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How Does a Barcode Scanner Work?

How does a barcode scanner work
✅ Learn how barcode scanners can improve your business!
✅ Check out barcode scanners’ benefits and how they work.

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How does a barcode scanner work

Today, barcode scanners are used practically in all services. When you purchase something from a retail store, rent a car, or even go to the doctor, there are high chances they will use a barcode reader to encode the necessary details. Barcode scanning systems help businesses track a large scale of information, thus increasing the productivity and efficiency of their services. 

Understanding how barcodes work and how to use barcode readers will allow you to improve your business processes. Besides, with the quality barcode scanners, you can perform a broader scale operation and raise your company to a new level. Read on to learn how a barcode scanner works and what benefits it can bring you.

Introduction to Barcode Scanners

Barcodes are codes that contain information about a particular product. They are represented by different letters and numbers, encoded by bars of various lengths and widths. A barcode scanner is an optical machine that reads these barcodes, i.e., the series of numbers, lines, and the spaces in between the lines on the barcode.

The barcode usually has twelve numbers below the lines, the first six of which are the manufacturer identification numbers. The next five numbers are the product’s item number. As for the last number, it is the Check Digit, which allows the barcode scanner to ensure the code was scanned properly.

How Does a Barcode Scanner Work?

A barcode scanner comprises three different parts, which include the sensor, illumination system, and the decoder. A scanner illuminates the code with a red light to “scan” the black and white elements of a barcode. Then, the code converts into matching text. The decoder analyses the image data and sends the information to the output port. The converted text, in turn, gets into a computer software system that holds a database of the maker and the product details, including their costs and quantity.

Barcode scanners can also transmit the data into Accel or Excel databases to reduce the need for manual data collection. Thus, the chances of human error can be significantly mitigated. Moreover, by dropping data into Accel or Excel, you can improve the processes like managing assets and tracking inventory.

Check out this video to initialize how a barcode scanner works: 

The Author of this video: Two Way Mirrors on Twitter and Facebook

Types of Barcode Scanners

Due to the fact that there are many barcode scanners on the market, it is vital to pick the right one, as different scanners are suitable for different work. Some are better suited for certain industries due to many factors, including the reading distance and working volume capacity. Check out the available barcode scanner types below to learn how each works and which one is the most appropriate for your industry.

Laser Scanners

Laser readers are probably the most popular barcode readers, especially in retail. You’re more likely to see them in stores, where laser scanners are built right into the base of the checkout lane. 

This type of barcode reader is characterized by the following features:

  • it is easy to use whether hand-held or mounted;
  • it can read barcodes from a long distance (from 6 inches to 30 feet).

To read the barcode, a laser reader uses a laser as its light source. Then, the laser beam passing through a barcode is scanned by an oscillating mirror of the rotating prism. After that, the intensity of light reflected from the white spaces within the barcode is measured by a photodiode inside the scanner. As a result, a frequency generated by the scanner is translated into digital information that is imported to the computer.

CCD Readers

CCD scanners are also demanded in retail applications as they are especially accurate. To scan barcode, these readers use an array of hundreds of light sensors in a single row formation. Then, a single photodiode, formed by the light sensors, measures the intensity of ambient light reflected from the barcode pattern. 

Unlike laser readers, CCD scanners do not rely on an internal light source. They generate a voltage pattern for assembling the individual patterns corresponded to the barcode using each tiny sensor. However, consider that CCD readers have one disadvantage. To scan the barcode, they need to be close to it.

Pen-Type Readers

A pen-type reader, which looks like a giant electronic pen or razor, is considered the simplest type of barcode scanner online. To scan the barcode and read its black and white pattern of reflected light with a light-sensitive CCD, a pen-type scanner shines red LED light onto the barcode pattern once you run it across the code.

Pen readers often cost low, meaning you can feel free to incorporate bar coding into inventory management. However, it can be quite challenging to use a pen-type scanner, as its tip needs to directly contact the barcode. The inappropriate use of a pen reader can lead to user error.

Camera-Based Readers

A camera-based scanner is characterized by using a small video camera to capture the barcode. Such a device enables easy deployment and faster scanning of both 1D and 2D barcodes thanks to the implementation of advanced digital image processing technology.

Among the advantages of the camera-based reader is that it can easily read barcodes even when not ideally presented or aligned. Besides, they have no moving parts, meaning better durability in comparison to other scanning devices. 

The technology of camera-based readers is similar to CCD scanners. But while the last ones use sensors arranged in a single line, camera-based devices arrange sensors in a two-dimensional view. This is how the scanner can generate an image of the barcode.

Benefits of Using Barcode Scanners

how to use a barcode reader
Barcodes are used in business for many different inventory purposes.

There are many advantages barcode scanners can offer for your business. Look through all of them to ensure this device is exactly what you need for raising your business efficiency:

  • Barcode Scanners Help Save Resources. Using barcode readers allows you to stop spending budget on paper and other resources needed for printed barcodes. All the information will be saved digitally, meaning you can virtually go paperless and avoid extra expenses.
  • Barcode Scanners Are Easy to Use. Barcode readers can operate with a simple driver and minimal programming; thus, you can install them really fast and effortlessly. Besides, it will take you a few minutes to train employees to use barcode scanners, even if they are unfamiliar with these devices.
  • Barcode Scanners Are Efficient Tools. If a customer requires information about a particular product, you can easily get it using a barcode reader. Just scan the barcode of the needed item and obtain all the details within a few seconds.
  • Barcodes Scanners Can Be Wireless. A wireless barcode scanner is a very convenient tool as it can be taken anywhere around the store without worrying about short wires.
  • Barcodes Scanners Can Prevent Human Errors. By using a barcode scanner, you can eliminate human errors. With barcode reading devices, you can forget about human errors, as they allow you to avoid incorrectly encoding data. This point is extremely important as it can help to reduce costs related to clerical errors. 
  • Barcodes Scanners Reduce Time Consumption. Forget about traditional counting inventory, which takes a lot of time and effort. Thanks to barcode scanners, you can deal with this task quickly and effectively. Each barcode contains all the necessary information about every item, which means you don’t have to record everything by hand.

Here is a quick yet informative lesson on barcode scanner basics you could watch to learn more about barcode scanning technologies:

The Author of this video: POSGuys on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook

The Key Element of a Barcode Scanner

Once you get introduced to the main benefits of barcode scanners, it’s time to learn about their most essential element. Not everyone knows that the key to a barcode reader is glass. Why is it so important? The scanner simply won’t work without specific optics.

If you look attentively behind the protective window of a barcode scanner, you’ll see the optics inside. But this is not just glass. The optics include a First Surface Mirror, a high-precision ultra-flat mirror with a special coating on the face that ensures precise accuracy. 

While a standard mirror has a double reflection, also known as ghosting, the optical mirror allows reading the barcode quickly and accurately from all angles. Finally, the imager takes a picture of the barcode and decodes it for storage or further processing. 

What Are Barcode Scanners Used for in Business? 

It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of barcode scanners in business. These devices can be truly beneficial for many industries. Thus, for instance, with a barcode reader, transport and logistics companies can effortlessly track their shipments. Retailers can drive omnichannel marketing, and healthcare can track complex relationships between manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors. Yet, these are not the only examples of businesses that may benefit from a barcode scanner app.

Today, we can observe how barcode readers change our daily life, as they are applied as travel passes, calorie counters, self-checkout tools at stores, and more. Barcode scanners can help businesses make processes much more efficient and easier for customers. Moreover, using barcode verification, you can save money and time, which is vital for any business in the long run.

How to Use a USB Barcode Scanner?

A barcode scanner can be especially convenient when selling retail products. This device allows you to keep track of income by automatically transferring information about the product to your computer system. Besides, you can place orders for new inventory and take note of sales trends using barcode readers. 

Some scanners are also allowed to be plugged into a standard computer with a USB port. However, to perform this, you should fulfill the following steps:

  1. Install the software that comes with your USB barcode scanner. Keep in mind that some computers may automatically install the drivers necessary to operate this hardware. If your PC has such drivers, you can skip this step and proceed with the next one.
  2. Plug the USB barcode scanner into the corresponding USB port. Then, restart the computer so that the system can recognize the barcode reader.
  3. Program your USB barcode scanner. The barcode scanner reads the information from the barcode and types it into a blank field on your program (Microsoft Access or Microsoft Word). Therefore, to program your barcode scanner, you will most likely have to scan QR code or barcode on the printed device manual. But ensure all codes are in a concrete order to provide a proper scanner’s work on your other items as well. 
  4. Load the program for entering the barcode information. It can be database Microsoft Access or word processing Microsoft Word, depending on your choice. Scan your first item with the USB barcode reader by placing the red light directly over the middle of the barcode. After that, wait till all the necessary information, namely, product name, UPC or ISBN, price, and manufacturer data, will be displayed.

Check this video to learn how to set up an appropriate barcode scanner:

The Author of this video: POSGuys on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook

Challenges You Might Face When Reading Barcodes

Despite all the benefits of barcode scanner technologies, they can be quite challenging. The process of barcodes scanning sometimes can lead to errors, in case of the following factors:

  • inappropriate size of printed barcodes;
  • insufficient color contrast;
  • inadequate light margins;
  • missing horizontal line;
  • ink bleed;
  • issues with substrates or vertical edges;
  • stickers obscuring barcodes, etc.

Keep in mind that if your barcode scanner can’t read the barcode, the problem is not necessarily with the reader itself. Most likely, there are some issues with the printed barcodes. Printing technologies can also contribute to problems with scanning. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure all aspects of your system are designed to work together.


Barcode scanners and barcodes have made a huge impact on today’s market. They have changed the way that large companies ship and sell their products. Besides, barcode readers have launched many opportunities for small businesses. Despite spending hours and days tracking the products, business owners can simply scan the code within seconds. This can speed up product volume and increase revenues within a short time.

If you’re looking for an effective way to change your managing assets and tracking inventory, barcode scanning technologies implementation is what you need. These devices will bring you many benefits and raise your business to a significantly new level!


how to scan a barcode
Using a barcode scanner tool is easy.

What Is Barcode and How It Works?

A barcode is a convenient way to encode information into a visual pattern (black lines and white spaces) that can be read using a machine known as a barcode scanner. After a barcode scanner reads this pattern, it turns the lines and spaces into a text your computer can read and understand.

What Information Does a Barcode Contain?

Barcode contains information about a product (price, weight, date of manufacturing and expiry, manufacturer name, etc.). Every item has its unique barcode, which is allocated by an international institution.

What Is the Purpose of a Barcode Scanner?

Barcode scanners are made to read barcode symbols and generate an electrical output to a computer into a readable format. A barcode scanner may benefit your business, especially if you want to run your business more efficiently.

How Does the Barcode Scanner Read the Barcode?

A barcode reader scans the alternating black and white elements of the barcode, which follow a specific algorithm and turns it into a text. Thanks to sensors and a light source, the barcode scanner recognizes and measures the strength of the light, which in return provides an electronic signal. Finally, this signal is transferred to the computer.

Can a Barcode Scanner Read QR Codes?

The main difference between barcodes and QR codes is one of the physical dimensions. Thus, barcodes can be scanned in a line by standard or 1D barcode scanners. But to scan QR codes, you need to use 2D barcode scanners, which can take a picture of the entire image of the code. 

Can Barcodes Be Traced?

Barcodes can be traced through reading by an optical or image scan. To track bar codes, you must use a Barcode Scanner application.

How Do I Set Up a Barcode for My Small Business? 

To set up a barcode for your business, you must perform three simple steps:

1. Create unique product codes that will identify and track your products.

2. Make a barcode for each product code. 

3. Print your barcode labels.

About the author

Siim Tiigimägi is the Content Lead at Pageloot. He writes about our innovative QR code generator services. With a profound expertise spanning over 5 years on QR codes, Siim is a subject matter expert in the field. He makes significant strides in leveraging QR technology to simplify and augment digital interactions.

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