screen, an image of a blank label will appear allowing you to create a label. You can then input your address, unit price, description, or any other text you would want to appear on the label. For the barcode itself, you would put in an alphanumeric code and the software then converts that to a barcode. Many of the software programmes available will also tie in to your current database of products and automatically create a barcode for each item.
How Do I Know Which Type of Barcode I Need?
Fortunately, this part of the process is pretty straightforward. Software programs on the market today print almost all of the various barcode formats. It is simply a matter of telling the software which symbology you want the barcodes in, much like you would select a font on a word processing program. If you are producing barcodes for an end user, they will know which barcode symbology they are using. If you are printing labels to scan internally, your software program will recommend one of the symbologies to use.
I Heard That There Are Two Methods of Printing Used by Barcode Printers, Which One Do I Want?
Barcode printers come in two basic forms - direct thermal and thermal transfer. Both use the heat of the printing element to form an image on the label. The difference is in the process.
Direct thermal printers use the heat of the print head to form an image on specially coated papers. Much like the old-style fax paper that was chemically treated and would react to the heat of the print head on an incoming fax, these labels have been processed to react to the heat of the printing element.
Thermal transfer printers use the heat of the printing element to transfer the resin from a ribbon onto a label. The image is crisper and lasts longer.
Most printers come in either configuration, so you could order a particular printer in either the direct thermal or thermal transfer model. Some printers actually have the option of being changed from one type to the other by simply adding a ribbon and changing your labels - something to bear in mind when you make your choice.
Which One Do I Need?
The criteria to make that decision is your application. Direct thermal (no ribbon) is slightly cheaper as, because there is no ribbon involved, the cost per thousand labels tends to be less. However, the disadvantage of direct thermal is that the label will fade with time. Just like the old curly fax paper that would turn grey and fade after about six months, so too thermal direct labels, as they are coated to react to heat and will fade with time. If your application involves the need for labels to last more than eight months, we recommend using a thermal transfer printer. If you were using the printer for address labels on one day and for yearly stock taking the next day, it may be advisable to invest in a printer that can do both.
How Do I Select Which Printer I Need?
There are a few questions you have to determine and then the decision is pretty straightforward. The first question is how many labels do you plan on printing? Barcode printers are largely designed to handle a given workload. The most common method of measuring a printer's capacity is by the amount of "labels a day" it is rated for. A light-duty printer will accommodate up to 200 labels a day, while a medium-grade printer will handle up to 500 a day. If your application requires you to print more than 500 labels a day, then you would need a heavy-duty printer. Finally, if you find that your application demands printing more than 1,000 labels a day, you would need an industrial-grade printer. Check out the hardware section for specs on a few of the printers available.
Choosing the Most Suitable Thermal Printing Device
When you are contemplating the purchase of a dedicated variable data printer, there are a number of options to choose from, and many factors to consider. We trust that answering the questions listed below will help you to determine the most suitable thermal printing device for your needs:
• What Type of Print Technology Would Suit You Best? Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer?
• What Are the Intended Uses and Sizes of the Labels/Tags You Need to Print?
• How Frequently Do Label/Tag Specifications Change and What Is Your Expected Daily Label Output?
• What Resolution, Speed, and Anticipated Duty Cycles Are Required?
• Will the Printers Be Connected to a Network or Standalone Machines?
• How Fast Do You Need Your Printer to Be and Where Does It Need to Be Located?
• In What Kind of Environment Will the Labels/Printer(s) Operate? (Consider Temperature Fluctuation, Vibration, High-Humidity, and Exposure to Chemicals)
Are There Different Speeds in Printers?
Yes. Thermal barcode printers are rated by how many inches per second (IPS) they print. The print speeds vary from 2" a second up to 10" a second. The actual speed of printing will be determined by the height of your label. If you are printing a 4"-wide by 2"-high label, then every label will consist of two print inches. Assuming that your printer was rated for 2” per second (IPS), it would print one label every second.
What Software Do I Need to Create Barcodes?
Some of the entry-level printers already come with software that will print the barcode labels as we mentioned above. Look at the specs of your job to determine if that particular printer comes with software that'll do your job or if it must be purchased at an additional cost. If you are looking at a heavy-duty printer, you will need to purchase additional software. There are a number of software packages that are very good at creating barcodes.
To help you with this process, we have created software tours, information files, and free downloads. At the end of the day, you are the one who will have to live with the product you chose, so it seemed only fair to let you play with the merchandise first. If you have any questions or need further help, please do not hesitate to email us your questions. Because we have a wealth of direct contacts with our manufacturers and suppliers, we can provide an answer to most questions within four hours.
We hope these answers to barcoding have helped, and we look forward to your comments and custom in the future