A barcode is a machine readable representation of information.  Originally barcodes stored data in widths and spacings of printed parallel lines (1D Barcodes), but today they also come in patterns of dots, concentric circles, and text codes hidden with images (2D Barcodes).  Barcodes are widely used to implement automatic identification data capture systems that improve the speed and accuracy of computer data entry.  2D coding is the future of identification processes, containing more information than a 1D barcode of the same size.  Applied either on the label of a product, or permanently on the item, the 2D barcode is readable in any direction. Even if there are mechanical damages to the barcode, it is read faster and with less error than a traditional barcode.

Barcode systems feature as part of our everyday lives – on your mobile phone, plane boarding passes, parcels delivered to your door and patient wristbands.

They are widely used to implement Auto ID Data Capture systems that improve the speed and accuracy of computer data entry.  Auto ID technology and barcode systems provide an array of benefits including operational efficiency, better customer service and improved visibility and accuracy of key business information to management.  Fairfield provides a vast selection of data collection systems, including 1D and 2D barcodes, each specifically designed to service your individual business needs.

Barcode systems and scanning technology are constantly evolving, providing industries with more choices in data capture solutions. Deciding which one is right for your business can be a difficult task. Allow Fairfield to explain auto identification data capture along with the differences between 1D and 2D barcoding, and the advantages and applications for which these technologies are used.

1D vs 2D Bar Codes

1D barcode uses a wide base and narrow bars to encode information.  A barcode scanner analyses the wide bars, narrow bars and spaces in between to extract the information.   1D barcodes are not space efficient; they get longer as more data is encoded.  As a result 2D barcodes were invented in the late ‘80’s as a way to encode more data into a smaller space.  While 1D barcodes encode data in one dimension (horizontally), 2D barcodes encode data in 2 dimensions (horizontally and vertically), enabling them to compress more information into a smaller space.  Hence, 1D barcodes are known as “linear” and 2D barcodes are also called “area barcodes”.

2D coding is the future of identification processes, containing more information than a 1D barcode of the same size.  Applied either on the label of a product, or permanently on the item, the 2D barcode is readable in any direction.  Even if there are mechanical damages to the barcode, it is read faster and with less error than a traditional barcode.


2D system benefits include:

  • Track and trace products and components throughout the production and supply chain process
  • Identify quality defects throughout the manufacturing process
  • Minimise risk of error
  • Lower management costs by increasing speed and efficiency to streamline production

There are two main categories of 2D symbologies (language of coding): stacked and matrix.

Primary differences between stacked and matrix symbols are how they are encoded and how they are read.  Stacked barcodes are made up of two or more rows of linear bars and spaces, appearing to have been “stacked” on top of each other.  Leading stacked barcodes include PDF417, Code 16K and a form of GS1 Data bar.

Laser scanners, linear imagers and area imagers are all capable of reading stacked symbologies.

Matrix 2D codes encode data in dark and light geometric patterns arranged in a grid.  The position of each element relative to the centre of the symbol is a key variable for encoding.  Matrix codes are commonly used for small item marketing and unattended high speed reading applications.  Common examples include Dot Matrix, MaxiCode, Code One and QR code.

Matrix symbologies are decoded by processing the complete image.  Area imagers (digital) are the only barcoding scanning technology able to read 2D coding.  Digital readers can read 1D and 2D codes.

2D Item Identification Pharmaceutical & Healthcare

Widespread 2D item identification is prolifent in Healthcare where medication is dispensed, being marked with a 1D barcode.  2D symbols are used on patient wrist bands, as 1D has proven to be problematic due to the curvature of wristband.  2D coded information enables the dispenser to scan the patient’s personal information tallying it up with the exact drugs and quantities that they are to be prescribed, reducing the opportunity for error in dispensing incorrect drugs, quantities to the wrong patient.  Not only in health care but also within manufacturing industries – 2D matrix are symbols of choice for industrial marking and tracking applications.

Choosing between 1D & 2D data coding technology

There are many factors to consider when choosing between 1D and 2D technology solutions, such as the amount of data to be encoded, type of printing equipment available and the scanning technology which will be available and used.  Fairfield provides a step by step evaluation of your business requirement through to identification of the most unbiased and appropriate auto identification solution suitable to meet your business requirements.

Linear barcodes are ideal if space is not an issue and the message is short, as linear symbologies are common and cheap to print plus linear barcode readers are less expensive.  2D barcodes are best if space is limited, lots of data needs to be encoded and the code consists of complex characters or language, i.e. Chinese language.  Although 2D barcodes are more expensive to deploy than 1D barcodes, they are still cheaper than RFID technology.  From a cost perspective, it makes sense to combine 2D barcodes with 1D and or RFID technologies.


Auto Identification 1D & 2D Bar Coding Comparison


1D Bar Coding

2D Bar Coding


Linear, consisting of vertical lines and spaces

Block of multiple 1D codes stuck on top of each other or a swarm of dots


1 Dimensional, horizontal

2 Dimensional, horizontal and vertical


Linear barcodes

Area barcodes


30 characters

At least 2000 characters


Only able to expand horizontally

Capacity to increase size both horizontally and vertically

Printing & Reading Technology

Laser and variety of scanning technologies

Requires advanced printing and reading equipment. Image based scanners like a camera, which effectively takes a picture of the code requiring decoding. Examples being: Charge Coupled Device (CCD), Area image laser readers or digital readers.

Scanning Process

Only capable to read scanning from left to right

Capable of scanning from any angle or 60 degrees skewed with a CCD camera. Can be read from back or reverse side of glass. 2D barcodes can be read in any direction.

Error Detection


Contain Error Detection And Correction (EDAC), which detects and corrects any fault should the code be damaged.

Damaged Codes

If damaged, scanner will still give a false and inaccurate read, which will remain undetected by the user

Ability to read even if the code is damaged (<25%). If error is > 25% then the scanner fails to give a result, alerting user to the fault.

Direct Part Marking

Not recommended on shiny or metal surfaces due to the reflective nature of the laser beam when reading

Recommended for DPM on shiny or metal surfaces using a CCD camera


Postal – Mail sortation, Retail, Pharmaceutical drug information, stock management, line stock control JIT Practices

Manufacturing – supply chain parts tracking, Postal – tracking certified parcels and post, Transportation – automated tracking consignment notes, Government agencies – ID cards and registration documents, Healthcare – Patient ID wristbands and drug dispensing, Pharmaceutical – laboratory samples




The coding and RFID seminar that we ran in November was a resounding success. From wanting to know more about what RFID can offer in the ‘real world’ today, to asking specific questions about their own barcode, 2D or RFID applications, delegates were very interactive and the atmosphere was relaxed and positive. The aims of Fairfield University events are to stimulate ideas, share knowledge and evaluate the true value of coding and RFID applications in track and trace.

Particularly in the case of RFID, feedback from the event showed that there is still a heap of confusion over even the simplest things such as the proliferation of RFID tags on offer and the nuts and bolts of how RFID actually works.

Mark Lynch (Fairfield) and Mark Higham (Siemens) started the proceedings and warmed the crowd up to let them know what was in store.

Mark Lynch

Mark Lynch

Lee Wragg then kicked off the presentations with a technical overview on the evolution of coding. Speaking about the limitations of 1D codes, Lee described how 2D can solve a myriad of problems due to them being hardier, industry standard compliant and generally an all round excellent choice for most applications in track and trace. They can also form a compliment or step towards RFID. Direct part marking was a main feature, and the fact that such a vast amount of information could be stored in a small amount of space went down well with the crowd as they examined some samples of products that had been laser marked with a tiny code. Traceability is obviously key in both aerospace and automotive and the presentation stimulated some good questions on the value of 1D linear barcodes in comparison to 2D codes and technology.

Lee Wragg

Lee Wragg

Examining various aerospace and automotive parts that are RFID tagged or 2D laser coded

Examining various aerospace and automotive parts that are RFID tagged or 2D laser coded

Siemens’ Jens Dolenek speaks about coding and RFID

Siemens’ Jens Dolenek speaks about coding and RFID

Jens Dolenek from Siemens then explained in his presentation how RFID & Coding applications enhance the entire process. From raw material supplier, to end user, coding and RFID can be a key driver to ensuring your information flow is smooth and slick, so you can stay above your competitors. Examples were given from many industries, such as airline baggage using RFID bag tags, automated identification in logistics, and product traceability down to item level.

RFID was then the order of the day as Andy O’Donnell led the group through a lively two way street of RFID debate and also a simple yet powerful presentation on the principles of RFID in essence. Questions were abundant as delegates were eager to apply the concept of the technology to their problem or application. From understanding frequencies to finding out about cost, to answering queries about RFID pilots and trials, Andy was kept on his toes with a host of questions that enabled delegates to take away useful information.

Andy O’Donnell

Andy O’Donnell

Delegates were then invited to tour the demo room and were shown some of the hardware on offer. They then returned to see that hardware in action, combined with bespoke software that Andy used to demonstrate the power, speed and multi-read capability of RFID.

Impressive RFID Demo room

Impressive RFID Demo room

Live RFID Demonstration

Live RFID Demonstration

The day closed with an opportunity to network with the Fairfield and Siemens team as well as other delegates. Watch this space for more information on further events for all of our industries, or email to register your interest directly, regardless of which industry you are in.