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Types of Barcodes

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An Overview of Different Barcode Types

There are many types of barcodes that are used to track products, mail, and people. Barcodes can be one dimensional or two dimensional. Nearly everyone has purchased products that have one or more barcode types.

UPC Codes

The Universal Product Code, or UPC, is a one dimensional or linear barcode that is seen by more people than any of the other types of barcodes. UPC symbols are required in the retail industry and in the food service industry. When you purchase an item in a retail store, you will see a UPC barcode that is printed on the outside of a product, or a barcode that is printed on a barcode label which is affixed to a product. Since it was adopted for international use, the UPC is also called the European Article Numbering code, or EAN. The UPC has a fixed length of twelve digits and it uses numbers only.

Code 39

Code 39 is a linear barcode that is used for inventory tracking and other coding purposes in manufacturing and other industries. Code 39 is a variable length code which means it can be set at a length that fits the specific requirements of any kind of application. Code 39 is an alphanumeric code that can encode digits zero through nine, upper case letters A through Z, and a few special characters such as a dollar sign. Code 39 barcodes are largely used in non-retail industries for use as badges, inventory, and industrial applications.

Code 128

Code 128 is a linear barcode that is used by the shipping and packaging industries. This code is designed to be very compact. It uses the least amount of space of all of the one-dimensional types of barcodes. Code 128 is perfect for squeezing a lot of information onto a shipping label. It can be used for alphanumeric or numeric barcodes. It can make use of one hundred twenty eight ASCII characters.

Interleaved 2 of 5

The Interleaved 2 of 5 barcode is a linear barcode that is used on canisters of 35 millimeter film and on cartons. The barcode is scanned when film is inserted into a machine to be developed. This barcode identifies manufacturer information and the number of exposures in a film canister.


The Postal Numerical Encoding Technique barcode, or PostNET, is used by the United States Postal Service. This linear barcode is used for zip codes that include the mandatory five-digit zip code and the optional four digit extension. PostNET makes it easier to automate the sorting and delivery of mail.


PDF417 is a two-dimensional barcode that is a portable data file which securely stores large amounts of data. It can encode signatures, fingerprints, and photographs. Some states use PDF417 barcodes on their driver licenses to encode names, addresses, driving records, and driver photographs. Airline tickets and some packages also use this barcode.

Data Matrix

Data matrix code is a two-dimensional barcode that arranges black and white modules in a square or rectangle. Data matrix codes are used to mark small items that are too small for one-dimensional barcodes. This code can be read with a cellular phone.


Aztec code is a two-dimensional barcode that is used in a bullseye pattern on a square grid. This code is used by airlines for electronic boarding passes. This code is also used on some railway tickets. Japan has started using an Aztec code stamp to mark the passports of foreigners who visit Japan.

Barcodes have a permanent place in modern tracking systems. More advanced types of barcodes are being developed that will be more secure and will encode more data. Barcode systems such as the UPC system have already become a regular part of the daily life of many people.