Choosing the right barcode reader

Barcode readers have become easier to use than ever before. Gone are the days of dealing with decoder boxes and multiple cables going everywhere. Simply connect the cable to the scanner to the computer and it will work immediately!

>While operation has become easier, there are now more options and varieties of readers to choose from. Choosing the right one can be a challenge without understanding the various types and options. The first step in finding the right scanner is to identify your specific needs:

  • Where will the scanner be used? Is it a rugged environment?
  • How often will it be used?
  • What type of barcodes will you read?
  • How will the scanner be used?
  • Can it stay connected to a PC?

Knowing how you'll use the scanner will help you decide what type of scanner, form factor and other options you'll need. Understanding each of these factors will help you find the right scanner for your needs.

Types of barcode readers

One of the most important concerns when choosing a suitable scanner is the type of scan engine it has. This ultimately depends on the type of barcodes that are going to be read. There are 3 main types of scan engines.


This is the best known type of scanner. It uses a red diode laser to read the reflectance of black and white spaces in a bar code. Laser scanners are only capable of reading standard linear (1D) barcodes. Standard laser scanners can read from a few centimeters to half a meter depending on the size of the barcode. There are also extended range laser scanners, 10 meters away when using large labels with low density codes.

Linear Imager

Linear imaging scanners are similar to lasers, as they also only read 1D barcodes. But instead of reading the reflected light from the laser, they take an image of the barcode. This type of scan engine scanner has become a very good replacement for the laser scanner because its reading ranges have been improved, it is superior in code reconstruction when poorly printed or damaged compared to lasers, and its costs are lower. In recent years this 1D reader option has replaced the Laser option.

2D Area Imaging

Like linear imagers, full 2D imagers also capture an image for analysis, but unlike linear devices, these readers can read any type of barcode. Both 1D and 2D barcodes are compatible with a 2D imager. Another advantage these imagers have is that the orientation of the barcode is not important when reading. With lasers and linear images, you have to align the reading beam horizontally across the barcode. A 2D imager is taking a more detailed image and is more intelligent, so it can read a code in any direction. This translates into faster reads with less aiming. 2D imagers can also read barcodes off any surface, including a monitor or telephone screen or recorded on DPM parts. With their added capabilities and very aggressive reading, 2D imagers are becoming increasingly popular in all industries to speed up scanning applications and expand the ways in which bar codes are used.

Type of readers according to their shape

Once you know what kind of reader you will need, the next big question is what kind of reader do you need? Most of us are familiar with the basic pistol and countertop scanners in retail stores and supermarkets. There are 5 main form factors for scanners, and each has advantages depending on your application and how you will use the reader.


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These are the most common of the scanners, they are very easy to use, just point the scanner at the barcode and pull the trigger. Most models will also offer support for hands-free operation. Handheld scanners are also available in wireless form to avoid cable clutter and increase your mobility.



They are designed to be placed on a worktop or stand and do not need to be picked up or held. These readers are made for hands-free scanning and will not require activation to read. Similarly, instead of a single pointer as portable scanners, presentation scanners have large reading areas to reduce the need for pointing. You'll find these types of scanners at retail outlets, as it's easy to scan many items quickly. Simply present the barcode in front of the scanner and it will read it automatically.



They are similar to presentation scanners, as they only present the barcode in front of the reader. However, these are made to be embedded into a cabinet or table. You've probably come across these types of scanners in supermarkets and auto check-out lines. Many models also have built-in scales to completely serve a POS lane.



A stationary reader is a bit more specialized compared to the other types, as it is actually meant to be integrated with a larger automated system. These scanners are made to be mounted on a conveyor line or on a kiosk and do not have a typical trigger or button for scanning. Often, these scanners will always be on or activated by external sensors or controllers. Fixed scanners come in a wide range of speeds to accommodate even very high speed assembly lines without any user intervention.


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They do more than basic scanners, mobile terminals provide total freedom as both the PC and the scanner are in one device. When other scanners need to be connected to a PC, PDAs can move freely while storing information in their internal memory or communicating over Wi-Fi or WLAN networks. Mobile terminals are ideal for applications that require true mobility, such as inventory management and asset tracking.

Connectivity vs. Wiring

Each reader has to communicate with a computer to transmit the barcode information into the software it is using. Historically, there were only wired readers that connected directly to the PC via a cable. These are still the most common type of scanner and usually interact with a computer through a USB connection. Corded scanners are easy to set up and will be your least expensive option.

Cordless readers have become more common today as their costs have become much more affordable. These handheld scanners work in the same way as a corded scanner, except that the scanner communicates to a base station wirelessly. This base station connects to your PC via a cable. Your computer does not need to have any wireless support as the base station and scanner handle all of this. Simply plug in the base, pair the scanner with the base and you're ready to start scanning. It is very easy to replace a wired scanner with a wireless one, as it has no effect on your PC or software.

Most cordless scanners use bluetooth to communicate, which usually gives you a range of 10 meters. There are some specialized and patented wireless Bluetooth units that can transmit beyond 40 meters. Some models also offer additional features that wired scanners do not, such as batch memory modes and direct pairing, which can be directly paired with a device. This makes it a perfect match for use with a laptop, tablet or phone that has built-in Bluetooth capabilities. Wireless scanners can provide greater mobility and freedom from cable clutter in any application.

There are also readers to communicate via radio, these readers work with a system similar to Bluetooth, connecting to a base or in some cases to an antenna that acts as a receiver. With respect to bluetooth, this type of connection allows you to have less interference with objects, more distance between scanner and receiver, reaching up to 100 meters, and the possibility of connecting more readers to the same antenna, up to 32 readers in some equipment.


Regardless of the environment in which you will be using your scanner, robustness is always a consideration. The environment is an important factor, but you should also consider how the scanner will be used. You may be in a standard environment, but if the scanners are abused, a more robust option will help save you time and money along the way.

Most scanners are designed for everyday use in an office or business environment. An accidental fall from time to time will be fine. But if you're using your scanners in a warehouse or outdoor environment, you'll want to consider a rugged unit. The differences between a rugged and standard model are quite drastic. Rugged units are completely sealed against dust and moisture, can withstand repeated drops of 1.5 or 2 meters onto concrete. With a rubber cover, they can handle severe abuse – you could probably us some of these as a hammer without any problems!

A robust reader can always be distinguished by its brightly colored yellow, orange or green housings. They can be more expensive, but the time lost when a scanner breaks down and the cost of quickly replacing it balances out the initial additional cost.

With all the options available for bar code readers today, it's important to find the right device for your business needs. Determining how you will use the scanner and what features you need will make the decision process easier. If you continue to have difficulties or have additional questions, call our scanner experts. We are happy to assist you.