The Connection Between a Pack of Gum and Barcodes

December 20th, 2023


We’ve all seen barcodes. A barcode is a series of black and white stripes representing a unique product identifier.

Barcodes were invented in the late 1940s, but they became more widely used in the 1970s.  Interestingly, The American Railroad Association was one of the first organizations to realize the value of barcodes. While they did not look like the barcodes we see today, they were placed on rail cars, helping the railroads locate cars just about anywhere in the country.

However, what has proven the most significant commercial uses of barcodes was in grocery stores. They helped speed up the checkout process and track inventory.

But of historic significance, the first product to be scanned with a barcode was a pack of gum on June 26, 1974, at a supermarket in Ohio.

Since their initial introduction, the use of bar-code symbology has expanded greatly.  For instance:

  • There are now two main types of barcodes: 1-D and 2-D.
  • 1-D barcodes use varying widths and gaps of parallel lines to store data. Further, they can only encode data in one dimension (horizontally).
  • 2-D barcodes use both horizontal and vertical patterns to store data. They can encode more data in a smaller space than 1-D barcodes.
  • There are now as many as 30 different barcodes for different purposes and industries.
  • Selecting the correct barcode for your products is key to ensure compatibility, efficiency, and sales success.


Barcode Issues

However, barcodes are not always perfect. A barcode may be inaccurate or unreliable. It may not be scanned correctly in some parts of the world or provide the same information.

That’s where barcode verification comes in. Barcode verification checks the quality and readability of barcodes using a grading system developed by ANSI, the American National Standards Institute. This system grades barcodes from A to D and then F.

The verification system can scan a barcode and measure its contrast (differentiate between light and dark elements), size, alignment, print quality, and other factors. It can also check if the barcode conforms to international standards, which ensures that barcodes are consistent, readable, and compatible across different countries.

The good news is that if a barcode verification system detects errors or issues, many systems will suggest how to fix them.

Here is why this is so important:

  • It can help prevent scanning errors, leading to customer dissatisfaction, lost sales, or legal problems.
  • It can help improve efficiency, accuracy, and security in supply chains, inventory management, and data collection.
  • Barcode verification can protect your brand’s reputation by ensuring your products are labeled correctly and professionally.
  • Barcode verification is not only a good practice but is now a requirement in scores of industries and markets, such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, defense – and grocery stores.

What are the Reasons Why a Barcode Does not Scan?

There are several possible causes of barcode scanning failures. Some of the most common include the following:

Poor image quality. This is when the barcode image is blurry, distorted, or low-resolution, making it hard for the scanner to decode. This can also happen if the barcode is printed with low-quality ink or paper or if the printer needs to be correctly calibrated.

Improper placement. If the barcode is placed on a curved, wrinkled, or uneven surface or placed on a part of the product that is hard to access by the scanner, this can make the barcode unreadable or partially obscured.

Environmental factors. This is when the barcode is exposed to extreme temperatures, humidity, sunlight, dust, or chemicals that can damage or fade the barcode image. This can result in no-reads or hard-to-reads by the scanner.

Physical damage. Barcodes can get scratched, torn, stained, or otherwise damaged during production, transport, or storage. This can make the barcode unreadable or partially obscured.

Low contrast. We addressed this earlier. The scanner relies on this contrast to distinguish the white and black elements and decode the barcode.

Fortunately, most issues can be corrected.  But, what GENflex Labeling Solutions has learned is that it is most important to be proactive and prevent errors from occurring in the first place. Issues with barcodes can be costly for manufacturers, stop production and force them to miss customer deadlines.

To ensure they are on-time, on-spec, and on budget, work with an experienced label manufacturer. They have encountered various barcode issues and developed tools and processes to prevent them by incorporating in-house testing and validation during the printing process.

GENflex Labeling Solutions has been a leading provider of packaging and labeling solutions for over 60 years. Our goal is to always be on-time, on-spec and on budget.  That’s how we help you succeed. Discover more here.