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Barcodes are one of the most common types of encoded cards, used in everything from school ID cards to retail membership cards and fitness facilities because they don’t require expensive or specialized materials. But they also hold a small amount of data, limiting how you can use them.

1D Barcodes

1D barcodes, or one dimensional barcodes, are linear barcodes – they are made from horizontal lines and read from left to right. The versions of this you are most likely familiar with are the UPC codes on price tags in the store that are scanned when you check out with your items.

In addition to UPC codes, however, there are other styles of 1D barcodes. The limitation on 1D barcodes are their size and design – they can only be organized horizontally from left to right and get larger the more characters you use, and can hold on average 20-25 characters.

In practice, 1D barcodes are often used to hold an ID number of sorts – for an apple in the grocery store, for a shirt at the mall, or for an employee in your database. When that number is scanned it pulls up a complete profile in your system with information such as price or employee name. They are commonly used in schools, retail stores, warehouses and inventory management, and membership programs.

2D Barcodes

A 2D barcode, or two dimensional barcode, is more complicated than a 1D version. The information is organized both vertically and horizontally, allowing you to encode much more data in the barcode. – up to 2,000 characters.

They can also be smaller than a 1D barcode, if you are worried about having enough space on your ID cards.

To read a 2D barcode, you’ll need an image scanner – regular barcode scanners can only read 1D barcodes. Many modern scanners are designed to read both styles.

Because they can hold more data, 2D barcodes are used to store longer strings of data such as website URLs, so they are often placed on promotional posters and business cards to direct people to your website for more information.

How do I print barcodes on my cards?

To print a barcode with a card printer or label maker, you’ll need a few basic supplies:

  • Blank cards or labels
  • Printer ribbons or ink
  • Software to encode the barcode
  • A scanner to read the barcode

When designing your card, use your software to create the barcode and encode your data. Different design software can encode different types of barcodes, so be sure to check the software specs if you need a specific type of barcode.

If you are printing barcodes on your prox cards or other plastic ID cards, it is highly recommended that you use a resin monochrome black ribbon instead of the black created by a composite (full color) ribbon. Resin black is darker and helps create more difference between the lines and blank spaces in the barcode, making it easier to scan.