Barcode 101

A barcode symbology is best described as an “optical Morse code”: a series of black bars and white spaces of varying widths printed on labels to uniquely identify items. The information translated in the barcode is decoded by a scanner, which measures reflected light and interprets the code into numbers and letters that are passed on to a computer.

There are many commercial softwares available for encoding data into a barcode. Most are fairly easy to use for activities such as building text strings into certain types of barcodes or printing a series of incremental numbers. Reading the barcode and passing the data along to where it is needed is more complicated. Sophisticated scanners and support software, however, have made this relatively easy since the hardest part (decoding) is completed by the scanner, not the user.

The primary benefit barcodes provide is quick, simple, and accurate reading and transmission of data for items that need to be tracked or handled. Since barcode labels are easily affixed or can be directly printed onto virtually any material (i.e. mailing tubes, envelopes, boxes, cans, bottles, packages, books, and more), they are the most cost-effective and accurate solution for capturing data.

When barcodes are used on a widespread public basis, such as printed on an internationally sold item, it is important to register the symbology in order to protect the data, specially from product/code copiers. However, if the barcode is for in-house use, it does not need to be registered. An example could be a patient’s unique barcode obtained during hospital admittance and used
throughout the duration of the stay. Registering a barcode is a simple process that can be performed through third party online sites or through barcode global organizations such as GS1.