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Glossary of Barcode Terms

Here you can find definitions for the terms used in the barcodes industry.

 Matrix Barcodes, also known as 2D barcodes, refer to a type of barcode that encodes information both vertically and horizontally, in contrast to traditional 1D barcodes. They possess the ability to encode significantly more information than conventional barcodes. QR Codes are the most common type of 2D Barcodes.

 These are sequential numbers usually encoded in Code-39 or Code-128 format barcodes. Labels with a different barcode number on each are stuck onto assets of a business to keep track of what goes in and out. These formats of barcodes are used in this way in libraries for lending out books as well.

 A 2D barcode with an Aztec pyramid centre finder pattern is employed by transport providers like Eurostar, particularly for tickets. The pattern in the code’s center is used by the scanner to establish a center point.

The height of the shortest bars in a barcode. This refers to the bars only and does not include the number at the bottom.

 For barcode specifications. Refers to the total width of all of the bars. This excludes the quiet zones on either side of the bars.

 An Image used to contain a small amount of information to be easily read by a barcode scanner or cell phone app.

 Refers to a purchase option that some barcode retailers offer whereby both the Barcode number and the Barcode images can be purchased at the same time. This sometimes also includes a guarantee certificate and can also include barcode registration.

 An optional service offered by some alternative barcode suppliers to increase the internet profile of barcodes and ensure that the product information appears when the barcode is scanned by cell phone apps. There is no mandatory registration database for barcode numbers.

 An extra digit is calculated using a specialised algorithm and appended to the end of a barcode. This measure helps to avoid accidental errors during barcode input, as any incorrect digit will automatically prompt a change in the check digit. Also known as a checksum digit.

 A barcode symbology is used mostly for asset tracking. Can only encode numeric data. Has a high data density so very small items should use labels with this instead of code-39 as code-128 should scan more easily.

 A barcode symbology is used mostly for asset tracking. Can encode alpha-numeric data (letters and numbers). Code-39 has a low data density so small goods should not be labelled with this because small barcodes of this type may be difficult for a scanner to pick up.

 The section of a barcode number that follows the initial 3 digits is known as the Company prefix. The section of a barcode number that follows the initial 3 digits is known as the Company prefix. This section remains constant across an entire company’s barcode selection. The length of this is determined by how many individual barcode numbers the company owns (i.e. if they own 10,000 barcode numbers then the company prefix needs to be shorter to fit within the 13-digit threshold).

 Refers to the first three digits of a retail barcode number which indicates which GS1 member organisation the barcode came from. A common misconception is that this shows the country of origin of the product when in reality it only shows the country of origin of the barcode itself.

 A type of 2D Barcode used in engineering and manufacturing industries. Used to locate individual components during the manufacturing process.

 European Article Number – The 13-digit standard retail barcode is used almost ubiquitously throughout the world. Only in the USA do they use UPC-A Barcodes more commonly, although stores still accept EAN-13 Barcodes. EAN-13 can refer to the barcode number or the barcode format.

 The encoding is the information that the barcode is generated from. In the case of an EAN-13 Barcode, this would refer to the 13-digit number.

 Can refer to the type of image file that the barcode image is in, the symbology of the barcode, or how the barcode is broken up into sections.

 Global Location Numbers are 13-digit numbers required by some stores as a prerequisite for trading. These unique numbers are used as location identifiers. These can be obtained through GS1 and some alternative suppliers.


 GS1, the global organisation responsible for implementing and enforcing barcode standards, facilitates the purchase of barcodes. However, to access this service, an initial joining fee and annual membership fees are typically required.

GTINs are Global Trade Identification Numbers. These refer to any barcode numbers used in retail as part of the GS1 system. These could be GTIN-13’s (or EAN-13’s), GTIN-12’s (UPC-A) or GTIN-14 (ITF-14).

 International Standard Book Number Barcodes are the barcodes used on books. These start with 978 or 979 and are produced as barcodes using EAN-13 symbology usually with the text above.

 International Standard Book Numbers are 13-digit numbers beginning with a 978 or 979 that are used on books.

 International Standard Serial Number Barcodes are 13-digit barcodes that have been converted from an 8-digit ISSN Number. This 13-digit code is encoded using EAN-13 symbology in a barcode that is used on magazines and other periodicals.

 An International Standard Serial Number is an 8-digit number supplied to creators of magazines and periodicals which can be converted into a 13-digit magazine barcode.

 ITF-14’s or Interleaved Two of Five’s are barcodes created from an EAN-13 number (by adding an additional leading digit) to be used on the cartons of the EAN-13 barcode’s product. These are large barcodes printed on boxes of 6 or 12 of an item to be used only for stock tracking purposes and not for retail selling.

 Also called 2D Barcodes – Refers to barcodes that encode information both vertically and horizontally as opposed to traditional 1D barcodes. These are capable of encoding much more information than normal barcodes. QR Codes are the most common type.

 A dotted 2D Barcode used by some postage services. While it can only encode small amounts of information, a central bulls-eye allows it to be scanned even when a parcel is moving quickly.

 A way of encoding a set of numbers (0-9) so that they can be read by a barcode scanner. Each number in the parity must be represented by a different combination of black and white spaces in barcodes, and each parity used to encode a barcode number must be completely different from all other parities used in the barcode symbology.

 A type of 2D Barcode used for identification cards and e-tickets. These are often used by transport providers.

 Quick Response codes are the most common kind of 2D Barcode. First developed for Toyota, these codes are now used worldwide to encode a large variety of other information. They are primarily used to automatically link smartphones to URL addresses when scanned.

Quiet Zones are part of the barcode specification and refer to the white spaces on either side of the bars. These are required to be a certain size in order for the barcode to be scanned correctly and fit within the officially accepted specifications. Sometimes a ‘>’ is used to indicate how big the quiet zone should be.

 Specifications refer to the dimensions that the barcode is required to be on a product in order to be officially accepted. Stores have different levels of tolerance for barcodes that don’t fit these specifications. Smaller stores don’t tend to mind so much.

 Serial Shipping Container Codes are 18-digit barcodes (with an additional 2-digit application identifier) used on pallets going into large retail stores. Each pallet requires a different SSCC code.

 Symbology is the type of barcode or the way the barcode is encoded. This word is sometimes confused with format. Symbology is a combination of the parities used and the order in which they are used.

 Universal Product Code – A type of retail barcode used predominantly in the USA (although theoretically accepted worldwide). These 12-digit numbers are encoded in UPC-A Symbology. These are effectively a subset of EAN-13 numbers.

 A text format used to encode calendar events into a QR Code so that when it is scanned the phone will automatically add the event to the cell phone’s calendar.

 A text format used to encode contact information into a QR code so that when it is scanned the phone will automatically add the contact information into the cell phone’s contacts.

 An additional service offered by GS1 and some barcode resellers consists of a test scan of the barcode as it will be printed on the product to see how it is likely to scan in different environments. Usually, this is not necessary however some larger retailers require this. The barcode must strictly adhere to barcode specifications to pass.


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