Most Common Barcode Types

The majority of professionals within industries that use barcodes are not only familiar with them, but could recognize them with the naked eye. Here is a review of the main types of barcodes.

There are many types of barcodes, and each one is designed to perform a specific function. Depending on the type of company and the industry, some types of codes will be used more often than others, but it is very interesting to review them all. In this kind of overview, we will list the main types of barcodes.


EAN barcodeEAN (European Article Number) barcode is used to mark products that are scanned from a cash register. The EAN symbols have a fixed length (as you can see by looking at them) and are mandatory for use in sectors such as retail or food industry. In fact, they are hardly used in any other areas.

They allow 13 digits to be included in a relatively small space, and are widely used in warehouses to control inventory. This type of barcode was originally developed in Europe and later extended to the rest of the world, except for the USA and Canada.


UPC barcodeUPC (Universal Product Code) barcode is very similar to the EAN type, but developed and used mostly in the USA and Canada. Its other main difference with the EAN code is that it codes one digit less, 12 digits.

Today there is an agreement between the use of EAS and the UPC barcode and both are accepted worldwide and recognized by all modern readers.

Both EAN and UPC are barcode types that only allow numbers to be encoded. To encode letters there are other types of barcodes such as those listed below.

Code 39

Code 39 barcodeSome industries needed to encode both letters and numbers in a single barcode. To fulfill this need, Code 39 (Code 3 of 9) emerged, undoubtedly the most popular and widely used type of barcode, which is in fact the standard barcode in non-food industries.

Code 39 is capable of encoding numbers, capital letters and some special characters (+, -, ., ). On the other hand, Code 39 produces relatively long barcodes, which is a disadvantage in certain cases where the label carrying the barcode must be limited in length.

Code 128

Code 128 barcodeThe Code 128 barcode is a high-density barcode. In response to the demand to have a wider selection of characters than the Code 39 in a more compact space, Code 128 was developed. It is a barcode symbol used primarily in the transportation industry. It allows all characters in the ASCII table to be encoded.


ITF barcodeInterleave Two of Five barcode is widely used in the transportation industry for the identification of the boxes that make up a shipment. Usually, inside the box labelled with an ITF code, you will find products destined for shops or warehouses which will in turn be labelled with EAN or UPC barcodes.


Postnet barcodeThe Postnet (Postal Numeric Encoding Technique) barcode is a type of barcode symbology used exclusively by the United States Postal Service for encoding addresses and postal codes on their shipments.


PDF417 barcodePDF417 is a 2D or two-dimensional barcode. It is a high-density symbology that is a bit like a crossword puzzle. The difference between this type of barcode and the previous ones is that the PDF417 type is a portable data file. It is used for official documentation in some countries, it is possible to encode the name of a person , the photo of their face and even a series of reference data in a very small space.

The acronym PDF stands for Portable Data File and the number 417 indicates that each pattern in the code consists of 4 bars and spaces, and each pattern is 17 units long. Created in 1991 and it is now an international standard under the code ISO/IEC 15438.


QR CodeQR Code (Quick Response code) is the evolution of the linear barcode. It is a two-dimensional code that allows greater storage density and more information in less space. Its easy decoding allows them to be read both with a mobile phone and with high performance readers. It can also contain information of more than 4,000 alphanumeric characters.


Datamatrix barcodeThe Datamatrix or 2D data encoding is a two-dimensional barcode which has a square shape like the QR, but unlike the QR it is only capable of storing 2335 alphanumeric characters. Another difference from the QR code is that it cannot be decoded by mobile phones.

Despite these limitations, the great advantage of Datamatrix codes is their high reading reliability. Thanks to their redundant information and error correction system that allows them to be readable with up to 30% of their surface area damaged. Another great advantage is that a high contrast is not necessary for a successful read.


DotCode barcodeThe DotCode is a type of 2D barcode specially designed to guarantee a reading when printed with high speed ink printers or laser printers.

The DotCode also has a rectangular shape and is composed of dots distributed in rows and columns, that must follow specific distribution rules for the code to be valid.

GS1 Datamatrix

GS1 Datamatrix codeFrom the beginning of 2019, in order to minimize the counterfeiting of medicines, the traceability of medicines at the global level became mandatory. It is in the wake of this obligation that the GS1 Datamatrix codes are being used. This type of code makes it possible to code each product from the person who produces the drug to the person who sells it, thus allowing the entire production-distribution chain to be recorded.

Of course, day by day and as the needs of the industry change, new symbologies may appear. But these are the main symbologies of barcodes and 2D codes in use today.

Each company, depending on its activity and needs, makes different uses of these barcodes and 2D codes. This is important when choosing a code reader since not all codes can be read by all readers.

If you need advice or simply to know the opinion of our experts about which barcode reader is the most suitable for your business, call us at our contact number.

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