Since their market introduction in the early 1950s, barcodes have become an integral part of product distribution and retail channels. When scanned, barcodes supply information to help create accurate inventory counts, ensure shipments reach their proper destinations, and enable retail checkout systems.
Considering the importance of these codes, it’s essential that businesses utilize the most appropriate methods and machinery to apply them—both in product labeling contexts and shipping scenarios.
With regards to product labeling, many companies choose to build these codes directly into the core product packaging (e.g., candy bars, water bottles, cookies, and other items). However, other companies choose to print directly on to the product’s primary packaging for reasons ranging from counterfeit prevention to accommodating print-line configurations. For shipping purposes, these codes are typically either applied using a devoted print-and-apply labeling machine or with an inkjet printer.
This article will both detail how to print barcodes on labels for these different applications as well as explore the hardware needed to make it happen.
How to Print Barcodes on Labels: Direct Product Labeling
Many high-volume manufacturers integrate their barcodes directly into the core product packaging to help reduce assembly line steps. For example, Anheuser-Busch InBev produced over five trillion liters of beer in 2019 alone. This beer is placed in pre-labeled bottles or cans so that they are immediately ready to be packaged, distributed, and sold.
This approach is not as essential for smaller operations that aren’t packaging industrial amounts of product. Many craft breweries will apply labels with an empty barcode space onto their small-batch beverage runs. As these different batches require different barcodes, the same label can be attached to these containers and a printer can then print the unique barcode onto the label.
Building materials and construction equipment are two other product categories that often receive direct barcode labels. These labels ensure traceability on-site and prevent counterfeiting issues. Lumber, car parts, and PVC/steel pipes are also common recipients of this practice.
In both of these cases, having the right printer to create the label is a necessity. However, there is no one-size-fits-all printer, and one of the biggest deciding factors for which model will work with your product line is whether you are working with porous or non-porous surfaces.
Printing Barcodes on Porous Surfaces
The porous surface of materials like untreated wood, paper, and cardboard absorb ink to a certain degree. Accordingly, you need a printer and ink that is specifically designed to encode these porous substrates so that these codes are crisp and legible enough to be scanned by a barcode reader.
Thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are a common choice for porous applications. Models like the Anser U2 Smart One use ink cartridges that are specifically formulated to create codes at high enough resolutions to ensure scannability. TIJ models are also known for their lightweight construction and mobility, allowing them to easily fit into different manufacturing line positions, whether mounted or mobile.
High-resolution case coding printers are also frequently used to create barcodes on porous substrates. The high-density ink used by these printers creates crisp characters that barcode readers can easily scan. Our case coder, the Precision Series 72mm high-resolution drop on demand (DOD) printer, which utilizes oil or solvent-based inks, provides a high-resolution image up to 180 DPI.
Printing Barcodes on Non-porous Surfaces
Metal, glass, and plastic are the most common non-porous materials that are used to package products. While most TIJ machines are made for porous applications, the solvent-based ink used by the Anser U2 Pro-S allows it to encode containers like aluminum cans and glass bottles. Like the Smart One, this model can encode at 600 x 300 DPI for clear, highly readable codes. For high production operations requiring continuous printing, a continuous inkjet (CIJ) printer is what is most commonly used.
How to Print Barcodes on Labels: Shipping Packages
Barcodes are essential for directing shipments to their rightful destinations. They are scanned when the packages are received, placed into storage, and/or shipped to their next stop. These codes can be placed either on a physical label that is printed and applied to the package or they can be printed directly onto the cardboard surface itself. The former can be done with a print-and-apply labeler, or more slowly by hand, while the latter is typically performed via a case coding printer.
Here’s how these two machines execute these functions:
Creating a Barcode with a Print-and-Apply Labeler
Powered by an internal computer system, print-and-apply labelers (like the EvoLabel series) enable users to design their own labels with shipping addresses, content information, barcodes, etc. Additionally, software programs like NiceLabel are intuitive to use, with drag-and-drop interfaces that allow you to create and save various templates, addresses, and graphics for easy creation and recall. After the label is made, the labeler automatically prints it out and applies it to the package.
If your operation is growing and you are still relying on a human to place all of your labels, investing in a print-and-apply labeler could be a smart cost-saving measure.
Click here for a detailed breakdown of how to use the NiceLabel system to create a barcode-imprinted label.
Creating a Barcode with a Case Coder
A case coder’s ability to print on porous surfaces makes it great for encoding shipments. Similar to the print-and-apply labeler’s printed image, case coders use computer interfaces to make and store designs. While case coders can’t inscribe quite as much information as an EvoLabel, they can create graphics that include important elements like company logos, text, and barcodes.
You Have Questions, We Have Answers
Whether you are printing barcodes directly onto products or applying them for shipping purposes, you must use a printer designed to work with your substrates. Without proper application, these codes become unreadable by a scanner, which can have major ramifications later in the supply chain. If you are unsure of what hardware will work best in your operation, we’re here to provide you with the expert guidance you need. Our team has been working with printers for over 30 years and we have the expertise necessary to help you find the best printers and inks for your operation.