Barcode scanners play a critical in many different industries from retail and distribution to healthcare. When deciding which scanners and scanning system to purchase for your organization, you need to know what your options are. When it comes to barcode scanners, one size does not fit all, so it’s critical that you take the unique needs of your organization into account.
The following guide to purchasing a barcode scanning system will go over the various types of scanners and the advantages, drawbacks, and uses of each. Ask yourself the questions at the end of this article to help determine your needs and use the following tips when choosing a barcode scanner to help ensure you get the system that’s right for you.
Barcode Scanner Technologies
You can choose from three main types of barcode scanning technologies. Each has different capabilities, advantages, and disadvantages.
1. Laser Scanners
Laser scanning is the most recognizable scanning technology. Laser scanners use a red diode laser to scan barcodes. A photodiode in the scanner then measures the reflections off of the barcode, and a decoder interprets the result.
This type of scanner is often the most economical option. Some need to be close to a barcode to scan it, while others can read large labels from relatively long ranges. They also tend to be fast and produce accurate scans.
Laser scanners, though, can only read 1D barcodes. They don’t typically work well in spaces with lots of ambient light and have trouble reading damaged or worn barcodes and those displayed on screens.
- Advantages: Cost-effective, fast, and accurate
- Disadvantages: Can only read 1D barcodes, does not work well in certain conditions
2. Linear Imager
Linear imager scanners take a picture of the barcode, then analyze and interpret the image. They still use a red focus line while scanning.
These types of scanners have the advantage of being able to read barcodes even if there is a lot of ambient light, the code is displayed on a screen, or it is damaged or worn. They tend to be more durable than laser scanners. Many linear image scanners are also relatively cost-effective and have similar ranges to those of laser scanners.
Linear imager scanners have trouble reading larger barcodes, and some models have limited ranges. They also can only decode 1D barcodes.
- Advantages: Durable, can read real barcodes under a range of conditions
- Advantages: Can only read 1D barcodes, can’t read large barcodes
3. 2D Area Imagers
Like linear imagers, 2D area imager scanners capture an image of a barcode, which it then analyzes and interprets. They can, however, read any type of barcode including 1D and 2D codes.
The orientation of the barcode is not important when using this type of scanner. This eliminates the need to line up the barcode, which can save considerable amounts of time. Their more powerful decoding capabilities also enable them to read barcodes displayed on screens, scan barcodes through glass, work well in ambient light and read damaged or worn barcodes.
2D area imager scanners are more expensive than laser or linear imager scanners because of their more powerful technology and advanced capabilities.
- Advantages: Can read any barcode, allows for fast scanning, can read barcodes under a variety of conditions
- Disadvantages: More expensive than other technologies
Another important variable in picking the best barcode scanner is form factor. Scanners come in a variety of designs that are ideally suited for different uses and work environments.
Handheld scanners are one of the most common types of scanners and see frequent use in retail stores, warehouses, healthcare facilities, and manufacturing plants. To operate a handheld scanner, you simply point it at the barcode and pull the trigger. Some things to consider when purchasing handheld scanners include whether you want a stand to allow for hands-free operations and whether you want a cordless or corded model.
Presentation scanners sit on a counter-top and have a wide scanning area. You don’t need to pick up a presentation scanner or pull a trigger to begin scanning. You can simply pass the barcode in front of the scanner. Retail and grocery stores often use these types of scanners because they allow for quick scanning.
3. Mobile Computer
Mobile computer scanners have a scanner and PC in the same device, giving them more capabilities than other types of scanning devices. Using a mobile computer eliminates the need to link the device to a computer, allowing you to move around freely. The units may connect to a larger database, though, via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a cellular network. They’re used in a variety of sectors and are ideal for applications that require a lot of data and mobility such as inventory management.
In-counter scanners are embedded into countertops and other surfaces. To use them, you simply pass the barcode in front of them. These types of scanners are common in self-checkout stations at grocery and retail stores. Many of them also include integrated scales.
5. Fixed Mount
Fixed mount scanners are scanners that are installed on a conveyor line or in a kiosk and are typically part of a larger automated system. They don’t have a trigger or button and, instead, operate automatically through external sensors or controllers. They’re typically used in manufacturing and warehousing applications.
Barcode scanners may either be corded or cordless. The applications you will use your scanners for determines whether you need them to be mobile.
1. Corded Scanners
Corded scanners, also called tethered scanners, are physically connected to a computer or base. They often use a USB connection to interface with the computer but may also use other port types. Corded scanners can immediately input data into the computer they’re connected to but have limited mobility.
2. Cordless Scanners
Cordless scanners do not require a physical connection to a computer or base. They may have internal memory, but storage space will be relatively limited. If you need to upload the data to a computer or database, you can do so via an optional USB connection or a wireless connection via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a cellular network.
If you’re running multiple wireless systems in your facility, you may need to be careful about the frequency your scanners use to avoid interference. Some scanners allow you to set frequency ranges to help you avoid these issues.
Another consideration when choosing cordless scanners is battery life. You’ll need to factor in how often you’ll use the scanners and how often you’ll be able to charge them when determining how much battery life you’ll need. You can also replace the batteries in some devices to extend their life when away from charging stations.
A crucial aspect of choosing the right type of barcode scanner is ensuring your scanners have all of the capabilities you need them to. If you think you might need more advanced functions as your company grows, you may want to invest in scanners that have some of that advanced functionality or have the capacity to upgrade at some later point. Here are some of the optional capabilities you should consider.
Some scanners can only scan 1D barcodes, while others can scan most kinds of codes. A 2D barcode scanner can also read 1D barcodes. Types of 1D barcodes include UPC, EAN, Code 39 and Code 128 barcodes. 1D codes only have alphanumeric capabilities and typically contain fewer than 30 characters.
Types of 2D barcodes include QR, PDF417 and Datamatrix codes. These kinds of codes can store up to 3,000 characters using a compact format and can include text, numbers and web addresses. QR codes, for example, take users directly to the embedded web address when scanned.
2. Scanning Speed
Advanced scanners can read barcodes more quickly than basic scanners. Some scanners can read hundreds of codes per second, allowing for continuous use. In 2008, UCLA researchers even developed a new imaging technique that can scan 1D barcodes at a rate of 25 million frames per second.
3. Scanning Distance
Different models of scanners have differing capabilities regarding how close the barcode must be for them to read it. This capability is often referred to as barcode scan range or depth of field.
There are four main classifications of barcode scan range:
- Standard Range (SR), which ranges from making contact to approximately 2.5 feet
- Medium Range (MR), which ranges from contact to between 3.5 and 4 feet
- Long Range (LR), which ranges from approximately 2 feet to between 20 and 25 feet
- Extended Range (ER), which ranges from 3 feet to as far as 60 feet
Some scanners are designed to be more durable and withstand harsh environmental conditions. These “ruggedized” tools often have a rubber case that protects them from damage due to drops. They may also be sealed against dust and other contaminants, water resistant and able to operate in extreme temperatures. These scanners are ideal for use in outdoor, warehouse and manufacturing environments.
These industrial scanners are more expensive than standard models, but they will last longer under harsh conditions. If using the scanners indoors in a retail environment, you likely do not need a ruggedized scanner.
5. Scanning Environments
Some barcode scanners are designed to be able to scan codes even under extreme ambient light such as direct sunlight. Some units can also read damaged, worn or poorly printed codes. Other less advanced may not have this capability.
6. Software Compatibility
Scanners from different manufacturers also use different operating systems and are compatible with different types of software. Some use proprietary operating systems while others use common systems such as Android.
7. Optional Features
Scanners also have varying physical components that can affect functionality such as screen and keypads.
If your scanners connect directly to a computer, you likely don’t need them to have screens. If using the devices separately from a computer, having a screen may be useful, as it gives users information about what they’re scanning. This may help them to realize if they’ve made a mistake, or they may need the information displayed on the screen to complete their work. Some screens have touch capabilities, which provides added functionality. Also consider the complexity and volume of data the screens can display. Mobile computer scanners, for instance, can show complex information because of the PC integrated into the scanner.
Some models of scanners also have keypads that enable users to input information manually or edit it right from the device. Again, if you’re connecting the units directly to computers, you likely don’t need a keypad on the scanners. However, if using them while on the go, a keypad may be useful for enabling greater control over the data being input. A touchscreen is a viable alternative to a keypad.
Factors to Consider
- What symbologies will you scan? If you’re only going to scan 1D barcodes, you could use a laser or linear imager scanner. If you also need to scan 2D barcodes, you’ll need a 2D area imager.
- What applications will the scanner be used for? Different form factors are often designed for specific uses such as inventory management, self-checkout lines, and automated assembly lines.
- Do your scanners need to be mobile? Consider whether you’ll be scanning items while stationary or moving around. This will determine if you need a corded or cordless model.
- What environment will you use the scanners in? If you are using your scanners outdoors or in indoor environments such as manufacturing plants and warehouses, you may need a ruggedized scanner. Consider environmental factors such as the amount of dust in the air, risk of exposure to moisture and extreme usage or storage temperatures.
- What will be the medium and conditions of the barcodes you’ll be scanning? If you are scanning barcodes displayed on a screen or may be scanning codes that are damaged, worn or badly printed, you should opt for a linear imager or a 2D area imager scanner.
- How frequently will you use the scanners? If you will use the scanners frequently or over long periods of time, you should choose a corded scanner or a mobile unit with a longer battery life. You may also want to purchase a higher-end, more durable model since frequent use will cause the device to wear out faster.
- What scanning speed do you need? Scanners can read barcodes at various speeds. Consider how many barcodes you need to be able to scan per minute or per second.
- At what distance will you need to scan barcodes? Consider how far away you will be from the barcodes you need to scan.
- What software is the scanner compatible with? Factor in the software you use for your computer operating system as well as inventory management and other programs. Ensure that the scanner you use will work with these systems and software. Having a scanner operating system that readily integrates with your existing systems will make rolling out the new devices go much more smoothly.
- Will you need to manually input or edit data? If you want this capability, either get a corded unit that you can connect directly to a computer or a unit with a keypad or touchscreen.
- Do you want to be able to see incoming data as you scan barcodes? If so, choose a scanner with a screen.
- What customer support, customer service and warranty programs does the manufacturer or distributor offer? Having reliable, helpful customer support can help you roll out your new barcode scanning system and help you deal with any technical problems that may arise. Having good customer service is also useful for non-technical issues and situations, such as the process of ordering your scanners. Having warranties in places can also help to protect you from unexpected costs.
- Do you want new or refurbished scanners? Purchasing certified-refurbished scanners can provide significant cost savings. The “DBK Certified” seal provides assurance that the product has passed a set of rigorous quality tests.
Get Quality Barcode Scanner From DBK Concepts
To learn more about the various types of barcodes scanners available, you can browse our selection of products from certified manufacturers. You can also explore the other services we provide such as system design and integration, software installation, data transfer, consulting and more. Contact us today with any questions you may have or to get a free quote on barcode scanners and readers.