Frequently Asked Questions

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Bar Code Symbologies

Question: What is the difference between the major bar code symbologies?

Answer: There are many different types of bar codes. Each uses a series of varying width bars and spaces to encode numbers and/or letters and/or special characters. Some bar code symbologies were designed to encode only numbers while others can encode numbers, letters and even special computer control characters.

Symbology Character Set Number of Bars and Spaces Per Character
U.P.C. Numbers Only 2 bars, 2 spaces
EAN Numbers Only 2 bars, 2 spaces
Interleaved 2 of 5 Numbers Only 5 bars or 5 spaces
Code 39 Numbers and Letters 5 bars, 4 spaces
Code 128 Numbers and Letters and special characters 3 bars, 3 spaces

Different bar code symbologies are to bar code as typefaces are to human readable text. Changing the typeface does not change the content of the message. Today’s bar code readers can easily be configured to automatically read different symbologies in the same way a person can automatically distinguish between TIMES and COURIER typefaces.


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