How to Improve Your Barcode Readability

Modern supply chains, warehouse management systems, and the traceability of both food and pharmaceuticals depend on barcodes for serialized tracking. Barcode readability depends on the qualities of the substrate being printed upon and the quality of the printer and ink combination.

We’ve all had the experience of trying to scan a bag of pet food or frozen tater tots and having it fail to scan. Repeated failures may cause the register to call for an employee to manually punch in the codes. It can be a time-consuming and even embarrassing experience. In very different settings, warehouses and distribution centers depend on those same kinds of barcodes in order to process thousands of cases of products. Poor barcode readability delays inventory processing and shipments. These errors can add up to significant costs in labor and delays and even wasted product.

COMMON CAUSES OF BARCODE ILLEGIBILITY

Barcode readability is a function of how well a scanning device can decipher the information encoded within the barcode. If the barcode reader is improperly positioned or the barcode is obscured somehow, the process may fail. This is why barcode reading errors at the self-checkout are more common with bagged and frozen items. Folds in the bag can cover or distort the barcode, and frost or condensation can obscure it so the encoded information is illegible for the reader.

Take a look at some of the most common factors that influence barcode readability:

  • Low Contrast: Information is encoded within a barcode in a distinct pattern of alternating markings. Insufficient contrast between the light and dark parts of this pattern will cause the reader to have difficulty differentiating between the two and cause a no-read error.

  • Reflectivity: Consumer-facing packaging is often glossy or shiny due to protective films over cardboard. This extra reflectivity can affect the contrast between the barcode and the printing surface, causing a no-read.

  • Indistinctions: Errors during printing can cause consistent issues with readability. These errors might include incomplete printing of the darker areas of the code, fuzzy edges, or low-resolution printing that creates less-than-crisp barcodes.

In order to ensure barcode readability, some industries forbid highly reflective packaging and require that barcodes be printed on a white background to ensure high contrast. In certain countries or regional markets, this may actually be mandated by law or government regulations. After all, for food and drug traceability, it’s critical that things like batch numbers and dates be easily read and recorded. Fortunately, you can easily address these printing errors and challenges by using higher-quality printers, better-quality inks, and labeling solutions that are able to manage the volume at hand.

HOW TO IMPROVE BARCODE READABILITY

Improving barcode readability means using the right equipment. And the sooner you fill those holes in your production line, the better the impact on your ROI. Let’s look at a couple of different printer types, one for printing high-resolution barcodes directly onto cases and another for printing crisp labels for application.

CASE CODING PRINTERS

A higher-resolution printer can make a measurable difference for barcodes printed directly onto product cases. InkJet, Inc. offers two high-resolution case coding solutions that are suitable for improving barcode readability:

The Precision Series stand-alone printers are self-contained. Labels can be designed and finalized from the printer’s 8-inch color touch screen on both the Precision Series 72 and Precision Series 18. These printers use high-density ink to achieve crisp barcodes and characters with outstanding clarity and readability for both machine barcode scanners and supply chain personnel.

The XiJet series of Piezo printers do far more than just print labels: they print photo-quality images, logos, and barcodes in monochrome and full color. They are a fully modular solution that is adaptable to the presses, vacuums, and web transports in packaging facilities.

PRINT AND APPLY LABELERS

In some industries, regulations mandate separate printed labels on a white background in order to ensure barcode readability and visibility of other information as well. This adds an extra step because, not only do the labels need to be printed, but they also need to be applied to product cartons in a separate step. This second step is surprisingly hard to manage with long strings of labels getting out of sequence or tangled. InkJet, Inc. provides an all-in-one print and apply solution:

The EvoLabel® is a print-and-apply labeler machine that simplifies the entire process of barcoding cases. The EvoLabel is built on a relatively simple design with a small footprint that can easily be installed anywhere on the production line. It is also self-contained, with label design and printout possible right at the labeling station with its onboard software and touch screen. EvoLabel is a straightforward and reliable option for printing industry- and regulation-compliant barcodes.

MEETING INDUSTRY DEMANDS WITH OPTIMAL PRINTERS AND INKS

Barcode readability depends on being able to satisfy multiple types of barcode scanning machines throughout the production, transportation, and the retail supply chain. These barcodes, at the very least, must be printed on a contrasting surface in dense inks. Given the criteria that could apply across different industries, it’s best either to print in high resolution or on high-contrast labels with a machine that can also apply those labels reliably in high volumes. Now is the time to find a partner committed to providing low-cost printing and labeling solutions for barcode readability, as well as industry and regulatory compliance.

To find out more about how InkJet, Inc. can improve barcode readability and supply chain traceability contact us easily online, or call (800) 280-3245.

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