Barcode Scanners – How to Choose

Choosing a barcode scanner can be a challenging task if you don’t have a lot of experience. This is a quick overview of what you should know when selecting barcode scanners.

1D or 2D?

The first question you need to ask is what type of barcode you will be scanning: 1D or 2D. This is important because a 1D scanner cannot scan 2D barcodes, although 2D scanners can scan 1D barcodes. A 1D barcode has black vertical lines.

1D barcodes have a range of symbologies: code39, code128 and UPC are typical. UPC (Universal Product Codes) barcodes are found on merchandise and store products, whereas the other symbologies are typically used for internal tracking such as manufacturer serial numbers, inventory locations, etc. Most scanners are configurable to filter out and read only the symbologies you specify. If you don’t know the symbology you are using, you should check to confirm that the scanner can read it if you elect to use a 1D scanner.

2D barcodes store more information than 1D qr scanner , but they require a 2D reader. Common examples of 2D include drivers license, FedEx and UPS package tracking. Benefits of 2D include being able to read the barcode even if a portion of the label is damaged or obscured, as well as storing much more information that a 1D barcode.

Most people will use 1D barcode scanners since that is the most popular.

Imager or Laser Barcode Scanner?

Laser barcode scanners read 1D barcodes. Most new handheld, PDA or mobile scanners have converted and use an imager. An imager allows you to read 1D or 2D, although when you purchase the scanner you should be careful to specify that you need to read 2D barcodes even if it says in includes an imager.

Laser scanners emit a thin red line of light (the laser) which reads the barcode. Many imagers also emit a red line of light, but this is just to help the user target what they are scanning. An imager takes a picture of the barcode and then decodes it, so imager can handle misaligned, damaged or dirty barcodes better than laser scanners.

Mobile, Hand-held or Fixed?

The form factor for scanners varies by the type of application. For handheld data collection applications, you should look for a scanner built into rugged mobile devices like Intermec CN3, CN50 or Motorola MC55 or MC75 devices. These scanners are integrated into mobile computers so a mobile software application talks directly to the scanner using the scanner API. Examples of mobile computer scanner applications include:

· Inventory counts
· Proof of Delivery
· Asset tracking and audits
· Inspections
· Operator rounds

Mobile computer scanners range in price from $1250 to $3000+.

Hand-held barcode scanners are dedicated devices that usually are connected to a PC or terminal. With hand-held scanners, it is up to the PC to handle the application and processing of the barcode. These are usually seen in retail environments at the Point of Sale (POS) or mounted on forklifts where an operator has a terminal on the forklift and uses the scanner to confirm what they load.

Handheld scanners usually connect via the serial port and can work wirelessly (e.g. Bluetooth or proprietary) or tethered. If wireless, they can scan anywhere from 2 – 30 feet away from the host computer.

Most hand-held scanners have an option to take whatever is scanned and put it in the keyboard buffer, which makes it appear that someone typed the barcode value. When operating in this mode, it is simple to use with existing applications. You should check with each type of scanner to ensure it supports the keyboard buffer, otherwise you will need to ensure it has drivers to support your operating system. Most scanners support Windows; however, that does not mean they support Windows CE which is usually the OS on forklift terminals, or Linux or Blackberry or any other OS.

If you elect to use a BlueTooth scanner, you need to ensure it supports your device. For instance, if you want to scan to a phone or PDA, you need to ensure the scanner has drivers. Just because you have a Blackberry device with Bluetooth, do not assume a Bluetooth scanner will work.

Hand-held scanners like the Motorola LS 2208 are around $200. Tethered scanners can be less than $100. Bluetooth scanners like the Baracoda or Socket scanner are $400-$600.

A third option is a fixed mount scanner. These scanners are usually installed on conveyor belts, self-serve grocery checkout stands and store price lookups. With fixed mount scanners, you have to ensure the barcode will pass within a readable distance and at a suitable angle. Grocery store checkout stands have multiple scanners to address this. In applications like conveyor belts, fixed mount scanners can be tied to light-activated sensors so the scanner is activated when the light beam is broken. This enables you to 1) know when you should expect to read a barcode 2) control the time to read a barcode.


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