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How to Generate and Print Industrial Barcodes

Adding barcodes to items or locations seems like the sort of thing that requires a tech expert, but it’s fairly simple. Barcodes have been on retail products since the 70s and the concept was around for decades before then. Generating and printing barcodes today is as simple as it gets.

Implementing barcodes in industrial settings is a simple way of increasing the process speeds and the accuracy of data collection, but there are plenty of extra benefits.

If you’ve been considering generating and printing barcodes for your warehouse, manufacturing operations, or other industrial use, this guide will help. We will discuss how barcodes are generated and printed, the costs associated with the process, and more below.

How is a Barcode Generated?

Barcodes are generated by converting numbers, letters, and other characters into the familiar black-and-white markings printed on labels. 1D barcodes are markings made up of a series of vertical lines while 2D barcodes consist of dots, lines, squares, and other shapes.

A barcode generator converts the information you need encoded into the barcode. The markings represent different things depending on the chosen symbology even if the barcodes look similar.

Some symbologies are limited in the types of characters they can encode, e.g., universal product codes (UPCs) can only hold numbers. Others can hold all sorts of characters and can be used to encode anything from names and website addresses to maintenance records.

Why Should You Generate and Print Your Own Barcodes?

Barcoding is a simple way of increasing the speed and accuracy of internal and external processes.

Barcodes help to optimize the storage and retrieval of items in warehouses. Locations and individual items can be barcoded so workers know the types of products in different locations and the items inside different packages without reading labels or unsealing the items.

Barcoding also helps to track items in logistics. Items can be scanned as they move in and out of different checkpoints so customers always know where their items are before delivery.

For small operations, outsourcing the generation and printing of barcode labels makes sense. However, if you need labels regularly, generating and printing your own will be less expensive and convenient since you’ll be able to print on demand instead of waiting for deliveries.

How To Get a Barcode for Your Product

Before you generate the actual barcode, you need to have the information that will be encoded. This information can be a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) from GS1 or a custom identifier that you’ve defined based on your internal needs.

GTINs

GTINs are used to generate barcodes in formats compatible with points of sale. These are useful for products sold in different stores and countries. The main purpose of these barcodes is to facilitate a fast and accurate checkout process, but they can still be used to identify products internally instead of creating a new set of barcodes for items in your warehouse.

GTINs can be acquired from GS1 or other sources. They must be registered to be compatible with POS at different stores. GTINs are numbers only and can’t be used to encode other characters. They don’t support encoding using 2D barcodes.

Custom Identifiers

Custom identifiers can be used for sales processing but they won’t be universally recognized. Companies can use them at their own retail outlets. These identifiers are more useful in other applications such as labeling items and locations inside warehouses, tracking items in logistics, labeling company property and machines, identifying personnel, etc.

Custom Identifiers can be used with any barcode format and practically any kind of information can be encoded.

How do I Create a Barcode for My Business?

Creating a barcode for your business for internal use is quite easy. The steps you’ll need to follow are:

  • Identify the information you’ll need to be encoded.
  • Figure out if the information will require a 2D barcode. This is useful if you want each barcode to hold a lot of information.
  • Pick the specific symbology that will meet your needs and will be compatible with your warehouse management system, other relevant software, and scanning hardware.
  • Enter the information to be encoded into a free barcode generator and generate the barcodes in your desired symbology.
  • Print the barcodes on suitable labels and attach them to products, equipment, locations, etc.

How Much Does it Cost to Create a Barcode?

Generating barcodes is free, but the entire process of creating and using the barcode will have certain costs attached.

Cost of GTINs Vs Custom Identifiers

If you want a GTIN, you’ll need to buy or rent one. A single GTIN from GS1 will cost you $30 but there will be no annual fee. However, if you want to buy a pack of GTINs for multiple product types, you’ll have to pay an initial fee plus an annual subscription fee.

Renewal fees can be as low as $50 per year for 10 codes or as high as $2100 for 100,000. You can also buy GTINs from other sources with no annual fee. There are no costs for creating and using custom identifiers.

Other Costs

Even if you define and generate your barcodes for free, you should expect to spend money on other aspects of the project.

There will be hardware costs because you’ll need scanners, printers, computers, network infrastructure, etc. You may also have software costs if you don’t have a WMS that’s compatible with your barcodes.

These costs should be considered when generating and printing your barcodes. Certain symbologies will require more expensive hardware and software to use which can inflate your budget.

Which Printers Are Used to Print Barcode Labels?

Different types of printers can be used to print barcode labels. There are cost and quality considerations when choosing between the different printers.

Inkjet Printers

The regular inkjet printers found in homes and offices can be used to print barcodes. The main appeal of these printers is that they may already be available. This is good for small businesses that may not want to buy new hardware just yet. You can also print multiple labels on a single sheet of paper.

However, barcodes printed by inkjet printers can smudge easily. The print quality from these printers is inconsistent, they don’t work with certain label materials and the ink bleeds easily. These printers are not a good choice for high-quality or durable barcodes.

Dot Matrix Printers

Dot matrix printers are today uncommon but can also be used to print barcodes. They have a low printing cost and can be used to print low-density barcodes.

These printers are unsuitable for high-density barcodes and the poor print quality can make the labels difficult to scan. The labels are also not durable.

Laser Printers

These printers are fast and the print quality on paper and adhesive labels is good. They can be used for barcode labels and other office applications. They are even suitable for high-density barcodes. However, these printers are more expensive and the labels are not water-resistant.

Direct Thermal Printers

These printers work with heat-sensitive label materials. The hot printhead is pressed on the heat-sensitive material, creating the dark marks of the barcode. These printers don’t use ink, toners, or ribbons and this makes their running costs low.

Direct thermal printers for industrial applications can be more expensive and the barcode may fade with time due to the heat and light-sensitive nature of the label materials.

Thermal Transfer Printers

These thermal printers use a wax-coated ink ribbon that’s pressed against the label material. The wax is melted allowing the ink to transfer and dry on the material. These labels are more resistant to fading but the wax-coated ribbon is a consumable.

Thermal transfer printers for industrial applications can also be expensive.

Conclusion

Barcodes can be the key to more efficient internal and external processes. You can use a unique registered number if you want barcodes that can be recognized outside your company or stick to custom identifiers for internal barcoding applications.

When you know the information you need to encode, you simply use a barcode generator to create the barcodes. You can also choose from a long list of symbologies but remember that this can affect the type of hardware and software you can use.

You can use your regular inkjet and laser printers to print the barcode labels but these don’t provide the best quality barcodes or durable labels. Direct thermal printers or thermal transfer printers are better at printing barcode labels on different types of materials.

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