• Barcode Ireland Team

Barcode readers, scanners, imagers… where to next?

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

From the wand barcode scanner to the scanner in your pocket!

Black and White QR Barcode. Quick Response Barcode symbology.

Barcode scanners and reading devices use a light source and a photo conductor or light sensor to decode printed barcodes. They contain decoder circuitry which allows the data to be sent to an output port - such as a pc or a point of sale (POS)system, where the code is used to retrieve data on the item which has been scanned.

Barcode scanners and readers are utilised to read linear or one dimensional barcodes. Due to the increasing popularity of 2D barcodes such as QR, Aztec and DataMatrix codes, specialised barcode imagers have become available. These can also be scanned with a cellphone camera (if the device has this functionality) or in smartphones via a barcode scanning application.

A video comparison between the two types


Laser scanners are therefore preferable for a retail environment using one dimensional (1D) UPC or EAN barcodes and can also scan at a greater range (approximately 50% more) than imagers. They can also read certain ‘2D-like’ barcodes such as PDF417 however if your company uses more advanced 2D codes such as QR codes or DataMatrix you will require a barcode imager. Advances in technology enable these imagers to read many separate barcodes at once.

Types of One Dimensional scanners

Wand/Pen/Contact barcode scanner.

Wand/Pen or Contact scanners

Wand or Pen scanners are the oldest form of barcode scanner rarely used anymore outside of small operations. The scanner is a contact device - as it is dragged across the barcode it must be in physical contact with the barcode. Because it may have to be passed back and forth several times before the barcode is read, this form of scanner is only suitable for operations where a small number of barcodes are required to be scanned. Because the movement of the wand will vary, the scanner works by decoding the rate of change between dark and light against a set clock.

Laser barcode scanner. Laser barcode scanner scanning barcode.

Laser scanners

Laser scanners are similar to Wand/Pen scanners in that they both use their own light source to read the barcode via a photodiode. In the case of laser scanners, laser beams emitted by the scanner are captured via an oscillating prism which sweeps back and forth across the bar code many times a second and polygon mirrors which convert the diffuse reflection of the barcode to a more dense, readable format, therefore allowing scanning from a distance. They can be stationary or handheld and are the scanners most commonly used in retail. Laser scanners are good at reading small and narrow barcodes.

CCD Scanners

CCD (Charge Coupled Device) barcode scanners come in both short and long range versions and connect to a computer via a cable, usually to a USB port. They work off of the basis of a laser diode which was originally invented by the Japanese in 1987 quickly taking over the scanner market. Hundreds of tiny light sensors are lined up at the head of the reader and mimic the pattern of the barcode in order to decode it.  Long range CCD scanners generally have the ability to read 1 and 2-dimensional barcode images.

Types of Two Dimensional barcode scanners

Two Dimensional barcode scanner.

These scanners allow the barcode to be read from any angle and have been adopted by larger retail stores. They typically read in stores by sliding the barcode across a glass plate and are especially useful when your hands are not free to hold a scanning device. Unlike laser scanners, they produce a pattern of light beams in several different orientations and particularly useful for reading damaged or poorly printed barcodes. These scanners are frequently used in grocery stores and large retail stores.

Video camera readers

A 2D barcode imager that works on a similar basis to a CCD barcode reader, except that they have sensors arranged both vertically and horizontally.  The lights flash onto the barcode and create a digital picture of the barcode in order to read and decode it.

Smartphone and cellphone camera scanners

Cell phone scanning barcode. Smartphone scanning barcode.

Some barcodes such as QR and DataMatrix codes can be optimised to allow them to be read by most cellphones with a camera. Modern smartphones can scan barcodes via a pre-installed or downloaded app, of which there are manifold free versions available. Consult Waspbarcode’s comprehensive guide http://www.waspbarcode.com/buzz/tech-tools-5-smart-phone-barcode-scanner-apps/

The operating system of a smartphone, its Bluetooth and wireless capabilities allows it to be integrated into a business’s barcode system.

As barcodes and barcode symbologies have advanced over the years, barcode scanners and imagers have evolved with them. From humble beginnings like the pen scanner which could take minutes to scan just one barcode, to large industrial imagers that can decode a multitude of barcodes in milliseconds. The best barcode scanners are so accurate that they make only one mistake in 70 million pieces of scanned information! With a barcode scanner basically now in the pocket of every smartphone user, where will the barcode will take us next?

Our barcodes work internationally. To get your barcodes, head to our Buy page www.barcodeireland.ie/buy, or contact us on info@barcodeireland.ie or through the contact form on our website www.barcodeireland.ie/contact






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