How to Test a Barcode

If your organization produces barcodes in any way, it’s essential that your barcodes are tested. That’s because testing – which is more accurately called verification – is the only way to ensure your codes will be readable.

What happens if they’re not readable? At best, people downstream – whether in warehouses or at the cash register – will need to type in information rather than scanning it in. This is time-consuming and introduces the possibility of costly human error. Even worse, major players such as Walmart will reject your products, and possibly fine you.

Here’s how to test a barcode, by setting up a process, in 6 steps:

1. Know Your Symbologies and Standards: To get an appropriate verifier, you need to understand which symbologies you’re testing, such QR Codes or UPC. You also need to understand what standards you need to adhere to, typically GS1 or ISO standards such as ISO 15416.

Most barcodes today are 1D, such as those found on consumer products but more and more applications are adding 2D barcodes so getting a verifier that is capable of working on both 1D and 2D codes makes sense.

2. Get a Verifier: To test a barcode, you need a barcode verifier. Software alone is not sufficient. That’s because everyday devices such as computers and smartphones do not have the high-end optics and calibrated measurements needed for accurate grading. Only verifiers have the necessary optics and give calibrated grade results.

3. Create a System: Next, you need to put in place a system for barcode testing. This system needs to become part of your standard operating procedure. This means verifying your codes on a consistent and regular basis and having a plan in place for corrective action if your barcodes fail. This means diagnosing the cause for failure and getting the printing process back on track.

4. Test at the Press: The time to check your barcodes is at the printing press, and even before in “pre-press” because problems built in at pre-press cannot be corrected in production. Consumer packaging, for example, is typically printed on plastic film at very high speeds. Verification takes place where the packaging is printed, rather than where the product is packaged. A portable verifier is recommended for this application.

5. Continuous or Random Sampling: You need to determine whether in-line or random sampling is best for you. Most barcode testing is done on a sampling basis, where codes are periodically checked at predetermined increments. Consumer packaging, for example, might be tested every 20 minutes, or every 90 minutes at most.

6. Test for Life: Once you begin, it’s essential to understand that testing is an eternal, ongoing part of the process. That’s how you test a barcode. As long as you continuously verify and keep the process under control, your codes will print and scan correctly.

When barcodes fail, it’s always for a reason. It’s never random. Test your codes continuously, and they will scan accurately each and every time.