The Global Language of Business
Current 1D barcode solutions have data capacity limitations that will not allow them to unlock solutions to new business needs. There is a rise of one-off solutions that lack interoperability, and the use of multiple barcodes and symbols are cluttering up packaging.
Some 2D barcodes, like QR Code using GS1 Digital Link, can carry additional data while connecting consumers and other users to online resources and experiences. Having this data in the barcode adds value by allowing the information to be automatically captured and acted on. In addition to carrying more data, 2D barcodes are likely to be smaller than their 1D counterparts and also include features, like built-in error correction that add to their reliability.
No. 1D linear barcodes will be around for at least as long as it takes for the installed base of 2D scanners to reach critical mass globally. Furthermore, if there is no need to add additional machine-readable data (such as batch/lot number or expiry date) to a product package, changing to a 2DBarcode is not needed. But all manufacturers and brands need to include, at a minimum, the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN®) in every barcode on pack that is intended for scanning by consumers OR retail POS.
Optical scanners are becoming more common in retail, but a substantial percentage of linear scanners are still in use. POS systems will need to be updated to be able to scan new, more advanced data carriers and extract the GTIN from all barcodes scanned on a pack. Until these updates have been made across all retailers, a dual-marking period with 2D data carriers and the existing 1D barcode will be needed. This will ensure that advanced use cases can be implemented by retailers who have upgraded their hardware and software while the existing price lookup function will still work for retailers who have not.
All three barcode types are capable of encoding GS1 Application Identifiers (AI) like GTIN, batch/lot number, and expiration number. How those AIs are encoded into the barcode change how they can be used.
QR Code is often used for consumer engagement because they are recognised by all smartphone cameras natively. Many existing implementations of QR Codes on-pack are now enabling proprietary experiences. Once they are repurposed to use GS1 Digital Link URI syntax, they will transform into multi-use barcodes that allow BOTH consumer engagement and price lookup, eliminating the need for multiple codes on pack.
DataMatrix has a compact design and also benefits from various printing methods for placing the symbology onto various surfaces. The DataMatrix symbology can be used for applications encoding GS1 Digital Link URI only.
GS1 DataMatrix features all the benefits of the DataMatrix symbology but only encodes GS1 element string syntax. It is the carrier of choice for items that require permanent, non-ink barcodes such as certain medical devices and may also be used in applications that do not require direct consumer scanning/engagement.
Organisations looking to implement 2DBarcodes need to select a data carrier and syntax based on their business needs and stakeholder capabilities. GS1 recommends actively engaging with partners to ensure the path forward is collaborative and the solutions are capable and compliant.
The data that is encoded in barcodes and used at point-of-sale will vary based on what use cases are being enabled. At minimum, retail point-of-sale (POS) must be able to process the GTIN from a barcode. Following is a sample list of applications and the additional data that is commonly used to support industry’s retail POS use cases.
Early evidence from pilots and implementations of 2DBarcodes at POS have shown that scanning of 2DBarcodes is just as straightforward, efficient and fast as scanning 1D legacy barcodes. More complete testing will be conducted to provide additional insight into technical/performance.
The amount of space on-pack, scanning environment, the quality of printing and the resolution of the printing process all factor into the optimal dimension for the symbols on a package. A symbol that is too small may not be easily read by scanners, or it may be difficult to print at a high quality and sufficient resolution. If the symbol is too large, it may be too difficult to scan up close or to print with high enough quality or resolution. The GS1 General Specifications contains the minimum and maximum sizes allowed for 2D barcodes used on products scanned at retail point-of-sale in section 18.104.22.168. The below table shows barcodes at their minimum and maximum sizes based on the standards defined in the GS1 General Specifications.
To ensure that barcodes meet quality needs, barcode verification can help companies understand the quality of their barcodes, whether trading partners can scan them and what needs to be done to improve them.
The three barcodes that are approved for retail POS use in the GS1 standards are:
Note: These barcodes can only be used in addition to the 1D (EAN/UPC or GS1 DataBar), until they become open global standards.
Organisations looking to implement 2D need to select a data carrier and syntax based on their business needs and stakeholder capabilities. GS1 recommends actively engaging with partners to ensure the path forward is collaborative and the solutions are capable and compliant.
Only optical (image-based) scanners are capable of reading 2D barcodes. Most of the scanners that read the linear barcodes (EAN/UPC) are laser scanners.
Industry has set the ambitious goal of retail POS scanners globally being capable of scanning and processing 2D barcodes by the end of 2027.
Different regions of the world will move at different paces towards the ambition goal of enabling 2D barcodes to be scanned at POS. One of the main goals of the Global 2D Programme is to work with global communities and coordinate these activities and provide updates on the progress being made.
GS1 Global office, along with the help of Member Offices will be continuously monitoring the adoption rate of 2D barcodes to evaluate the tipping point to 'future state'.
Different regions of the world will move at different paces towards the ambitions goal of transitioning from 1D to 2D barcodes. One of the main goals of the Global 2D Programme is to work with global communities and coordinate these activities and provide updates on the progress being made.
Whilst both barcodes look the same, the GS1 DataMatrix begins with the special start sequence FNC1. The FNC1 turns a DataMatrix code into a GS1 DataMatrix code. It tells scanners that the code is structured in accordance with GS1 standards and how to interpret the data. A scanner will generate an error message if it is expecting a GS1 DataMatrix code, but the label only contains a DataMatrix code.
To encode a GTIN for scanning at point of sale you would use a linear EAN-13 barcode. If you would like to encode production information like Expiry, Batch, Serial Number for scanning in a healthcare setting, you would use a 2D GS1 DataMatrix barcode. GS1 DataMatrix is the preferred symbology especially for regulated healthcare products. At present you may need to apply both barcode symbols with the SAME GTIN to your product so it can be scanned in both a retail and healthcare setting.
Choosing which barcode symbology to use depends upon what data you would like to encode and where it will be scanned. To encode only a GTIN for scanning at point of sale you would use a linear EAN-13 barcode. If you would like to encode production information like Expiry, Batch, Serial Number, for scanning in a healthcare setting you would use a 2D - GS1 Datamatrix barcode. At present you may need to apply both barcode symbols with the SAME GTIN to your product so it can be scanned in both a retail and healthcare setting.