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Guide to buying a barcode scanner

08 June 2017

Guide to buying a barcode scanner

Barcode scanning enables the quick and accurate capture of data – whether it be at your retail POS, at patient bedside, on the manufacturing production line or in the aisles of your warehouse. Barcode scanners expedite tedious tasks associated with these practices, resulting in increased productivity, reduced operating costs, and ultimately, competitive advantage. To reap the many benefits of barcoding, it is crucial to choose a barcode scanning device that is suitable for your application. Before investing in a barcode scanner, consider these top factors:

Barcode Type

Understanding the type of barcode that your business uses is necessary for identifying the proper barcode scanner model for your needs. Regardless of your industry, however, there are two common types of universal barcodes: one-dimensional and two-dimensional. 

One-dimensional barcodes

One-dimensional (1D) barcodes are made up of a series of one-dimensional vertical lines. Each line has a unique width, and the spacing between each line varies. These barcodes are easily recognizable, even to those with little knowledge of barcodes. They are the more traditional format of the two types of barcodes and are implemented in numerous industries. Some of the most common types of 1D barcodes include UPC, 03 Codabars, Code 128 and GS1 Databars. Many of these are popular in retail industries, though some are more industry-specific, serving packaging and supply chains.

Laser barcode scanners, typically, are compatible with 1D barcodes only.

Two-dimensional barcodes

Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes use symbols and shapes that are presented in a two-dimensional format versus a one-dimensional one. They are capable of holding around 1000 times more data than traditional 1D barcodes. Because of this, the capabilities are much more advanced. They often store contact information, including e-mail addresses and web addresses. Common types of 2D codes include QR, Datamatrix and Aztec codes. Two-dimensional barcodes are used in a range of industries, from retail to advertisement and transportation.

An imager, or image barcode scanner, relies on image capture rather than a laser to read and interpret barcodes and are suitable for 2D barcodes.

One-dimensional and Two-dimensional Barcodes

If your business uses both forms of barcodes, however, you do not need to purchase two separate barcode scanning devices. Generally, most 2D barcode scanners also have the ability to scan 1D codes. The same cannot be said for 1D barcode scanners which have more limited functionality.

What about mobile computers?

In most cases, the scan engine in a mobile computer can be upgraded from 1D to 2D by sending the device back to the manufacturer and requesting the switch. There’s a cost associated with doing this, but it’s a significantly cheaper way to get 2D scanning capabilities than purchasing a new 2D mobile computer.

Scanning Distance

The next factor to consider is the distance at which your barcodes will be scanned. Do you need to scan signs hung high above racking in your facility or do you scan items within a few feet or inches of the user? 

  • Standard-range barcode scanners can scan barcodes from 0.8 metres away.
  • Medium-range scanners typically reach around 0.9 to 1.2 metres in distance.
  • Long-range scanning devices reach distances of 0.6 to about 7.5 metres.
  • Extended-range scanners can scan distances as close as 0.9 metres and as far away as 18 metres.

Factors such as the size of your barcodes and the use of retroreflective material will also determine the range that is best for your business needs. If you will need to scan from close up and far away, you may need to invest in two separate devices.

Your unique business requirements

Will your workforce be using the barcode scanners indoors, outdoors or both? Do you need to scan hundreds of assets at a time in rapid succession, or is your scanning activity more limited? How mobile are your workers and how dispersed are your assets?

Ruggedness or durability

Retail industries are often the least concerned with durability, as the majority of barcode scanning in this environment is done from a counter. On the other hand, shipping and receiving departments, warehouses and distribution centres will find durability among their top concerns. For these applications, a general purpose barcode scanner is not ideal, and it is best to opt for a more rugged model. These are typically constructed with durable plastics and other materials that allow them to function in less-than-ideal or harsh environments. These scanners are also classified with an IP rating (Ingress Protection Rating), an international rating system that classifies electronics based on resistance to environmental hazards such as dust, moisture, and other conditions.


There are five forms of barcode scanners: handheld, countertop, presentation, fixed mount and mobile computers.

  1. Handheld barcode scanners are offered in both connectivity formats and are typically lightweight and easy to operate. They are popular in the healthcare industry as well as in shipping and receiving, and they provide flexibility when it comes to barcode scanning.
  2. Countertop barcode scanners are installed directly inside of a countertop. To operate, the barcode must be passed directly over the top of the scanner. This form is most notably used in grocery stores.
  3. Presentation-style barcode scanners are used in retail environments. The scanner is frequently placed on a counter, and items must be passed in front of the scanner to scan.
  4. Fixed-mount barcode scanners are mounted in place and can be operated hands-free. They are most commonly instituted in retail and transportation establishments.
  5. Mobile computers are frequently paired with portable scanners. The two work in unison, and they are best for distribution and manufacturing industries.


When it comes to barcode scanners, there are two connectivity options: tethered and bluetooth. Essentially, the tethered model requires the user to remain in a fixed location, while bluetooth connectivity provides users with the freedom to move anywhere within the wireless range (typically 5 to 10 metres). Many find that tethered models are sufficient for applications such as retail POS, while bluetooth models are great for staff that have to navigate a facility and scan assets throughout the day.

Battery life

It’s important to carefully consider your average scanning frequency and the battery lifespan of handheld barcode scanners. Infrequent scanning may retain a battery charge for several hours longer than a scanner used for constant scanning throughout a long shift.

Barcode scanners with extended-life batteries are designed to last for longer use applications such as field service or when recharging mid-shift is inconvenient. If you find a barcode scanner that meets your requirements but has a limited battery life, planning for backup batteries is one way to work around the problem.

Barcoding technology can be confusing. Taking the time to carefully evaluate your business requirements and selecting the right barcode scanner is time that’s well-invested – it will increase your team’s productivity, improve data collection, and raise overall effectiveness.

To learn more or discuss the needs of your particular application, contact our consultants today. 




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