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Barcode and variable data labelling

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We specialise in the production of pre-printed barcode and variable data labels, from simple retail barcode labels to more complex sequentially numbered or serial number labels.

We use a range of barcode printing technologies including thermal transfer and laser for variable data, and flexographic for fixed data labels, and can produce all traditional barcode types and codes including QR codes.

Barcoded labels can be simple black print on white, or colour-coded for enhanced batch identification. Whatever you require, we have rigorous quality control measures in place to ensure barcode definition and readability are consistently high.

Find out more about Thermal transfer labels

What is a barcode?

A barcode is a visual representation of data that is readable to machines. Barcodes appear on everything from office furniture and identity badges to parcels, cards and supermarket labels, enabling items to be identified and data to be recorded quickly, accurately and in real time.

Barcodes work a bit like an ‘optical Morse code’. The data was originally represented by varying the width and spacing of parallel lines (known as one dimensional or 1D barcodes). More recently rectangles, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns (two dimensional or 2D barcodes) became used.

How do barcodes work?

A barcode is just a machine-readable language, with lines and spaces representing letters or numbers. Here are a few individual barcode letters:

A barcode reader uses a photo sensor to convert the barcode into an electrical signal, measuring each pattern and translating it back into regular, readable characters that then appear on a computer or portable terminal.

Barcodes may be scanned in either direction, so special ‘start’ and ‘end’ characters are used tell the sensor which way the code should be read.

Some barcodes include a check digit (or checksum character), which is located on the far right of the image. This is like an error detector code – the reader performs a calculation based on the two codes and if the answers match then the barcode has been scanned successfully.

Barcode terminology

The X Dimension is the width of the narrowest bar or space (usually given in mils). It dictates the width of all the other bars and spaces, as well as the length of the barcode.

The Left & Right Margins or Quiet Zones are areas immediately before and after the code. They must be left clear so the scanner can read the code correctly. There is a direct correlation between the X Dimension and the size of the Quiet Zone.

The Barcode Symbology Density is the amount of information a barcode can store. A Code 128 barcode has a higher symbology density than a Code 39 barcode.

The Barcode Ratio is the ratio of wide to narrow elements and helps configure the width of the code. The bigger the ratio, the wider the barcode.

Human Readable data is the same data as represented by the bars and spaces, but printed as text for people to read.

NB The Human Readable data may not reflect the data in the barcode. The only way to check is to scan the barcode with a barcode reader.

Barcode styles

One Dimensional Barcodes: Data is encoded in the widths of the bars and the spaces between them, not in their length. The EAN or UPC barcode is seen on many retail products.

Two Dimensional Barcodes: As barcodes need to include ever increasing amounts of data in ever smaller spaces, they have become more compact and require higher density symbologies. Two dimensional or stacked barcodes are either ‘matrixed’ as in the data matrix code or ‘stacked’ as in the PDF417 code

Coloured barcodes: Barcodes can now be printed in all sorts of colour combinations, but some work better than others. The important thing is that you ensure coloured barcodes and backgrounds create clean, crisp images with high definition for scanning.

Why not contact us to discuss your barcode or other variable data label requirements – our prices and advice are free!

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