What are ISBT-128 Barcodes? Understanding the Importance of ISBT 128 in Healthcare

What are ISBT-128 Barcodes

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When it comes to the healthcare industry, accuracy and safety in every aspect are of the utmost importance. Right from diagnosis to treatment procedures, everything needs to be standardised and streamlined to ensure patient safety. 

Among the many technologies from the healthcare industry that have been introduced to maintain performance and safety standards, the ISBT 128 Barcode has emerged as a pioneering and reliable solution. 

The ISBT-128 barcode was introduced by the International Council for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation (ICCBBA). This barcode symbology is explicitly used in the healthcare industry. It defines data structures that help identify and track various human-origin goods such as blood, cells, tissues, and organs.     

In this article, we will provide you with a detailed insight into the ISBT 128 Barcode – its significance, benefits, and applications. 

So without further ado, let’s get started. 

What is an ISBT-128 Barcode?

ISBT-128 Barcode

ISBT 128 is a liner barcode symbology used to identify, label, and transfer data regarding medical goods of human origins, such as blood, cells, tissues and organs. It was developed in the early 1990s by the International Council for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation (ICCBBA).  

ISBT-128 is specifically designed for use in the healthcare industry. It is based on the Code 128 barcode but has additional features that make it more suited for this particular industry. These features provide precision and accuracy, which is essential when managing human-origin goods. 

ISBT-128 is an alphanumeric barcode that allows 128 ASCII 7-bit character sets per symbol. ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It is a character encoding standard computers and other devices utilise to represent text. It encompasses a set of 128 characters that include numbers, letters, punctuation marks, and control characters.

ISBT-128 is a variable-length barcode, meaning it has no limit on how much data it can encode.  

ISBT-128 was designed with global usage in mind and supports the open movement of medical goods worldwide and disparate health care systems while meeting regulatory requirements. The standard coding system ensures critical information is rapidly, accurately and unambiguously communicated while allowing traceability and retention of information. 

ISBT 128 is based on the ISO/IEC 646:1991 standard. 

Why Do We Need ISBT-128 Barcodes?

Barcoding technology has been widely adopted in healthcare for its potential to improve patient safety. It is an optical machine-readable representation of data that can be accessed using a scanner and interpreted by appropriate computer software. By providing accurate, up-to-date information about patients and their medications, barcoding systems have enabled healthcare professionals to reduce manual errors and also verify correct manual entry.

Therefore, to create a global standard barcoding system, ISBT-128 was introduced.

By using ISBT-128 barcodes, data structures such as donor identifiers, product details, recipient details, quality control measures, and other pertinent information can be easily transmitted between vendors and end-users. This significantly reduces the risk of medical mistakes due to errors in manually transcribing or reading the labels.

As ISBT-128 is an international system, it makes it easy to share information between different regional systems while still being able to identify products on a global scale. 

Structure of ISBT-128

ISBT-128 barcodes use the same structure as a Code-128 barcode. However, they include additional information about the product, such as product type, manufacturing date, and expiration date. 

To learn more about the structure, please refer to our article What is a Code 128 barcode?

Components of an ISBT-128 Barcode

Components of ISBT-128 Barcode

ISBT-128 barcodes are composed of five components, all of which are encoded using either a Code 128 barcode or a Data Matrix barcode.

The five components of ISBT-128 codes are.

  • Donation Identification Number (DIN)
  • Product code
  • Blood group code
  • Expiration date/time code
  • Special testing code

Donation Identification Number (DIN)

The DIN is made up of 13 characters and includes information about.

  • Country of origin
  • Collection facility
  • Year of donation
  • Serial number
  • Keyboard entry check character (check digit)
  • Two flag characters
  • Hidden data identifier 

DIN helps provide unique identification for each donation and details about where it was collected from.

Product Code

The product code consists of 8 characters plus an additional hidden data identifier that provides additional information about the product, such as type or brand.

Blood Group Code

The blood group code contains four characters plus another hidden data identifier that gives details about the donor’s blood type. 

Expiration Date/Time Code

The expiration date/time code is ten characters long and contains information on when the product needs to be used. It also includes a hidden data identifier. 

Special Testing Code

Special testing codes comprising five characters plus their own hidden data identifier can be used to indicate any additional testing required or other product-specific information to ensure safety and quality control standards are met.

How To Get ISBT-128 Barcodes

The ISBT-128 barcode is not in the public domain. Therefore, one must register with the ICCBBA and pay a fee to use this barcode symbology.

To get an ISBT-128 barcode, you need to follow some simple steps. 

  1. Visit the ICCBBA website at www.iccbba.org and click on the “Registration & Licensing” tab.
  2. Select “How to Register” from the drop-down menu and find the appropriate registration form for your organisation (facility or vendor).
  3. Print and fill out the registration form with all the necessary information.
  4. Choose a secure method of sending the registration and payment information, such as mail or fax. Email is not recommended for payment information.
  5. Wait for 2 to 4 weeks for the ICCBBA to process your registration.
  6. Once your registration is processed, your facility will receive a Facility Identification Number (FIN), and the vendor will receive a Vendor Identification Number (VIN).
  7. Request a password for the ICCBBA website to access the registered users’ section.
  8. Use your FIN or VIN and password to log in to the registered users’ section and access your organisation’s appropriate resources and information.

Once you register with the ICCBBA and provide your product’s information and numbers, you’ll be issued an ISBT-128 barcode. The registration process is simple and fast, meaning you can quickly access your unique barcode right after paying the associated fees.

All organisations implementing ISBT-128 must refer to the published ISBT-128 specification as their official source of guidance. This ensures that all ISBT-128-related projects are compliant with international quality standards. You can visit the technical specification by clicking here

How to Print ISBT 128 Barcodes? - Best Practices

Four points on printing rules of ISBT-128 Barcode

ISBT-128 is an established international standard for the identification of blood components and cellular therapy products. It is important to follow some specific rules to guarantee accuracy when the code is scanned by barcode scanners.

  • Before printing ISBT-128 barcodes, the first rule is to include enough information. The barcode should be able to uniquely identify the product and make sure that it is easily tracked throughout the supply chain.
  • Test for consistency when printing ISBT-128 barcodes. Consistency tests are used to evaluate how well different readers interpret the same label across different systems.
  • To ensure that all characters printed on the label remain legible, selecting the most appropriate resolution setting is important. For ISBT-128 barcodes, a minimum resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch) should be used, with 600 DPI being the best print resolution.
  • It’s recommended to use thermal printers as they provide better legibility than inkjet or laser printing technologies. Opt for thermal transfer printing to ensure a longer life span of ISBT 128 barcodes.  

At Triton, we have a huge selection of reliable thermal printers from trusted brands like TSC, Honeywell and Zebra. Whether you need a direct thermal printer, thermal transfer printer, barcode label printer, desktop label printer, or industrial label printer, we have it all. You’ll have no trouble finding the ideal model to suit your specific needs.

Apart from high-quality thermal label printers, we also stock print consumables that work seamlessly with these printers, ensuring that you get prints with strong adhesion and exceptional quality that lasts a long time. Our consumables selection includes thermal transfer ribbons, thermal labels, thermal carton labels, thermal carcase tags, and food-safe thermal inserts – all of which adhere to rigorous quality standards to deliver top-notch results. 

Don’t struggle with inadequate equipment any longer – Triton has everything you need to streamline your thermal printing process.

In addition, if you have a requirement to design an ISBT label then Triton supplies Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software which comes in four on premise solutions, Starter, Professional, Automation and Enterprise, as well as their cloud offering BarTender Cloud. 

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via the live chat widget below. Our customer service team will be more than happy to assist you.    

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does ISBT 128 Mean?

ISBT is an acronym that was originally created to represent the International Society of Blood Transfusion influence on the standard’s development. 

Currently, it stands for Information Standard for Blood and Transplant, while the number 128 represents the 128 characters of the barcode character set.

Is ISBT 128 the Same as Code 128?

No, ISBT 128 is not the same as Code 128. These linear bar codes only use the Code 128 barcode structure. 

What Are the Benefits of ISBT-128 Membership?

By becoming a member of ISBT, you will have access to various benefits such as networking opportunities, discounted rates for conferences and events, and resources, among other benefits.


ISBT-128 barcodes are an efficient way to store data regarding medical goods of human origin. This alphanumeric code was developed with global usage in mind to communicate information between different countries accurately. 

With its ability to store large amounts of variable-length data and support the open movement of medical goods around the world, it is no wonder why ISBT-128 has become popular among hospitals, laboratories and manufacturers worldwide. 

We hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading! 

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