Barcodes can be found just about everywhere today. In stores, online, on identification tags, and in many other places as well. They are ubiquitous and incredibly useful. According to GS1, since their invention a number of decades ago, a large number of variant barcode types have been developed, such as DataMatrix and QR codes. While the base technology behind barcodes has remained the same, the more advanced codes can store much more information than the base UPC code you see on your groceries. With these more advanced codes comes a need for more advanced readers. The majority of barcode scanners are laser, but the more recent scanners can also use linear imaging and 2D area imaging. But which type of scanner is best?
The most well known and most common barcode scanners use single point, red diode lasers to scan the alternating black and white lines of a barcode in order to extract the data stored within the code. The lasers used are actually very similar to laser pointers. While they are the most common, laser barcode scanners are also the simplest and are only capable of reading standard 1D barcodes like the UPC ones found on most store products. Depending on the size of the actual barcode, a laser scanner can read it from a distance of a few inches to a foot or two. According to Barcodes Inc. there are some specialty laser scanners that, with the help of large reflective labels, can read codes up to 35 feet away.
Some consider linear imagers to be less effective than laser scanners, but that is a matter of opinion as they have a number of features that can make them better than laser scanners. According to Carolina Barcode, these scanners use a line of multiple LEDs to cover the entire width of a barcode. Linear imager scanners usually have a range akin to what laser scanners have, but they are almost universally considered much more rugged thanks to their lack of moving parts. According to Nexa POS Direct,these scanners are quite useful in that they can scan smaller codes than laser scanners can, although they have an odd quirk where they are completely unable to scan in direct sunlight.
2D Area Imagers
2D Area Imager barcode scanners are the most advanced yet and are used to scan the more advanced codes that laser and regular linear imagers can’t. The most basic barcode is the common UPC code. According to Barcodes Inc. UPCs and other 1D codes can carry around 20 – 25 characters while 2D codes can carry well over 2,000 depending on the specifics of the code. 2D imager scanners are similar to linear imagers in that they collect an image of the entire barcode to analyze and decrypt. But unlike linear scanners, 2D scanners can read and decrypt any type of barcode available. 2D imagers also don’t need the barcode to be lined up with the scanning surface; they can take the image of the code from any angle or direction and decrypt it just fine unlike laser and linear scanners.
There is one other type of barcode scanner, the Charge Coupled Device scanner (CCD). These are similar to linear imagers but have no real range. They are still used, but not nearly as much as in the past. They are falling out of favor fast and being replaced by laser and linear scanners almost everywhere.
So which is the best?
Truthfully, there isn’t a definitive answer to this question. All three types of barcode scanners can be useful depending on the situation. Deciding which barcode scanner is best overall is not really the proper way to go about deciding which you should buy. The type of barcode you intend to use should be a major factor in your decision. If you are going to use one of the more advanced codes, like the QR one, then you’ll have to get one of the more advanced imager scanners as a laser won’t even read the complex codes. But if you are just going to be using regular UPC codes or one like it, then a simple handheld laser scanner like the ones sold by Shopify should be more than enough for your needs.
While each type of scanner can be useful, it is arguable that 2D imager scanners are the best simply because of their capability to read any barcode. For many, this capability is plenty to declare 2D imagers as the best barcode scanners available, and while that may be technically true, they are also more expensive. If you are truly interested in trying to figure out which is the best, then your best option is to list out all of the reasons your business needs a scanner and research all the advantages and disadvantages of each scanner type. Then it’s a simple matter of fitting the best scanner to your needs.