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Facts about Barcode Scanners

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Most Common Barcode Scanner Types: Corded and Cordless

Barcode scanners come in various shapes and sizes depending the type of environment it is used in. Regardless of the type, most scanners complete the same task. Whether in retail or industrial environments, barcode scanners recognize the barcode symbology and send that information to a computer or terminal to identify the product and various elements of the product including name, price and inventory. Various types of barcode scanners exist including:

How to Implement a Barcode System?

Barcode technology has improved considerably over the last decade. Barcode scanners of all stripes have decreased in cost. Current pricing of mid-grade retail/industial barcode scanners is in the $200 range for a unit with a stand and 5-year guarantee.

In the simplest implementations, a wired barcode scanner is all that’s required achieve increased speed and accuracy when scanning barcodes. In all retail and most industrial environments, product barcodes can be found on products shipped in from vendors. Most companies have some sort of computer software that required the operator to enter the UPC or SKU number into the system, which a corded scanner can accomplish out of the box without set-up.

All Barcode Scanners are Programmable

Even the simplest and most basic corded barcode scanner is programmable. The programming of the unit is stored in the hardware within the device itself. In most cases, the scanner is programmed by scanning specific set-up barcodes from the manual in a specific order, although most manufacturers now have software tools available to do that part for you – all you have to do is call out the rules that you want the scanner to follow.

Programming Options

Programming options determine how you want the device to perform. On most corded scanners you can set the interface, when the scanner light turns on and off, and the volume and duration of the beep indicating a good read.

Although corded scanners are programmed out of the box to send a <Carriage Return><Line Feed> as a suffix, you can change the default programming to anything you want. Some desktop software requires the operator to press the <Tab> key after entering the barcode number…the scanner can be programmed to send that key sequence. Some applications require different suffixes and prefixes. Here are some examples of corded scanning programming you might be faced with:

  • Scan a Code39 barcode, strip off the firs 5 digits of a 13-digit number, then enter a comma. Enter a <Carriage Return> only after scanning a PostNet barcode. For all other codes, send a <Carriage Return><Line Feed>
  • Scan a 28-digit barcode and break the scanned data into 4 equal pieces with a comma between the first 3 fields, and a <Carriage Return> after the last field.
  • Don’t allow any barcodes except UPC13 symbology to be scanned.

Programming options and variations differ depending on the cost and complexity of the scanner. The most inexpensive scanner will have only basic programming options, while more expensive units, like the in-counter grocery scanner will have a variety of programming options.

By definition, the portable scanners (that aren’t wireless wedge) or mobile computers are infinitely programmable. Generally, the scanner part of the device can be programmed with rudimentary rules such as the symbologies allowed and the suffix or prefix desired. Normally, however the scanner portion of the device will be controlled by the application program on the device.

Application programs are programs that perform specific functions on the mobile computer – much like the Microsoft Office suite of programs handle a variety of tasks on desktop or laptop computers. Generally, data collection applications that run on mobile computers with barcode scanners are designed specifically to make the data collection process as fast as possible with as little operator-keyed input or other intervention as possible. Because they’re so specific, these programs are created by staff or contracted computer programmers with expertise in program design and coding.

In the past couple of years, there have been some trends developing associated with programming mobile computers with barcode scanners;

  • There are now mobile computers that come with easy to use programming tools that make it easy for a novice to develop the program they need. To date, you can only write programs that work and store data on the device only – not connected wirelessly to other data.
  • A lot of mobile computers with barcode scanners come with application programs that will accomplish the most common of data collection needs. Again, the programs are relatively simple and don’t connect to any wireless data sources, but these applications would allow you to complete an item inventory with the mobile computer out of the box.
  • Currently, most mobile computers run a variant of PocketPC, WindowsCE or Windows Mobile. This is of note for a host of reasons:
    • The mobile computer will come with a utility called ScanWedge, which gives you the ability to scan barcodes into any application. Just like the corded scanner, using ScanWedge to scan the barcode will put the data wherever the cursor is flashing. Like the corded scanner, you can tell ScanWedge suffixes and prefixes to append, and which symbologies to exclude.
    • The mobile computer comes with application that will transfer data automatically to your desktop. You can enter data into PocketWord or PocketExcel and it will be available on your PC once you synchronize it.
    • The programming language for all PocketPC devices is standardized. This is of importance if you’re a programmer as any program you develop today will run on any mobile computer with a barcode scanner. If you control the scanner using programmatic commands instead of ScanWedge, you’ll have to change that code if you change mobile computer manufacturer. Although there are some program generators available, the base programming language for these devices is the Visual Studio .NET Compact Framework that comes with Visual Studio .NET Enterprise Edition.
    • Because of the commonality of programming languages, commercial programs at very reasonable cost are continually becoming available at a low cost. Check out

Barcode Scanners can Read 1 and 2D Barcodes and Take Monochrome Pictures

Barcode scanners were originally designed to read one-dimensional barcodes. These barcodes represent numbers or text as vertical black bars of varying width, separated by a white “gap” of varying width. Generally speaking, Linear Barcodes work well with standard scanners as long as the code is less than 3 inches in width, with a general “density” of 12 characters per inch. Using these general guidelines, the most data that can be comfortably stored in a linear barcode would be around 30 characters, if you’re planning on using a standard barcode scanner.

NOTE: The figures above are general estimates, given here in the most simplistic of examples. We’ve done applications with more than 70 characters in a single linear barcode that is roughly 6″ in width…and the code is being read by a standard scanner. But, for safety and planning, if you need to comfortably read more than 30 characters from one code, we recommend you go to a 2-dimensional barcode.

Scanning 2D Barcodes

Now we get to the interesting part….2-dimensional barcodes, and their scanners. First, it is important to understand that a 2-D barcode can store around a page of text, but generally that text has to be “parsed” into whatever application that you’re using so that it makes sense. A lot of users want to transfer all this data in the 2-dimensional barcode to their computers. Data formatting is easy with a little help – and all 2 dimensional barcode scanners can be programmed to do it.

Don’t forget to give us a call if you have a question about any facts about barcode scanners you haven’t seen here. All our representatives have at least 5 years experience in barcode technology, and can ask the right questions to help you identify the barcode scanner that will work best for you.