barcodes types pharma

[Blog] Barcodes – meaning, types, usage



The invention of barcodes changed the Pharma industry and made traceability achievable.






In your everyday life, you usually don’t notice that barcodes are everywhere – on your food, medicines, water, etc. There is a reason why they are there. Barcodes have a significant role in the traceability of goods and quality and safety assurance. These codes could store any information, from the product origin to the inventory information. Different industries have divergent requirements for barcodes. Because of that, there are different types of barcodes.





  • 1D | One-Dimensional Barcodes


This type is known as a linear barcode – the information is organized horizontally in bar and space widths. The amount of encoded data is limited. 1D barcodes are mainly used during the sales and inventory processes.

1d barcode

Of course, there is not just one type of 1D barcode. UPC (Universal Product Code) and EAN (European Article Numbering) are well-known subtypes.




  • 2D | Two-Dimensional Barcodes


The 2D barcode could store a significant amount of data – the information is organized in squares and rectangles, containing many small dots. They are widely used in various industries, including Healthcare and Medical Devices. This type of barcode is preferred because:

–       It could be encoded a large amount of data on it

–       It is safer because the information could be encrypted easily

–       It has great functionality to be readable even printed on small sizes


2D barcode types are:


  • QR Code – the wide use of this type of 2D barcode is due to the functionality to be readable by mobile devices. The stored information could be encrypted in alphanumeric, numeric, binary or Kanji. It is essential to note that QR and Datamatrix codes are similar but not equivalent.



  • Datamatrix – Data Matrix codes are omnidirectional, meaning they can be read from any angle. The encoded information could be text or numeric data. This type of data storage is well-known in traceability, especially in the Pharma industry, because they are hard to be emulated. On the other side, Data matrix codes could store a huge amount of data that could be applied easily.



  • Aztec Code – storing a specific set of data; this barcode is projected because they require less of a ‘quiet zone’ (a minimum amount of white space before the bar code begins). Moreover, Aztec codes do not require so much space as the other codes.


aztec barcode


  • PDF417 – this 2D barcode can securely stow a bunch of text and data. For better readability, it was used built-in error correction.




QR code or Data matrix?


As we already mention, these two types are pretty similar. On the one hand, they are unique and internationally recognized codes for identifying products. On the other hand, they have the functionalities to:


benefit store a large amount of data

benefit be read even if some part of the code is damaged or removed

benefit use them without paying for a license because they are public domain codes



However, the first difference is that the Data matrix is way smaller than the QR code. If the space on the product is limited, the Data matrix is a perfect choice. On the flip side, QR codes could store more information, and because of their origin (Japan), they are designed to include Kanji and other multi-byte character sets. This makes them suitable for use with non-European languages. In contrast, the Data matrix can only encode information in numeric and alphanumeric characters. One of the primary significant differences is that Data Matrix is the only approved 2D code by GS1 for traceability of healthcare products.