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January 09, 2020 09:01 AM

How to Design a Barcode Label

You think of the word barcode and instantly envision that band of lines and numbers. You may be even more familiar with the concept of the barcode label and know that you can find them in different “types,” such as UPC, EAN, Code 128, Code 93, ITF, CODABAR, and Code 39, among others.

Such words are familiar in the world of barcode design, and if you are looking at custom barcode options, it is helpful to know a bit about them. Let’s quickly look at the different barcode types (also called barcode symbology), and how they look on a barcode label. Then, we can consider how to use the right type for optimal barcode design.

  • 1D – This type is one dimensional with vertical lines and spaces as well as some numbers beneath the lines.
  • Code 39 – Commonly used for identification and asset tracking, it is commonly found in manufacturing and defense industries, and uses digits, letters, and 43 unique characters. It requires a lot of space and is not good for small items.
  • Code 128 – Similar to Code 39 in design, it is used in logistics and transportation, inventory management, asset tracking, shipping and receiving. They are high density barcodes with compact, alpha-numeric barcodes and have six sections.
  • Code 93 – A new and improved variation of Code 39, it has greater density and more data with unique start/stop characters. It is used in logistics, shipping, postal delivery in Canada, asset tracking and management.
  • UPC – This is the classic Universal Product Code and the most common of all barcode and custom barcode designs. There are UPC-A and UPC-E options and each uses a barcode with scannable numbers. It appears often on retail, point of sale, inventory and wholesale distribution goods.
  • EAN – Similar in appearance to the UPC codes, it is a common barcode label on European goods – which is why it is a European Article Number type. It is also called the International Article Number code and has 13 digits. It can also be in the EAN-8 barcode design with eight digits, instead.
  • ITF – These are unique and have encoded pairs of digits. There is a set in the first five bars, and another in the spaces between them. Common for shipping and logistics, product identification, inventory management, and asset tracking.
  • CodaBar – This is a self-checking barcode designed to easily read and it can include up to 16 characters while remaining an easy to print code. It is common on library materials, asset tracking systems, patient or product IDs, and FedEx documents.
  • GS1 DataBar – Used on retail goods and fresh food, they are very small and ideal for difficult-to-label goods.
  • MSI Plessey – Used in inventory management, wholesale and retail settings. It is not “self-checking” and has only digits.

There are also two-dimensional codes that include DataMatrix codes, QR codes that are 2D codes, and Aztec codes similar in appearance to QR and DataMatrix codes, among others.

Any type of code can become a custom barcode, and you need to pose a few key questions to select the right type.

Designing Your Barcode

First, let’s operate on the assumption that you already know it is a barcode label you need, and not a tag. That means the next question is “What material will the label be made from? Paper, metal, or some synthetic material?”

If the label has to be weather resistant, last a long time in challenging conditions, or withstand heat, dampness, abrasion, and other elements, then a metallic or synthetic label is best. You also need to choose the right adhesive backing for the label.

You will have to think about the size, and that is more of a barcode design issue than a matter of material. After all, the size requirements are based on whether the barcode has to be seen from a distance, fit on a tiny space, and so on.

Then, ask yourself about the data that any barcode label must encode. The barcode design is going to capture numeric information to display once scanned, or it may need both letters and numbers. It may need start/stop capabilities and special character options. If there is a tremendous amount of data that has to be captured, the 2D options are best but need specialized scanners. Again, any of these options can be a custom barcode.

As an example, the custom barcode you design for shipping purposes may need to be resistant to water and weather, as well as being printed in a very large format and capable of displaying tracking numbers. The barcode or barcode label you design for a piece of inventory that requires tracking may be different and demand a barcode design that captures digits, letters, and special characters.

There are many factors to the creation of a custom barcode and while there are barcode label systems enabling a DIY approach, it is usually best to work with an experienced team to get the barcode label, barcode design, or custom barcode results needed. Express makes identification products of all kinds, including a full array of barcodes.