What is Barcode Density?

What is Barcode Density

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Barcode density refers to the amount of data that can be encoded per inch in a given physical space of a barcode. It is measured in characters per inch (CPI) or dots per inch (DPI) and plays a crucial role in determining the readability and accuracy of a barcode.

Understanding barcode density becomes essential as businesses and industries increasingly rely on barcodes for inventory management, tracking, and point-of-sale transactions. A barcode with the right density ensures efficient scanning, minimises errors and optimises the use of space.

In this blog, we will delve deeper into the concept of barcode density and its categories. We will also discuss the factors affecting barcode density. In the end, we will also share some practical applications across various industries.

Understanding Barcode Density

As mentioned above, barcode density is the number of characters a barcode can encode per inch. A barcode can fall into the following three categories based on the barcode density. 

  • High-Density Barcodes
  • Moderate-Density Barcodes
  • Low-Density Barcodes

High-Density Barcodes

High-density barcodes store a large amount of data in a limited space. These barcodes offer a compact yet data-rich solution for modern businesses and industries, addressing the challenges of space, cost, and data integrity in an increasingly data-driven world. 

Here’s a glance at some popular high-density barcodes and their data capacities. 

Code 93

Code 93 encodes 48 unique characters, inclusive of start and stop identifiers. It can also represent all 128 ASCII characters by combining specific characters, offering versatility in data encoding. (ASCII- American Standard Code for Information Interchange).

Code 128

Code 128 is a variable-length barcode, meaning it has no limit on the number of characters that can be encoded. It seamlessly encodes all 128 ASCII characters. 

Code 128 is one of the most versatile high-density barcodes available.

High-Density Barcode Limitations

Though high-density barcodes offer the advantage of packing a substantial amount of data into a compact space, they also have some limitations, such as.  

  1. High-density barcodes can be more sensitive to factors like poor lighting, dirt, or damage on the barcode surface. It can lead to reading errors in challenging environments.
  2. Not all barcode scanners can accurately read high-density barcodes. Optimal performance may require specialised or high-resolution scanners.
  3. High-density barcodes require the scanner to be relatively close to the barcode for accurate reading. This limitation can be inconvenient where quick and long-range scanning is needed.
  4. High-density barcodes are unsuitable for limited labelling space, such as on small packaging or products with restricted surface area.

Moderate-Density Barcodes

Moderate-density barcodes provide a balanced approach to data encoding, offering more data capacity than low-density barcodes while remaining less compact than high-density variants. They are designed for applications that require a middle ground between data volume and scanning simplicity. 

Code 39

Code 39 is an alpha-numeric barcode that can encode 43 unique characters, which include A-Z, 0-9, and select special characters. Notably, Code 39 doesn’t incorporate a check digit, potentially facilitating quicker scanning. 

Check out our Code 39 vs. Code 128 guide to compare the two commonly confused barcode symbologies. 

Moderate-Density Barcode Limitations

  1. Moderate-density barcodes provide a middle ground between high and low density. Balancing data capacity with ease of scanning can be challenging in some scenarios.
  2. While moderate-density barcodes offer versatility, they are not the best fit for applications that demand extremely high data density or simplicity.
  3. Depending on the specific barcode format, character encoding in moderate-density barcodes can vary, requiring careful consideration for data representation.
  4. Some moderate-density barcodes, like Code 39, do not incorporate built-in error-checking mechanisms. To guarantee data accuracy, including check digits might be necessary. 

Low-Density Barcodes

Low-density barcodes encode a limited amount of data over a larger space, making them easier to read with standard barcode scanners. They are used in environments where simplicity and consistent data retrieval are prioritised, and intricate data storage isn’t necessary. 

Let us now explore some low-density barcodes and their data capacity. 

Codabar (USD-4)

Codabar has a data capacity to encode up to 16 characters. Its character set comprises numbers (0-9), six special characters (-, $,:, /, ., +), and four start/stop characters (A, B, C, D) which are essential for initiating and concluding the barcode sequence. 


The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, Internet retailers, libraries, distributors, and other supply chain participants to order, list, record sales, and track the inventory of a book. It contains information about the book, such as its registrant, title, edition, and format.  

Low-Density Barcode Limitations

  1. Low-density barcodes are not suitable for applications requiring extensive data storage.
  1. Low-density barcodes are not suitable for encoding sensitive or confidential information.
  2. Utilising low-density barcodes requires large labels or more extensive labelling areas, a consideration that may only sometimes align with practicality in certain situations.
  3.  In situations that demand intricate data encoding or enhanced security measures, opting for low-density barcodes is not a suitable option.

Factors Affecting Barcode Density

List of five factors affecting the barcode density

Several factors influence barcode density, ranging from the physical size of the barcode to the type of symbology used. Understanding these factors is essential for selecting the right barcode type and ensuring its effective use in various applications. 

Size of the Barcode

The size of a barcode affects its density. Bigger barcodes can hold more data without being too dense, making them simpler to scan. On the other hand, a small barcode might have to be denser to store the same data.

Type of Barcode Symbology Used

Different barcode symbologies cater to different needs and use varying amounts of bars and spaces to encode the same data. 1D barcodes, like UPC or EAN, are linear and typically encode fewer characters. 2D barcodes, like QR codes or Data Matrix, are extremely high-density barcodes and can store data horizontally and vertically. 

Please refer to our barcode 101 and types of barcode article for complete information about barcode technology.  

Quality of the Printing Method

The clarity of a barcode is paramount for accurate scanning. As barcode density increases, there’s less room for printing errors. High-quality printing becomes essential to ensure that dense barcodes remain scannable and accurate. 

When it comes to printing barcodes, a high-quality thermal printer is the gold standard. These printers are renowned for their precision and accuracy, ensuring crisp, clear results while sidestepping the pitfalls of lesser machines, such as smudging or misalignment. What sets thermal printers apart is their ink and toner-free operation, translating to significant cost savings in the long run. They also boast faster print speeds and extended operational durability with minimal maintenance.

At Triton Store, we’ve curated an extensive selection of thermal printers from industry-leading brands like Epson, Element, Senor, Honeywell, Zebra and TSC. Our diverse range encompasses everything from direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers, barcode label printers, desktop printers and industrial printers, ensuring you find the perfect fit for your requirements.

Our commitment at Triton Store goes beyond just offering products; it’s about delivering excellence at competitive prices. Our dedicated customer service team can be contacted via the live chat widget below and is always ready to guide and assist, ensuring a seamless shopping experience. So, if you’re on the hunt for a top-tier thermal printer, look no further than Triton Store.  

Data Volume and Space Constraints

The available space on a product or label and the volume of data you need to encode will directly affect the barcode’s density.

Error Correction

Some barcodes feature built-in error correction, enabling them to be scanned even with some damage. However, this feature can enlarge the barcode or make it denser due to the extra data added for error correction.

Choosing the Right Barcode Density for Your Business

Understanding the correct barcode density for your business can streamline operations, reduce errors, and enhance customer experience. 

Here are some real-world examples to guide your decision.

Industries or Scenarios Where High-Density Barcodes are Preferred

  1. Electronics Manufacturing: Due to the small size of components like microchips and circuit boards, high-density barcodes are essential. They allow manufacturers to store detailed information on a tiny label.
  2. Pharmaceuticals: Medicine bottles, especially those for critical drugs, often need to carry lots of information in a limited space. High-density barcodes ensure that all necessary details are included without compromising label design.
  3. Jewellery: Price tags on jewellery items are typically small. High-density barcodes allow jewellers to include detailed product information without overshadowing the item’s aesthetics.
  4. Laboratory Samples: In medical and research labs, samples often come in small vials. High-density barcodes can store patient or research data efficiently on these small labels.

Industries or Scenarios Where Low to Moderate-Density Barcodes are More Suitable

  1. Retail: In supermarkets and department stores, products vary in size, but scanning speed is crucial. Low to moderate-density barcodes, being large and more readable, ensure quick checkouts.
  2. Warehousing: In warehouses, items are often stored in large boxes or pallets. Low to moderate-density barcodes are easier to scan from a distance, making inventory management more efficient. Check out our types of warehouse label guides to learn more. 
  3. Library Systems: Books and other library media benefit from low to moderate-density barcodes. They’re easy to scan during check-outs and returns, ensuring smooth operations.
  4. Event Ticketing: Tickets for concerts, sports events, or theatres often use low to moderate-density barcodes. They ensure quick entry, even with basic handheld scanners, by being easily scannable.

How Has Technology Impacted Barcode Density?

Technology has significantly impacted barcode density in several ways:

  1. Increased Data Storage: Advancements in printing and scanning technologies have made it possible to create barcodes with higher density.
  2. Improved Scanning Accuracy: Modern barcode scanners are more accurate and can read high-density barcodes even in challenging conditions. This has made it feasible to use high-density barcodes in various applications.
  3. Enhanced Printing Techniques: High-resolution thermal printing techniques have evolved, enabling the creation of clear and precise high-density barcodes. Check out our guide on how a thermal printer works to learn the principles of thermal printing. 
  4. Integration with Digital Systems: Technology has enabled the integration of barcodes with digital systems. For example, QR codes have become widespread for linking physical objects to online information, enhancing interactivity and data retrieval.
  5. Mobile Scanning: The proliferation of smartphones with built-in cameras has made it easier for individuals and businesses to scan barcodes. Mobile apps can quickly decode high-density barcodes, providing access to product information, promotions, and more.
  6. Data Analytics: The data collected from barcode scans can be analysed more efficiently using advanced technology. This helps businesses make informed decisions about inventory management, consumer behaviour, and supply chain optimisation.
  7. Security and Authentication: High-density barcodes are being used increasingly for security and authentication purposes, such as verifying the authenticity of products and preventing counterfeiting. Technology has enhanced the security features embedded in these barcodes.

Where is Barcode Density Applicable?

The term ‘barcode density’ becomes especially relevant when you’re in the process of creating a barcode. It’s worth noting that the majority of barcodes are in the public domain, which means there are no royalties or licensing fees attached to their use. This has led to the proliferation of numerous free barcode generators available online.

However, while these free barcode generator tools might seem enticing at first, they often come with limitations. Many of these free barcode generators lack comprehensive features, and more importantly, they don’t provide the option to customise barcode density. 

Therefore, using paid tools like Seagull Scientific’s BarTender software becomes invaluable for those seeking a more robust barcoding solution. 

Globally acclaimed and trusted, BarTender is a label design and print solution that can effortlessly design, manage, automate, and print barcodes, labels, and tags, all with a flair of professionalism and precision.    

BarTender boasts an advanced barcode generator, ensuring the creation and printing of premium-quality codes is a breeze. Delve into BarTender’s expansive library, and you’ll find over 400 meticulously preformatted barcode components, spanning 105 distinct barcode symbologies and adhering to more than a dozen industry standards. 

At Triton, our ethos revolves around unwavering excellence and an undying commitment to our customers. It’s with immense pride that we include Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software in our curated collection of business solutions.

Recognising the diverse requirements of different organisations, we provide the full spectrum of BarTender on-premise editions: Starter Edition, Professional Edition, Automation Edition and Enterprise Edition

Additionally, for those eyeing a digital-forward approach, we’re excited to present BarTender Cloud. This innovative, cloud-centric version of the BarTender software eliminates the need for individual installations, providing a streamlined, cloud-based experience.

Choosing Triton means you’re prioritising quality without breaking the bank. Rely on us for your BarTender requirements and experience the Triton difference for yourself.

The Bottom Line

In summary, barcode density is a critical factor in barcode technology that influences how efficiently data is stored and retrieved within a barcode. It has far-reaching implications across industries, enhancing data management and operational efficiency. 

Technological advancements have further expanded the capabilities of barcode density, enabling improved accuracy and integration with digital systems. 

Understanding barcode density empowers businesses to make informed choices, optimise processes, reduce errors, and improve customer experience.

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