1D and 2D barcodes - what’s the difference?

What’s the difference between a 1D and a 2D barcode? And why do food manufacturers use 2D barcodes? These are questions we hear a lot from customers when they first start looking at label and date code verification. As a result, we’ve put together this short guide explaining the main differences between the two and why food manufacturers use 2D rather than 1D barcodes when verifying their packaging.

1D barcode

A 1D or single dimensional barcode is made up of vertical lines which vary in width on a contrasting background collectively forming an image. Character limited, alphanumeric data is encoded within the lines and spaces and linked to a database where the data is housed. When the barcode is scanned using either a camera-based imaging scanner or laser-based scanner, the encoded data is decrypted revealing the information input within the database. The more data that needs to be stored within it, the longer the barcode has to be.

EAN128 1D Barcode

EAN128 1D Barcode

1D barcodes are better suited to applications where certain information such as prices may change frequently yet the actual product’s identity number stays the same, hence, why they’re widely recognised as used in the retail industry.  

In the food manufacturing industry, the retailer has control over the 1D barcode as it is this which links to the retailers’ tills for stock control and price monitoring.  

2D barcode

2D QR Code

2D QR Code

2D barcodes, unsurprisingly, are two-dimensional barcodes made up using a matrix of shapes (dots, squares, hexagons etc.) where the data is coded both vertically and horizontally. Depending on the type of 2D barcode, the data it can hold extends to more than just alphanumerical for example a QR code often used in marketing promotions can take the user to a website with videos and images on. A 2D barcode can also hold much more data than a 1D barcode whilst still maintaining an inconspicuous size.

How we use 2D barcodes

In the food manufacturing environment, we use a 2D barcode for checking the packaging revision/artwork number to ensure that the product running is using the correct packaging. The manufacturer has control of this barcode and every packaging variation has its own unique barcode.

The changes on the packaging could be very slight, for example, a ‘new recipe’ flash could have been added or the packaging could be advertising a promotion. These adjustments may not be obvious which is why visual checks are not reliable especially when 60 packs are running past your eyes every minute! In particular circumstances such as when a new recipe has been used, not having the right packaging on could be fatal to the consumer if an allergen has been added.

ECC200 2D Barcode

ECC200 2D Barcode

Our Autocoding system removes this threat by scanning every product’s 2D barcode on the packaging line and comparing the information picked up to the job information downloaded onto the line prior to production commencing. This reliably ensures that the packaging being used is the packaging variant allocated to that job and significantly reduces the costly risk of product recalls and withdrawals caused by label and packaging errors.

Why we use 2D barcodes to verify label and date codes?

A major benefit of using 2D barcodes as oppose to 1D barcodes is that they can still work if slightly damaged which is suited to the variable working conditions of a food manufacturing environment.

Also, retailers rely on 1D barcodes for stock and price control and every time a price is altered, the retailers have to reset their tills to download the new information. If the packaging version information was held within the 1D barcode, the barcode would need to be extended to take on board the new information and the retailers would be forever resetting their tills!

Implementing OAL’s Autocoding system gives the manufacturer full control and a reliable way to ensure that the packaging used for a job is correct despite any little changes that may have been made, however last minute, and aren’t as noticeable to the human eye.

If a 2D barcode is scanned and the code does not match the one inputted for that job and downloaded on the line prior to starting production, then the line automatically stops, and an alarm and red light alerts the Production Manager of the error. The system will then request that the issue is resolved, the solution recorded and additional QA checks are carried out before production can recommence.

So, we use 2D barcodes because these are the most reliable in the food manufacturing environment to help keep your factory, your products and your brand secure!

To find out more about what a difference our 2D label and date code verification has made to food manufacturers, read our case studies page here.

Our white paper is also available here to go into further detail as to how the system works and what additional modules we can offer to help you optimise your factory.

Lauren Moir