Barcode readers are very easy to use devices, although choosing the right model can be a challenge if we do not know the various types that exist and their main advantages.

The first step in determining the most suitable scanner is to know our specific needs, such as the environment in which it will be used, the intensity of use or the types and formats of barcodes it will read and at what distance.

The main reason for any company that wants to use barcode scanners is to streamline their processes and be more productive to offer a higher quality service. For example, in a warehouse or a store they allow to reduce the most common errors when tracking inventory, reduce work times, improve the management of parcel delivery, or help during the processing of physical documents. In short, readers are useful in any business with operations where barcodes are present or can be implemented.

What are barcode readers?

Barcode readers are electronic devices that allow scanning this type of code. A barcode encodes numbers and/or letters using an image, usually used to identify objects (products, documents, tools, packages, tickets, etc.). They are used to quickly identify and trace items to maintain control.

The scanners, in addition to reading these codes, allow the data read to be communicated to another terminal called host, which is usually a computer, through a wireless or wired connection. The reader can be permanently connected to the host while scanning the barcodes or it can establish a connection afterwards and dump the previously collected information. The reader has a decoder that recognizes the image of the code read, interprets it and converts it into basic reading information (numbers and letters) that is transmitted to the host.

That is, the scanner performs the entire process of reading and translating a barcode and, for the reader to fulfill its function, it needs a host to send the information read.

Types of barcode readers

Barcode scanners can be divided into several types depending on the different features they offer, either by the type of scanning engine they have integrated, by their shape, connectivity, robustness or reading range.

These are the most common classifications:

Depending on the type of scanning engine

One of the most important properties when choosing a scanner and that affects the kind of barcodes it will be able to read is its scanning engine. There are three main types of reading engines:

  • Laser: it was the first technology to enter the market. These scanners use a red diode laser to read the reflectance of black and white spaces in a barcode. It is only capable of deciphering standard linear (one-dimensional) barcodes. A standard laser reader can read from a few centimeters away to half a meter.
  • Linear imager: Linear image scanners, like lasers, can only read one-dimensional barcodes. But it's a more evolved technology and instead of reading reflected light like lasers, they capture an image of the code and process it. It offers several advantages over the laser, as it has a wider reading range and reads codes better when they are poorly printed or damaged. They are replacing laser technology, which is becoming obsolete, and is the most used in all sectors, such as retail or courier services.
  • Area (2D) imagery: Like linear imagers, 2D (two-dimensional) imagers also capture an image of the code for analysis. However, unlike linear devices, it can crack any type of barcode, both one-dimensional and two-dimensional. Another advantage offered by readers with 2D imager engine is that they take images with greater definition and can read the codes in any direction. This allows the orientation of the barcode not to be so important to read it, while with a laser or a linear imager you must place the reading beam horizontally on the code. This allows 2D imagers to deliver faster read speeds with less aim. On the other hand, the 2D imager can also interpret codes displayed on any surface, including monitors, mobile screens or even engraved on parts. Thanks to its great versatility and readability, it is an increasingly popular technology in all industries to accelerate scanning applications and expand the uses of barcodes. It is present in areas where bidi codes are used, such as the pharmaceutical sector or laboratories.

According to the shape of the reader

Once the scan engine model is decided, the next big question is the shape of the reader. There are five main types, and each has its advantages, although everything will depend on the application and use that will be given to the scanner. They are:

    Hand-held barcode reader
  • Manual: it is the most common. It is very easy to use, grips with one hand, directs the scanner to the barcode and pulls the trigger. Most models offer an accessory stand for hands-free operation.
  • Presentation barcode reader
  • Presentation: it is designed to be placed on a countertop, a counter, or a fixed support, without having to be held by an operator to use it. In short, it is created for hands-free scanning, so it does not even require a trigger or activation button to read. Similarly, instead of having a single pointer like the handheld scanner, it covers wide reading areas for easy aim. The presentation reader is usually present in store checkouts, as it allows many items to be scanned easily and quickly. Simply present the barcode in front of the scanner and it will read it automatically. Within the presentation scanners, the integrated ones stand out, which are designed to be embedded in a cabinet or table. Many models also have integrated scales to fully serve a POS rail and for the clerk to calculate, for example, the weight of fruit and vegetables. They are very common in supermarkets and self-check-out
  • Automated barcode reader
  • Automation: It is a slightly more specialized fixed reader, as it is intended to be integrated into a larger automated system. This scanner is made to be mounted on conveyor lines or kiosks and does not need a trigger or button to scan. It will always be turned on or activated by an external sensor or controller. A wide range is available depending on its reading speed to accommodate even high-speed assembly lines without any user intervention. We can find it, therefore, in large distribution centers or assembly lines, among others.
  • PDA
  • PDAs: have more functions besides scanning. Mobile terminals provide complete freedom, as both the computer and scanner are located together in a single portable device. While a reader needs to be connected to the host, the PDA can move freely while storing information in its internal memory or communicating over a wireless network. A mobile terminal is ideal for applications that require a lot of mobility, such as inventory management or asset tracking. It is present, for example, in warehouses, factories, the retail or transport sector.

Depending on the connection to the host

We can also find other features that differentiate the models of barcode readers from each other, and that must be considered when choosing the most suitable for our business.

One of them is the option of connectivity with the host, which can be wired or wireless (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth ...). The fastest – and most common – connection is usually via the USB cable.

Bluetooth is the most common choice in wireless scanners and has a range of 10 meters, although some specialized units can transmit more than 40 meters away. On the other hand, the Wi-Fi connection finds less interference with objects and allows a greater distance between the reader and the host (up to 100 meters), also allows the connection of several scanners to the same antenna (up to 32 in some equipment). That is, both types are useful if the operator must move from the place where the host is to do the reading and, if he must opt for a greater distance, the Wi-Fi connection is more suitable. They are common in department stores and logistics centers, for example.

Generally, wired terminals are cheaper and easier to set up than wireless terminals, as they need to be paired and paired with the host. They are suitable for situations where the operator does not need to move away from the computer to read.

There are also readers that communicate via radio: they work with a system like Bluetooth, but connected to a base or, in some cases, to an antenna that acts as a receiver.

The most appropriate type of connection will depend on whether the terminal will work in a single place – such as the collection area of a supermarket – or needs mobility – for example, to control inventory in the store or the warehouse of a business.

According to its robustness

Another relevant factor to consider is the level of robustness. The environment where the reader will be used is an important factor to consider. The fewer resistant ones are designed for non-intensive use in an office or commercial environment, capable of withstanding accidental drops from time to time. But if you are going to work in a warehouse where the material is stored at a certain height or in aggressive environments (such as outdoors), it will be necessary to opt for a more robust terminal to protect against falls, rain or humidity, and even strong impacts against other equipment. That is, a robust barcode reader is appropriate for industrial environments, factories or logistics centers, as well as where it will have intensive use.

The toughest units are completely sealed against dust and moisture and can withstand heavy and repeated drops. The dust and liquid resistance of a barcode reader is measured by its IP (International Protection). Of course, it is always possible to increase -even more- the robustness with a rubber cover. Robust or "rugged" readers are distinguished by their brightly colored housings, such as yellow, orange, or green. Although they are more expensive than standard endurance ones, in the long term it compensates for the cost of a possible replacement of the terminal, as well as the work time that can be lost.

According to your reading range

Another detail to look at before buying a barcode scanner is the maximum distance at which it can read. It can be short, if the elements are going to pass near the reader, or long, if we need a longer reading length, such as in a warehouse or factory. If the distance exceeds what is advised by the terminal, it will be very difficult or impossible to make a correct interpretation. There are also scanners with specific versions that have a wider reading range.

On the other hand, they usually have an inclination limit for reading, that is, the scanner will need to be straight with respect to the barcode. In addition, the various models that are available in the market offer different reading speeds. To scan, for example, all the packages received by a carrier at once, it will be necessary to speed up, while to read, among others, the tickets in a cinema, the terminal may be slower.

Top Barcode Reader Manufacturers

At Logiscenter we work with the best brands of barcode readers on the market. Some of the best known are Datalogic, Honeywell, Unitech, Zebra, Code or Socket, although you can find many more in our extensive catalog.

If you still have difficulty choosing the right barcode reader or have additional questions, call our experts, we will be happy to help you.