Barcodes are data codes that contain important data and information pertaining to a specific product. Using bars and spaces of varying lengths and widths, different numbers and letters are encoded.

These codes are extremely important for accurate inventory management. In this article, we compare the different barcode scanner types to help you choose the right one for your business and its inventory management.

barcode scanner

For example, the barcode seen on the tag of a shirt does not describe the brand or color or price of the shirt. Instead, it will only have certain black and white spaces with a 12 –digit product number, which is scanned and detected by a computer. In the computer, the data corresponding to this barcode will be found and accordingly, the cashier at the counter will bill the product.

Check out our free Barcode generator tool.

What are the different types of barcodes?

There are primarily 2 different types of barcodes: 1D and 2D. The kind of barcode you need to use depends on how much data you intend to store in the barcode.

1D code

These codes, like the UPC code, are generally linear black and white spaces of varying widths. They will have close to 12 characters.

barcode scanner app

The disadvantage of the 1D code is that the more information you want to include, the longer the barcode will become.

But, 90 percent of the applications use the 1D barcode.

Related Read: What is SKU – Learn everything there is to know!

2D code

2D code, like QR codes and data matrix use squares, hexagon and other shapes to store data.

It is read in 2 dimensions as data is arranged in both horizontal as well as vertical patterns.

barcode scanner

It can be much smaller than the 1D code but can carry up to 100 characters, and thus hold much more information.  Another advantage is that while 1D can carry only alphanumerics, 2D codes can carry other kinds of information like images, website address, voice, and other types of binary data.

The 1D code can be read with the traditional laser scanners or camera-based imaging scanners. But 2D codes can be read-only using imagers, which are more expensive.

A barcode requires a specific type of scanner, called the ‘barcode scanner’ to scan this code. The scanned output is transmitted to the computer using this device. There are various types of barcode scanners available in the market. Doing some research and choosing the one suitable for your business is important.

Types of barcode scanners

There are primarily 4 different barcode scanners types, based on the technology they use to scan.

Pen type readers

pen type barcode scanner

They are also called barcode wands because they look like wands. This scanner consists of a LED light and a photodiode at its tip. How it works is that, when this pen-like barcode scanner is slid over the barcode, the LED illuminates the black and white bars. The light reflected from these bars, which vary depending on their thickness, is captured by the photodiode and is later converted into digital information.

The problem with this type is that you have to carefully pass the scanner over the barcode and at the proper speed. The scanner needs to come in contact with the barcode. Any kind of human error could lead to flaws in the data obtained.

Pen type barcode scanners are the least expensive among all.

Laser barcode scanners

laser type barcode scanner

These are the most popular type of barcode scanners and are widely used in retail. They also work similar to the pen-type but give accurate results when compared to the former.

In this type, a laser beam is shot at a mirror within the actual unit. This mirror moves within so that the laser sweeps across the barcode in a straight line. A photodiode captures the reflected light and converts it into digital information.

This type can be either hand-held or mounted. A standard-range laser barcode can read the code from 6 to 24 inches away. A long range one can read from 2 to 8 feet away, and an extra-long one from up to 30 feet away.

CCD barcode scanners (Charge Coupled Device)

ccd based barcode scanner

CCD scanners are expensive units but give very accurate results. You may see them referred to as LED scanners.

They have hundreds of tiny LED lights arranged in a row within the unit. This is directly shot at the barcode, and the voltage of the ambient light is measured. This is later converted to computer readable data.

These are widely popular in POS(Point of Sale) applications.

But, the disadvantages of CCD scanners are that you need to hold them within 1 to 3 inches from the barcode, and it cannot read the code that gets longer than its scanner face.

Imager barcode scanner (Camera-based)

camera based barcode scanner

These function more like a video camera rather than a scanner.

The unit consists of a video camera within, and rather than using the laser to shoot light at the code, it essentially takes a picture of the barcode, which is then analyzed using sophisticated digital decoding techniques.

The main advantage of this type is that they can read the barcode no matter how you place the scanner in front of it. This increases the speed of scanning multi-fold.

As mentioned earlier, 2D barcodes consist of different types of shapes, unlike the linear spaces in 1D. Hence, an ordinary scanner cannot serve the purpose of scanning 2D barcode. So, only images can do this job.

Based on the type of connectivity, you can have cordless and corded barcode scanners.

Cordless scanners are best suited for warehouse or factory applications, where a cord could restrict the movement. Also, under harsh environments where the cable could get damaged, cordless scanners are the right choice. For heavy, bulky items that are difficult to place at the checkout counter, cordless scanners are the best choice.

How to choose the right barcode scanner?

Ask yourself the following questions and the answers to these will help you decide the right barcode scanner for you:
1. Where do I need to use my barcode scanner? (Warehouse/ In-store?)

2. How often do I need to scan my products?

3. At what length from the product should I be able to scan it?

4. What will the barcode scanner connect to?

5. Do I have a limitation on my budget for the barcode scanner?

Imager barcode scanners are getting cheaper now and are the best choice. They can be used for both 1D as well as 2D barcodes. So, this will be a wise choice. Again, it depends on other factors that you need to consider.


Primaseller is POS inventory management software that also helps retailers by generating barcodes for their products. You can print barcodes and use a barcode scanner for scanning the barcodes generated with our software.