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Symbologies(Barcode Types)

The mapping between messages and barcodes is called a symbology. The specification of a symbology includes the encoding of the single digits/characters of the message as well as the start and stop markers into bars and space, the size of the quiet zone required to be before and after the barcode as well as the computation of a checksum.

Linear symbologies can be classified mainly by two properties:

  • Continuous vs. discrete: Characters in continuous symbologies usually abut, with one character ending with a space and the next beginning with a bar, or vice versa. Characters in discrete symbologies begin and end with bars; the intercharacter space is ignored, as long as it is not wide enough to look like the code ends.
  • Two-width vs. many-width: Bars and spaces in two-width symbologies are wide or narrow; the exact width of a wide bar has no significance as long as the symbology requirements for wide bars are adhered to (usually two to three times wider than a narrow bar). Bars and spaces in many-width symbologies are all multiples of a basic width called the module; most such codes use four widths of 1, 2, 3 and 4 modules.

Some symbologies use interleaving. The first character is encoded using black bars of varying width. The second character is then encoded, by varying the width of the white spaces between these bars. Thus characters are encoded in pairs over the same section of the barcode. Interleaved 2 of 5 is an example of this.

Stacked symbologies repeat a given linear symbology vertically.

The most common among the many 2D symbologies are matrix codes, which feature square or dot-shaped modules arranged on a grid pattern. 2-D symbologies also come in circular and other patterns and may employ steganography, hiding modules within an image (for example, DataGlyphs).

Linear symbologies are optimized for laser scanners, which sweep a light beam across the barcode in a straight line, reading a slice of the barcode light-dark patterns. Stacked symbologies are also optimized for laser scanning, with the laser making multiple passes across the barcode.

In the 1990s development of charge coupled device (CCD) imagers to read barcodes was pioneered by Welch Allyn. Imaging does not require moving parts, like a laser scanner does. In 2007, linear imaging had begun to supplant laser scanning as the preferred scan engine for its performance and durability.

2-D symbologies cannot be read by a laser as there is typically no sweep pattern that can encompass the entire symbol. They must be scanned by an image-based scanner employing a CCD or other digital camera sensor technology.