Since the 1990s, a lot has changed with barcode scanning technologies, and it’s important to understand the differences. The type of barcode you use can have a huge impact on your business’ scanning efficiency, reliability, and productivity, so let’s take a look at how barcode scanning has evolved and what your options are today.
Laser Barcode Scanners vs. Imagers
Until the 1990s, barcode scanners used lasers to reflect laser light off a barcode and read it. The beam quickly sweeps back-and-forth or in a pattern across the barcode, and a sensor in the device sees the reflected light and decodes the barcode.
However, the development of the charge coupled device (CCD) in the 1990s led to the creation of linear imagers. These devices use an LED to illuminate a barcode, and tiny CCD sensors read and decode the light reflected off linear barcodes.
Linear imagers act like a camera, taking pictures of a single row of pixels. Since they avoid the need for moving parts inside the scanner, such as a reciprocating mirror or rotating prism, they draw less power and don’t experience moving part failures like laser scanners do. But they’re linear, which means they’re one-dimensional and can’t scan 2D barcodes.
Thanks to the smartphone revolution, rapid advancements in digital camera sensors led to the creation of 2D imagers that can capture entire images, not just a single row of pixels.
An imager takes pictures and runs sophisticated image processing algorithms on each image to detect barcodes. The algorithms find the barcode symbologies the device has been configured to recognize and capture.
This means you can use a 2D imager to capture multiple 1D and 2D barcodes simultaneously by using multi-scan capabilities. It also means you can read 2D barcodes such as QR codes, which store information in two dimensions. This flexibility offers huge advantages because 2D barcodes can store significantly more information than 1D varieties, including dates, order numbers, lot numbers, and even contact information.
Operational Differences Between Lasers and Imagers
Historically, lasers have been better than imagers at reading barcodes at a distance, mainly due to their use of a precise and linear laser. For example, Zebra’s LS3578-ER scanner can scan from a distance of 45 feet.
However, imagers have been closing the gap, and Zebra has completely blown away the limitations of 2D imagers with its DS3608-ER Ultra-Rugged Series imager. It can read 1D and 2D barcodes from up to 70 feet away.
Reading Poor Quality Barcodes
While lasers scan better than imagers in low light and when scanners are in motion, 2D imagers are the best choice for reading barcodes that are smudged, scratched, damaged, or poorly printed.
Also, 2D imagers are now engineered with built-in error correction that generally prevents misreads from blurry or distorted images, and they compensate for distortion from off-angle scanning, which often plagues laser scanners.
Choosing the Right Scanning Technology for Your Business
Ultimately, the right scanning technology depends on the factors we’ve discussed here as well as other key considerations. Thankfully, our team at TPI can help you make the right choice so you can capture barcodes faster, more efficiently, and more accurately.
With over 20 years of experience in the barcoding industry and as a leading partner of Zebra Technologies, we can help you assess your barcoding needs and make sure you’re using the latest and best available scanning solutions for the job.