1D Barcodes and 2D Symbols: How are they the same—and different?

Start-Pattern1If you are already familiar with 1D or linear barcodes such as UPC and Code 128, you will find a lot of familiar things in 2D or Matrix symbologies, but some of those familiar things may be done in unfamiliar ways.

Start/Stop Pattern (image on left) 

For example, in 1D barcodes there are start/stop patterns that precede and trail the variable encoded information. In UPC they are called guard bars.

Their purpose is to inform the scanner what barcode symbol is present. While the “intelligent” or encoded information will vary, the start/stop pattern always remains the same for each 1D barcode type. (Start Pattern 2 on the right ->>Start-Pattern-2)

In 2D symbols these are called “finder” or “fixed” patterns, and they do the same thing as start/stop of guard bar patterns in 1D barcodes. They inform the scanner of what is coming and help the scanner to calibrate itself to the symbol size by detecting the X dimension or module size of the symbol.

Bar Width Reduction

1D or linear barcodes are bar width reduced to compensate for press or dot gain, so that the ink on the label or package spreads into ideal width rather than spread beyond scanner legibility. Bar width reduction is only necessary in the horizontal direction of a 1D bar code, but the elements in a 2D symbols have horizontal and vertical dimensionality, so bar width reduction must occur in both the X and Y axes.Image16

Error Detection of Correction

image3The check digit in a 1D barcode might be mistakenly equated with error correction in a 2D symbol—they are similar but not the same. The check digit is a UPC or Code 39 barcode is like spell checker in word processing: it flags an error but doesn’t correct it. The purpose is to prevent a scanner misread. Conversely, error correction in a 2D symbol is like auto-correction in word processing: it finds and corrects encodation problems so the scanner can acquire a complete data set.

X Dimension

The X dimension in a 1D barcode is the width of the narrow bar. In 2D symbols, the X dimension is the module which has both width and height. In both cases X dimension is the basic building block of the 1D barcode and 2D symbol, and determines its physical size (along with the amount of encoded data, of course).


Quiet Zone image4

1D barcodes require a blank space leading and trailing the barcode. The exact minimum specified size is a multiple of the X dimension. For example, the minimum quiet zone for a UPC symbol is 9 times X. There is no quiet zone above and below a 1D barcode.

2D symbols also have a quiet zone that completely surrounds the symbol on all four sides, but it is very small—only 4X wide for QR Code and 1X wide for Data Matrix symbols and very critical to successful scanning.

Symbol Contrast

In 1D barcodes there are three factors in Symbol Contrast:

    There must be a minimum amount of reflective difference between the bars and spaces
    The spaces must always be light and the bars must always be dark
    The symbol is almost always scanned in 660 nm light so the bar and space colors must be visible in this red light

2D Data Matrix symbols are also scanned at 660 nm, except for very low contrast Direct Part Marking  (DPM) symbols. QR Codes are meant to be scanned in white light, so Symbol Contrast is mostly a matter of contrast difference.


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About John Nachtrieb

Mr. Nachtrieb has 30+ years of hands-on experience in barcode technology. His team imaged the film master for the first commercially scanned barcode in North America (1974). His specialty is barcode quality. He created and hosts a highly customized barcode quality seminar which has been presented to 100's of companies, reaching thousands of quality-concerned people, helping them to avoid barcode problems and manage barcode-related risk.

 Other educational bar code articles:

Barcode 101: Where Did Barcode Technology Come From?
How Barcode Scanners Increase Efficiency
6 Tips to Consider When Choosing Your Barcode Printer
How to Create a Barcode for a Particular Number
The Barcode Industry—Gone but Not Forgotten
How To Develop Apps for QR Codes: What you need to know
1D Barcodes and 2D Symbols: How are they the same—and different?
The Internet of Things Pt 2 - Unique ID
How to Select A Service Contract For Barcode Equipment
Barcode Product Directory
Barcode Scanner Interfaces – Popularity Never Fails; Try USB Cables

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