Barcode scanners and mobile computers with barcode scanning normally come with either 1D or 2D scan engines. Each has different capabilities and characteristics, which are important to consider when purchasing hardware.
1D Scan Engines
1D scan engines are the most common. They are designed to scan “linear” barcodes, which are the traditional barcodes made of vertical lines (such as UPC). The variable width of each line and the amount of space in between encodes the data. Linear barcodes are only able to hold a few dozen characters. Most 1D barcodes only contain 8-15 digits to keep the barcode from becoming too wide.
2D Scan Engines
2D scan engines are referred to as “imagers” and they are able to capture very complex barcodes comprised of many different types of patterns and shapes. Examples of 2D barcodes include QR Codes and Data Matrix. 2D barcodes can hold up to 2,000 characters and can also contain images, website addresses, voice, and other types of binary data. Unlike 1D scan engines which can only scan 1D barcodes, 2D scan engines can capture both 1D and 2D barcodes. We at GCD began referring to these scan engines as 1D/2D some years ago, which has now become industry practice.
There are pros and cons to each type of scanning technology. 1D scan engines are certainly faster and more efficient for scanning linear barcodes such as UPC codes. The drawback here is linear barcodes can only contain a short string of numbers and letters. For the scanners to be useful they need to be connected to a database to pull up related product data, etc. 1D scan engines also have difficulty reading poor quality barcodes and they struggle greatly when trying to scan from reflective surfaces. Of course 1D scan engines also cannot capture any type of 2D barcode.
2D scan engines are far more versatile. Not only do they scan both 1D and 2D barcodes, but they also have less trouble with poor quality barcodes. They can scan through reflective surfaces much more easily and they can also read barcodes from displays such as computer monitors and cell phone screens. Since 2D barcode s can hold so much data it is not always necessary to connect to a database because much of the applicable data can be contained within the barcode itself.
It is advisable to use 1D scan engine when scanning only linear barcodes because they are faster and more efficient at scanning clearly printed linear codes. However, if barcode quality will vary or 2D barcodes will be anticipated a 2D scan engine is the only option.
Long Range Scanning
Another option we have not mentioned is long range scan engines. Long range scan engines, sometimes referred to as “lorax” or “near-far” are useful when the barcode can be a distance away from the person scanning. This is often the case in large warehouses with high shelves. Long range scanners can not only scan close distances of a few inches, but they can also san up to 45’ away. Of course the size and density of the barcode must be adjusted for scanning at the longer distance.