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08 Nov 2023 | 11:00

1D vs 2D barcodes: What are the differences?


The use of 1D and 2D barcodes has become a fundamental aspect of day-to-day operations for businesses in the modern age of commerce. Barcodes, the essential part of inventory management and information tracking, serve as the foundation for countless transactions. While 1D barcodes are the familiar linear ones, 2D barcodes, with their intricate geometric patterns, offer a wealth of additional capabilities.

The differences between 1D and 2D barcodes impact data capacity, security, and versatility. Whether you're a retailer, a manufacturer, or a service provider, the choice between 1D vs 2D barcodes can carry significant implications for your bottom line and customer satisfaction. In this blog post, we will explore the world of 1D and 2D barcodes, providing you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions about their implementation in your business.

Read on to learn more about:

  1. Introducing 1D and 2D barcodes
  2. What are the differences between 1D and 2D barcodes?
  3. How are 1D and 2D barcodes used?
  4. 1D vs 2D barcodes: Which one is best for your business?
  5. Enhance your barcode capabilities with The Barcode Warehouse

Introducing 1D and 2D barcodes

1D Barcodes

1D barcodes, or one-dimensional barcodes, are the straightforward symbols that have made their way into the fabric of modern commerce. These barcodes are characterised by a series of vertical lines, forming a pattern of varying thickness. The simplicity of 1D barcodes masks their incredible utility in various applications.

Common examples of 1D barcode types include the Universal Product Code (UPC) and the EAN-13, which are found on many consumer goods. From groceries and electronics to clothing and books, you encounter 1D barcodes on virtually every item you purchase or handle in a retail setting. These codes hold a limited amount of data, typically a unique product identifier, making them highly efficient for tasks such as price scanning and inventory management.

The benefits of 1D barcodes are in their ease of use and cost-effectiveness. They are quick to scan and are compatible with a wide range of barcode scanning devices, from handheld scanners to smartphone apps. These barcodes streamline the checkout process, reduce errors, and facilitate accurate inventory tracking.

2D Barcodes

2D barcodes, or two-dimensional barcodes, represent a leap forward in the world of data encoding and information management. 2D barcodes pack an array of dots, squares, or geometric patterns into a square or rectangular shape - and these intricate designs enable them to store a wealth of data.

Common examples of 2D barcodes include QR codes and Data Matrix codes. You've likely encountered these codes on a range of items, from marketing materials and product packaging to boarding passes and event tickets. 2D barcodes are versatile, capable of storing not just product identifiers but also URLs, contact information, and even images. This flexibility makes them a powerful tool in our increasingly digital world.

Two-dimensional barcodes can be displayed on screens or printed by 2D barcode printers, then effortlessly decoded by 2D barcode scanners. They offer businesses improved data accuracy, enhanced security, and expanded application possibilities: from facilitating mobile payments to streamlining inventory management and marketing campaigns. See our guide on how 2D barcodes work for more information.

What are the differences between 1D and 2D barcodes?

1D barcodes are linear and consist of a series of vertical lines, encoding limited data, commonly found on consumer products for price and inventory tracking. In contrast, 2D barcodes are square or rectangular, using intricate geometric patterns to store diverse information. But the distinction between 1D and 2D barcodes extends beyond their physical appearance:


1D barcodes are commonly found in retail environments, serving as efficient tools for price scanning and inventory management. They are the go-to choice for consumer products, from groceries to electronics. Their straightforward nature makes them an ideal choice for point-of-sale transactions, simplifying the checkout process.

On the other hand, 2D barcodes, with their ability to store a wider range of data, have a more expansive scope of applications. You can find them on marketing materials, such as posters and flyers, directing consumers to websites or promotional content. They're used in logistics and shipping, enabling detailed tracking of packages. Event tickets and boarding passes often feature 2D barcodes, streamlining entry procedures. Additionally, 2D barcodes are prevalent in mobile payments and healthcare, offering secure access to sensitive information.

While 1D barcodes excel in the retail world, 2D barcodes have transcended into a diverse array of industries, expanding their reach and functionality to meet the demands of our digital age.

Data storage

One of the primary distinctions between 1D and 2D barcodes lies in the amount of data they can store. 1D barcodes, being linear, have a limited capacity. They typically hold a series of digits or characters, often used for product identification and pricing. These barcodes are excellent for conveying essential product details, but their simplicity constrains the depth of information they can provide.

For businesses looking to provide customers with more than just basic product information or to enhance the security of their operations, 2D barcodes are the superior choice. Their capacity for storing diverse data types opens up a world of possibilities in applications such as marketing, inventory management, and secure access control. The difference in data storage capabilities between 1D and 2D barcodes reflects their distinct roles and impact on information management.


The disparity between 1D and 2D barcodes necessitates different technology for scanning.

1D barcodes require specialised 1D barcode scanners. These scanners are designed to read the linear patterns of varying thickness that comprise 1D barcodes. They work by emitting a laser or LED light that reflects off the barcode's lines, and a sensor captures the pattern, converting it into the corresponding data. 

The intricate geometric patterns of 2D barcodes demand a different approach. To scan 2D barcodes accurately, you need devices that utilise image-capturing technology, similar to the way a camera captures an image. 2D barcode scanners capture the entire barcode, regardless of the pattern's complexity, and then use software to decipher the encoded data.

Understanding the technology behind 1D and 2D barcode scanners ensures the accurate and efficient retrieval of data. Businesses need to employ the right scanner technology to match the barcode type they are working with, allowing for seamless operations and data management.


The difference in security between 1D and 2D barcodes reflects their respective capabilities and complexities.

1D barcodes, due to their simplicity and limited data storage capacity, offer basic security. They are suitable for applications where the primary concern is price scanning and inventory management. However, their lack of advanced security features makes them vulnerable to potential tampering or duplication.

On the other hand, 2D barcodes are inherently more secure. They often include error correction features, which enhance their resilience to damage or corruption. Their ability to store diverse information types, such as encrypted data or secure access codes, makes them a superior choice for applications where data security is paramount. Whether it's in mobile payments, healthcare records, or secure access control, the enhanced security features of 2D barcodes minimise the risk of data breaches or unauthorised access.

How are 1D and 2D barcodes used?

1D and 2D barcodes serve distinct purposes - here’s how each type is used in various industries:

1D Barcodes:

  1. Retail: 1D barcodes are a retail staple, often found on product packaging, enabling swift and accurate price scanning. They streamline the checkout process and help manage inventory efficiently.
  2. Manufacturing: Manufacturers use 1D barcodes to label and track items through production processes, ensuring quality control and accurate assembly.
  3. Logistics: These barcodes are used for shipping and logistics to manage package tracking, helping ensure timely and secure deliveries.
  4. Library and Document Management: In libraries and document management systems, 1D barcodes assist in cataloguing, tracking, and locating books and documents.

2D Barcodes:

  1. Marketing: QR codes, a popular 2D barcode type, are used in marketing materials, allowing users to scan the code with their smartphones to access websites, promotions, or additional content.
  2. Healthcare: 2D barcodes are crucial in healthcare for patient identification, medication administration, and specimen tracking, improving patient safety and reducing errors.
  3. Secure Access: They're used for secure access control, allowing entry via mobile devices with encoded 2D barcodes for enhanced security.
  4. Document Management: 2D barcodes help in document management by encoding metadata, making it easier to organise, search, and retrieve documents.
  5. Inventory Management: Businesses use 2D barcodes for detailed inventory tracking, offering a more efficient and accurate way to manage stock.
  6. Event Tickets: 2D barcodes are featured on event tickets, streamlining entry procedures for concerts, sporting events, and exhibitions.

The choice between 1D and 2D barcodes depends on the specific needs of the application. 1D barcodes excel in simplifying processes like retail and logistics, while 2D barcodes are versatile and cater to a broader range of applications, from marketing to healthcare and secure access control. Learn more about the applications of 2D barcodes in our dedicated guide.

1D vs 2D barcodes: Which one is best for your business?

Selecting between 1D and 2D barcodes and their respective scanners hinges on the specific needs and objectives of an organisation. Read on for a guideline to help you make the right choice.

1D barcodes are ideal for organisations with straightforward, high-volume, or retail-centric operations. They are well-suited to:

  • Retailers: Supermarkets, clothing stores, and general merchandise retailers rely on 1D barcodes for quick and accurate price scanning and inventory control.
  • Manufacturers: Manufacturers often use 1D barcodes to track products through the production process, ensuring quality and assembly precision.
  • Logistics and shipping companies: 1D barcodes facilitate package tracking and efficient supply chain management.

2D barcodes are versatile and accommodate complex data requirements. They are a better fit for:

  • Marketing and advertising firms: QR codes, a type of 2D barcode, are used extensively in marketing campaigns for interactive content and engagement.
  • Healthcare institutions: Hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies employ 2D barcodes for patient identification, medication administration, and specimen tracking to enhance patient safety.
  • Secure access control: Organisations requiring advanced security use 2D barcodes for secure access control, as they can encode encrypted data for authentication.
  • Document management and archiving: 2D barcodes assist in document organisation and retrieval by encoding metadata.

When deciding between 1D and 2D barcodes, consider your industry, data complexity, and specific operational needs. While 1D barcodes are efficient for simple product identification and pricing, 2D barcodes offer a broader range of applications and enhanced data security, making them a more versatile choice for organisations with diverse requirements.

Enhance your barcode capabilities with The Barcode Warehouse

In this comprehensive guide, we've explored the differences and applications of 1D and 2D barcodes, as well as the factors to consider when choosing between them. We've explained how 1D barcodes, with their simplicity, excel in retail and logistics, while 2D barcodes, with their versatility and enhanced data capacity, serve various industries, from marketing to healthcare and secure access control.

When it comes to barcode scanning solutions, The Barcode Warehouse has been a market leader: we specialise in providing top-of-the-line 1D and 2D barcode scanners, as well as a wide range of other barcode-related products. Visit our barcode scanning page to browse our product offering and discover how we can help streamline your operations and boost your efficiency. Or get in touch with our experts to find the best solutions for your unique requirements.

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