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How to read Barcodes and what are the best technologies to use

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How to read Barcodes and what are the best technologies to use

Most barcodes and QR codes are in a scannable format which means they’re easy to read off paper or physical products. But the challenge arises when you’re trying to read these codes from scanned documents since PDFs are not presented in image formats. In this article, we’re going to cover how to read a barcode without a scanner, uses of barcodes, difference between barcodes and QR codes, and more below.  By the end of this post, you will have a clear understanding on how barcodes are read and what solutions to use for reading and processing barcodes PDF files in minutes.

What are barcodes?

A barcode is a combination of numerals, special characters, and letters which are presented by stripes on packaged products. Most barcodes consist of black and white bars with spacing in between them and different barcodes have varying widths.

Use of barcodes

Barcodes are used for:

1. Product identification

Barcodes are scanned at shopping terminals where they specify the type, make, and quantity of products being purchased. They’re used by warehousing facilities for inventory tracking, updating stocks, and for accounting purposes by manufacturers as well

2. Theft prevention

Barcodes make it easy to track products and provide an extra layer of security. Lost items can be traced and this reduces financial liabilities for businesses

3. Saving Money

Barcodes or QR codes are a cost-effective way of accounting and saves money for businesses long-term. Printing barcode labels on products is cheap and costs just a few pennies per label

4. Verifying Customer Identity

Barcodes are used in retail stores, movie theaters, and special events for verifying and validating customer identities. They can be used for gaining entry into premises which have access restricted to outsiders

5. Making Mobile Payments

Shopping outlets let customers redeem loyalty points and make mobile payments by scanning barcodes through their mobile devices. Many restaurants and retail chains are allowing customers to track and make purchases on mobile apps using barcode scanning. 

How to read a barcode?

Barcode scanning has been used since the 1970s for retail inventory management and their usage has revolutionized the way manufacturing and supply chain operations are conducted worldwide. 

The simplest method for how to read barcodes is using barcode scanners. Following are the top technologies used for reading barcodes:

1. Pen readers

Pen readers decode barcode data into a digital format and have a wand which contains a light source and photodiodes. Users glide the tip of the wand over barcode labels and the labels are converted into a waveform which gets decoded into digital data.

2. Laser scanners

Laser scanners are hand-mounted devices which emit a ray of light onto barcode labels. The intensity of light is reflected by the black and white spaces within labels and produces a specific frequency which gets converted into digital data.

3. Camera-based readers

Camera-based barcode readers have light sensors and lenses which convert optical impulses into electric signals. These scanners use light beams to read printed barcode labels, scan them, and then convert into digital information. The decoded data is forwarded to users for further analysis or review.

4. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software

OCR software is integrated with barcode scanners these days for reading barcodes from PDFs, documents, and scanned images. The software is accurate and makes it easy to digitize data from paper-based files

Still wondering how do you read a barcode? Besides using the appropriate barcode scanning technologies, there are key elements to look in them to read accurately:

How to read a barcode

Quiet Zone – This is a margin located on either end of barcodes. It starts from the outermost edge of one barcode to the outermost bar on the other side and is about 2.5 mm in width, generally speaking. Insufficient width for the quiet zone margin makes it difficult for barcode scanners to read data. 

Checksum digit – The checksum digit is the last digit at the end of a barcode label. It is used for checking if the data encoded within the barcode is correct or not.

Start character and stop character - These are characters which represent the start and end of data in barcodes. Their positioning and spacing depends on the barcode types used for labels.

What is QR Code?

QR refers to ‘Quick Response,’ and QR codes store data using a series of pixels arranged in a square-shaped grid. Most smartphones have built-in QR code readers and these codes are two-dimensional barcodes, meaning they can store a lot more information than linear barcodes. Users can store up to address details, web URLs, phone numbers, and various types of data within QR codes PDF documents.

Difference between barcode and QR Code

The main difference between barcodes and QR codes is the visual representation of both formats. QR codes are designed to be read both horizontally and vertically while barcodes are scanned in a single line (being one-dimensional or linear). Standard barcodes can be used for storing product information and location but QR codes offer more variety and quantity when it comes to data storage.


You can read barcodes by translating the 12-digits in UPC barcode IDs and converting them into actual numbers and letters. But manual barcode reading is a time-consuming process and when you’re dealing with processing multiple barcode labels at once, using a barcode scanning technology is a smart move. 

Docsumo uses intelligent OCR solutions which are capable of scanning barcodes automatically from PDF files, documents, and shipping labels and is powered by AI and machine learning algorithms. Sign up for a free demo today to see how it works.

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Pankaj Tripathi
Written by
Pankaj Tripathi

Helping enterprises capture data for analytics and decisioning

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