How Big (or Small) Can My Barcode Label Be?

You have a very small item or space to put a barcode label on.  Or you want to be able to read your barcode label from a distance which would require a very large label.  It this possible?

The answer is a “qualified yes”, and it is dependent not only on the label itself but on what scanner and barcode printer you plan to use.

Very Large Labels

The reason for needing a very large barcode label is typically because the label is going to be a ways away, often on the top of a high shelf, which is often the case in large warehouses.  While some warehouse facilities have a fork lift that also lifts the driver, often the fork lift is used by the drive at ground level to pick off high shelves.  To verify what he/she is picking the process may include scanning the label on the box first.  Or it’s time to take inventory, and the warehouse manager doesn’t want to take all high boxes off the shelf in order to count them by scanning.  Or a location label is hung from the ceiling above the designated location when shelving isn’t used.  All of these situations call for a large barcode label.

There are a couple of things to plan for in these instances.  In order to scan a barcode label from a distance (say 20 feet or more) the barcode scanner itself must have “long-range” scanning capability.  If you haven’t purchased you mobile devices yet, put that on your list of criteria.  If you already have mobile scanners, you may need a few new ones.

You may also need to use “retro-reflective” material for your labels.   Retro-reflective material is a silver polyester with crushed glass embedded to give a laser scanner a “boost” when scanning from long range.  These labels are typically used for rack labels, pipe-mount signs, hanging signs, etc. in warehouse and manufacturing environments and are purchased pre-printed.

Very Small Labels

You may need a small label on a circuit board, a chemical vial, surgical instruments, car keys – any number of small but critical items.  There are again a number of variables in designing a successful barcode tracking system within these parameters.

First, if you are going to print the labels yourself, the barcode printer will have limitations.  Most won’t print on a label much smaller than ½”, and you’ll probably want to print a high-density code, so get a printer that has a resolution of 300dpi or 600dpi.  Second, what code will fit on such a small label?  For example, if you want to use a linear barcode you’ll need Code 128, not Code 39.  The best solution may be a 2-dimensional barcode that can fit a lot of data into a small space.  Third, what scanning technology will you use?  Make sure to match the scan engine to your label – a high-density scanner if the barcode is very small; a 2-D scanner if it’s a 2-dimensional barcode.

Next time we’ll discuss some success stories for barcode labels in challenging situations.