To help our clients, we have assembled a glossary of barcode terms and definitions. This is a comprehensive list of terms that are used for all industries including retail. We have a few terms where we have linked to pages on our website.


1 Color – The printing of a label in a single color

2 Color – The printing of a label in two different spot colors

3 Color – The printing of a label in three different spot colors

4CP (4 Color Process) – Printing using a 4 Color Process CMYK printing method.

Accuracy Term used for barcode verification. Accuracy determines whether any element width, or inter-character gap width, differs from its nominal width by more than the printing tolerance.

Adhesive Portion of a pressure sensitive label allowing for the label to be affixed to its intended surface…the sticky side of the label.

Alignment Relative position and orientation of a scanner to the barcode symbol.

Alphanumeric Character set consisting of letters and numbers.

ASCII Character set described in the American National Standard Code for Information Interchange. ASCII codes represent text in computers, communications equipment, and other devices that use text.

Aspect ratio   Ratio of barcode symbol height to symbol length.

Asynchronous communication Every character transmitted has special bits attached, telling the receiving device when the data begins and ends.

Auto discrimination Ability of barcode scanning/decoding equipment to recognize more than one symbology.

Average Background Reflectance A barcode verification term expressed as a percent.


Backcoating Thermal transfer ribbons use backcoating to keep the ribbon from sticking to the printhead and label material. This protects the printhead from damage caused by excessive heat, static, and abrasion.

Background Spaces, quiet zones, and areas surrounding a printed symbol.

Bar The lines or darker elements of a printed barcode symbol.

Bar Code Character A single group of bars and stripes that represents a specific quantity of ASCII characters.

Bar Code Density The number of characters that can be represented in a linear unit of measure. This number is often expressed in characters per inch or cpi.

Bar Code Reader Any device that can read a barcode (ight pen, laser gun, fixed scanner, etc.).

Bar Width Thickness of an individual bar measured from edge to edge.

Bi-directional Barcode symbol that can be successfully read in either direction.

Bipad The BIPAD numbering system is unique to the retail magazine business. Here is Nationwide Barcode’s article about the Bipad numbering system

Bitmapped Font Character/font sets printed by a thermal printer and are typically available in limited point sized: .6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 18 point.


Character Alignment The vertical or horizontal position of characters.

Character Density The number of data characters per unit length

Character Font The type and style of data characters available for a particular thermal printer model.

Character Set A range of data characters (alpha, numeric, and/or punctuation) that can be encoded into any given symbology.

Check Character/Digit A mathematical algorithm that has been created for the purpose of performing a mathematical check to ensure that a barcode has been scanned and read correctly.

CODABAR Originally developed by Pitney Bowes, the Codabar Barcode is used primarily by US Blood Banks, Photo Labs and Overnight Delivery Services. Codabar  can encode the numbers 0 through 9, the start/stop characters A, B, C, D, E, *, N or T. and the six symbols (-:.$/+).

Code 2 of 5 Also called Interleaved Two of Five or ITF Interleaved 2 of 5 is a continuous two-width barcode symbology encoding digits. It is used commercially on 135 film and on cartons of some products, while the products inside are labeled with UPC or EAN.

Code 11 Barcode Code 11 is a barcode symbology developed by Intermec in 1977. It is used primarily in telecommunications. The symbol can encode any length string consisting of the digits 0-9 and the dash character (-). One or more modulo-11 check digit(s) can be included.

Code 39 Barcode Full alphanumeric barcode. Code 39 is the standard for many industries, including adoption by the U.S. Department of Defense for its LOGMARS specification.

Code 49 Barcode Very compact variable barcode type capable of encoding the full 128 ASCII character.

Code 93 Barcode Code 93 is a barcode symbology designed in 1982 by Intermec to provide a higher density and data security enhancement to Code 39. It is an alphanumeric, variable length symbology. Code 93 is used primarily by Canada Post to encode supplementary delivery information. Every symbol includes two check characters.

Code 128 Barcode Code 128 is a very high-density barcode symbology. (A special version of it called GS1-128 is used extensively world wide in shipping and packaging industries.) It is used for alphanumeric or numeric-only barcodes. It can encode all 128 characters of ASCII and, by use of an extension character (FNC4), the Latin-1 characters defined in ISO/IEC 8859-1.

Converting The process of taking master or parent rolls of material and converting them into sizes and lengths of labels based on label size, type, use, etc.

Continuous Media Label, ticket, or tag stock media that does not contain any notches, gaps, or holes between each label.

CPI Characters Per Inch.


Data identifier Message prefixes in a barcode that define a category or intended use of the data that follows the identifier.

Decoder The is the part of the barcode reader that processes the signals and interprets them into usable and meaningful data.

Depth of Field Minimum and Maximum distance in which a scanner is capable of reading barcodes.

Die A hardened steell or tungsten carbide tool used for cutting a desired shape, form or finish to a material. (See Die Cut)

Die Cut means that the label is cut out using a “cookie cutter” to create the desired shape and size that you want the label to be. Many times, it is referring to the label having rounded corners as opposed to square corners (which are called ‘butt’ or ‘kiss’ cut.

Direct Thermal Thermal printing (or direct thermal printing) is a digital printing process which produces a printed image by selectively heating coated thermochromic paper, or thermal paper as it is commonly known, when the paper passes over the thermal print head.

Diffuse Reflection A barcode verification term. Diffuse reflection is the reflection of light from a surface such that an incident ray is reflected at many angles rather than at just one angle as in the case of specular reflection. An illuminated ideal diffuse reflecting surface will have equal luminance from all directions in the hemisphere surrounding the surface.

DPI Dots Per Inch. This defines printing resolution of thermal and laser printers.


EAN European Article Numbering system (also known as International Article Number and GTIN13). This is similar to the UPC (Universal Product Code) system used in the US and Canada.The EAN is a 13 digit system including a country code. Nationwide Barcode provides EAN barcodes

EAN-13 EAN-13 has 13 characters. See EAN (above). There are variants of the EAN-13 barcode which include a 2 or 5 digit extension barcode.

EAN-8 EAN-8 has a left-hand guard pattern, four odd parity digits, a center guard pattern, four even parity digits, and a right hand guard pattern with a total of eight symbols.

Element A single bar or space in a barcode.


Fanfold Labels manufactured and then folded into a zig-zag format allowing the packing the labels flat. The fold is created by a horizontal perforation in the release liner.

Facestock The part of the substrate (media) where printing occurs.

Federation of Automated Coding Technologies. (FACT) FACT was formed to foster interindustry communications and coordination relating to barcode standards.FACT maintains a database of specifications and data identifiers.

First Read Rate Barcode verification term. The ratio of the number of successful reads to the number of attempts. Commonly expressed as a percentage. Abbreviated as FRR.

Fixed beam scanner A visible light or laser scanner that requires a more exact positioning of a barcode than a moving beam scanner.

Function code Function (FNC) codes define instructions for a barcode reader decoding Code 128 barcodes. FNC 1, for example, is a required component of the UCC-128 specification. FNC 2 tells the reader to store the data read and transmit it with the next symbol. FNC 3 is reserved for code reader initializing and other reader functions. FNC 4 is reserved for future use.


GS1 Founded in 1977, GS1 is an international association dedicated to the development and implementation of global standards and solutions to improve the efficiency and visibility of supply and demand chains globally and across multiple sectors. The GS1 System of standards is the most widely used supply-chain standards system in the world. Nationwide Barcode received their barcodes from the GS1 prior to August of 2002 when their prefixes were grated grand-fathered status allowing them to resell to consumers.

GTIN GTIN is an “umbrella” term used to describe the entire family of GS1 data structures for trade items (products and services) identification. GTINs may be 8, 12, 13 or 14 digits long, and each of these 4 numbering structures are constructed in a similar fashion, combining Company Prefix, Item Reference and a calculated Check Digit.

GTIN 8 An 8-digit number used predominately outside of North America. The barcode format for this is EAN-8.

GTIN 12 A GTIN 12 is a 12-digit number used primarily in North America (The barcode format for this is UPC-A)

GTIN 13 The 13-digit number used outside of North America – the barcode format for a GTIN13 is the EAN-13.

GTIN 14 A GTIN 14 is primarily used as a shipping container barcode using a ITF symbology to create the barcode.

Guard Bars Bars at the ends and center of a UPC or EAN barcode used as reference points for reading the barcode.


Hand-Held Scanner Scanning device to read barcodes.

Heat Resistance The properties of a label which prohibits damage due to high temperatures. These damages can be physical or chemical changes to the material.

Horizontal barcode A barcode type presented in such a manner that its overall length dimension is parallel to the horizon. The bars are presented in an array which looks like a picket fence.


Infrared laser diode Used in some hand laser scanners to project a light beam.

Infrared The band of light wavelengths too long to be seen by the human eye. Used in access control and security applications where barcode fields must not be visible by human eye — only to an infrared scanner.

Ink Jet Printing Type of computer printing that that creates an image by propelling droplets of ink onto paper of other substrate. High end inkjet printers are often used in corrugated boxes where the barcodes are made very large so dot placement accuracy is not as critical.

Interleaved 2 of 5 High density, numeric barcode type in which each character is composed of five elements

ISBN-13 The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique numeric commercial book identifier based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) code created by Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Trinity College, Dublin,for the booksellers and stationers W.H. Smith and others in 1966. (Wikipedia). Books often have a 5 digit add-on indicating the price of the book.

ISMN The International Standard Music Number (ISMN) is a unique number for the identification of all notated music publications from all over the world (excluding the US), whether available for sale, hire or gratis–whether a part, a score, or an element in a multi-media kit.

ISSN Barcode Used mainly throughout Europe, The ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)  identifies periodical publications as such, including electronic serials. The ISSN is a numeric code which is used as an identifier: it has no signification in itself and does not contain in itself any information referring to the origin or contents of the publication.

ITF14 Also known as a GTIN 14 The ITF14 is a 14 digit barcode used to mark the master shipping containers of products with a UPC identifier. It is based on the I2of5 barcode. ITF14 barcodes usually contain a top and bottom bar (sometimes rectangle) called the Bearers bar.


JAN Japanese Article Number – Name used for the EAN system in Japan



Label Thickness The ideal range of media/substrate thickness to promote optimum print quality and performance.

Label, Pressure Sensitive Pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA, self adhesive, self stick adhesive) is adhesive which forms bond when pressure is applied to adhere the label or other item to the adherent. No solvent, water or other component is required.

Label, Transparent A pressure-sensitive clear label.

Ladder barcode printed in a rotation perpendicular to the horizon so that the individual bars appear as rungs on a ladder. Vertical barcode.

Laminate To apply one layer of material over another. A clear laminate protects the surface of a printed item or label.

Laser Printing Laser printing is a digital printing process that rapidly produces high quality text and graphics on plain paper. The pressure from the printhead and drum then fuse the image to the paper, creating the image. Laser printed labels are only as durable as a paper photocopy.

Lay Flat Label Material with a non-curling attribute suitable for any form of printing or processing where a flat sheet is required. ‘Lay Flat’ can also pertain to liners in some applications

Laurer, George Inventor of the UPC barcode. George Joseph Laurer (born September 23, 1925 in New York, NY) developed the Universal Product Code in 1973.  As an engineer at IBM he was asked to develop the pattern used for the Universal Product Code. A 36-year veteran of the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) who retired in June 1987, George Laurer is the holder of 25 patents. He is also the author of 20 published Technical Disclosure Bulletins.

LED Light-emitting diode. The light source often used in light pens.

Light pen A scanning device which is used as a hand held barcode reader, also known as a wand. Requires direct contact with the image.

LOGMARS Logistics of Marking and Reading symbols. A Department of Defense marking specification.


Machine-Readable A general term used for printed material that can be scanned and directly transferred to a data processing system.

Manufacturer’s ID With a UPC, the first 6, 7, 8 or 9 digits of the barcode.

Minimal Application Temperature The lowest temperature at which a pressure sensitive label can be applied to a product and still retain it’s initial tack.

Media Refers to the label, tag, or other substrate used – the surface on which a barcode symol is printed.

Media Roll Capacity The maximum/minimum roll diameter that a thermal printer can accommodate, for example 5.0” O.D. (Outer Diameter) and 1.0” I.D. (Inner Diameter).

mil One one-thousandth of an inch (0.001″). Unit of measurement used in barcode specifications.

Misread A condition when the reader/decoder does not agree with the data encoded in the barcode field.

MSI Barcode MSI (also known as Modified Plessey) is a barcode symbology developed by the MSI Data Corporation, based on the original Plessey Code symbology. It is a continuous symbology that is not self-checking.

Module The width of the narrow bars in a barcode.

Moving beam scanner A device where scanning is achieved by mechanically moving a light beam through the bars of a barcode field.

N Nanometer   Unit of measure used to define the wavelength of light.

Net Data Density The net data density of a linear barcode symbol is determined by dividing the number of characters in the symbol by the overall symbol length

Nominal Tolerances are specified as positive and negative deviations.


OCR Optical Character Recognition. Technology for machine reading of human readable text.

OD Outside Diameter. This is the diameter of the entire roll including the labels. The OD of a finished roll is specified and is based upon how the labels will be mounted on a printer or application unit.

On-Demand A printing term (also for labels) describing how printing is done. On-demand usually incorporates a digital printing process as opposed to a long run printing process utilizing negatives or plates and the requirements of long run printing.

One-Dimensional Bar Code A complete message is expressed by a single line of bars. Also linear barcode.

Opaque – a material or a surface that is not transparent, translucent or allows light to pass through it. Opaque labels are typically used as cover-up labels so the label beneath cannot be seen

Operating Temperature Prescribed temperature range for the safe operation of a thermal printer.

Orientation The alignment of a barcode symbol with respect to horizontal.

Optical throw Minimum distance a barcode can be away from a scanner and still be read.

Orientation The orientation of the barcode, such as horizontal with vertical bars and spaces (picket fence) and vertical with horizontal bars and spaces (ladder).

Overhead The fixed number of characters required for start, stop, and checking in a given barcode symbol.

Overlam (Overlaminate) A protective material applied to a label to provide additional protection to the label against harsh conditions. The overlam offers resistance to abrasion, chemicals, high temps and exposure to weather.


Pacific Barcode Located in Temecula, CA, Pacific Barcode is the premier source for preprinted labels, equipment (scanners, printers, etc.) and supplies:

PCS A barcode verification term. Print contrast signal. Measurement of the ratio of the reflectivity between the bars and spaces of a barcode field, commonly expressed in percent.

Permanency A measure of an adhesive’s ultimate holding power or bond strength.

Permanent Adhesive An adhesive that has the strongest possible bond with the item.

Pharamacode Pharmacode, also known as Pharmaceutical Binary Code, is a barcode standard, used in the pharmaceutical industry as a packing control system.

Picket fence A barcode whose length is printed horizontally and the bars are presented in an array which looks like a picket fence.

Plates The image carrier throughout the printing process. Flexo plates are made of a flexible polymer and wrap around the printing cylinder. Each color on a label requires its own plate and ink station

PLU Price look-up codes, commonly called PLU codes, PLU numbers, PLUs, produce codes, or produce labels, are identification numbers affixed to produce in grocery stores and supermarkets to make check-out and inventory control easier, faster, and more accurate. The code may be a four-digit number, currently in the 3000–4999 range, identifying the type of bulk produce, including the variety, or a five-digit number. (wikipedia)

Point of Sale (POS) Refers to the Electronic Cash Register in a retail business.

Poly – Short for Polyester or Polypropelyne.

Polyester A strong film having good resistance to moisture, solvents, oils, and many other chemicals.

Polyethylene A tough, sturdy plastic film having very good, low temperature characteristics.

Polypropylene Similar to polyethylene but stronger, with a higher temperature resistance. Often used in the creation of Zebra media.

Postnet Code A barcode symbology used primarily by the U.S. Postal Service for mail sorting. All bars and spaces are the same width. ZIP Code information is encoded into the particular arrangement of tall and short bars.

Print Quality A barcode verification term. The measure of compliance of a barcode symbol to the requirements of various qualities of the barcode.

Pressure Sensitive Label Pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA, self adhesive, self stick adhesive) is adhesive which forms bond when pressure is applied to adhere the label or other item to the adherent. No solvent, water or other component is required.


QR Code A QR code (quick response) is a two-dimensional barcode developed for use in Japan that permits the encoding of binary, Kanji, and alphanumeric information. They have been adapted for a variety of marketing applications.

Quiet Zone A clear space which precedes the start character of a barcode field and follows the stop characters. Sometimes called the “clear area.”

R Read rate Barcode verification term. The ratio of successful barcode reads to the total number of attempts.

Reflectance A barcode verification term. The ratio of the amount of light which is reflected back from the white spaces of a barcode during scanning to the amount of light reflected under similar illumination conditions.

Removable Adhesive A pressure sensitive adhesive with low adhesion and clean removability from a wide variety of surfaces

Ribbon A cloth or plastic tape coated with several layers of material, one of which is ink-like, that produces the visible marks on the the material to be printed.

Residue Adhesive left on a substrate when a decal is removed.

Resolution The higher the resolution the better the print quality. Measured in dots per inch (dpi).

Rolls refer to the way that labels are manufactured and finished.  The core size can range from very small to a 3″ inside diameter. The outside diameter will depend of the type of applicator or printer that will house the roll of preprinted or blank labels.


Scanner An electro/optical device that converts the bars and spaces of a barcode field into electrical signals.

Service Temperature The temperature range that a pressure sensitive label will withstand after a 24-hour residence time on the substrate. The range is expressed in degrees Fahrenheit and/or degrees Celsius.

SSCC18 Barcode This Symbology is also known as UPC-128 Shipping Container Code, Code 128 UPC Shipping Container Code, Serial Shipping Container Code, UCC-128, EAN-18, NVE (Nummer der Versandeinheit)

Substitution error rate. The rate of occurrence of incorrect characters.

SKU Stock Keeping Units. In a distribution/retail environment, a generic term for item or part number.

Soundscan Nielsen SoundScan is an information and sales tracking system created by Mike Fine and Mike Shalett. Soundscan is the official method of tracking sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada. Data is collected weekly and made available every Wednesday to subscribers, which include executives from all facets of record companies, publishing firms, music retailers, independent promoters, film and TV, and artist management. SoundScan is the sales source for the Billboard music charts, making it the official source of sales records in the music industry. (wikipedia)

Space width The thickness of a space measured from the edge closest to the symbol start character to the trailing edge of the same space.

Spectral Response Barcode verification term. The variation in sensitivity of a test surface to light of different wavelengths.

Stacked code Where a long barcode field is broken into sections and “stacked” one upon the other, resulting in codes that are extremely compact.

Start-stop character A special barcode character that provides the scanner with start and stop reading instructions as well as scanning direction indicator.

Symbol A combination of barcode characters, including start/stop characters, quiet zones, data characters, and check characters required by a particular symbology.

Symbol Length The distance between the outside edges of the quiet zones on the two ends of a barcode field.

Symbology Barcode type.


Thermal direct Printing method where dots are selectively heated and cooled and dragged upon heat-sensitive paper. The paper turns dark in the heated areas. Thermal Direct paper or labels can turn dark if exposed to direct heat or sunlight.

Thermal transfer A printing method like thermal direct except a one-time ribbon is used. This eliminates the problems of fading or changing color inherent in thermal direct printing.

Top Coat Surface treatment or coating on a material that allows for better ink receptivity.


UCC Uniform Code Council – formerly the Uniform Product Code Council, now referred to as the GS1. Where all barcodes originate. There are a number of legal resellers including Nationwide Barcode.

Ultra Removeable Adhesive – Allows for the removal of labels over a period of months and removal and re-using several times.

UPC Universal Product Code. The standard barcode type for retail products in the United States.

UPC-A A fixed length, numeric, barcode type used primarily in the retail industry for labeling packages. There are two additional variations of the UPC-A barcode. One having a two digit extension and the other having a 5 digit extension. The 2 digit extension is used by magazine and publication publishers and the 5 digit by greeting card manufacturers.

UPC-E A UPC-E barcode is a shortened representation of a UPC-A. It reduces the data length from 12 digits to 6 digits by compressing the extra digits. Not all UPC-A barcodes can be converted to UPC-E.


Varnish A type of coating material that is applied to the surface of the label. This coating can be used to enhance the look of the label or to provide a protective coating. Varnish can either be applied completely over the label or can be used as a spot-coating enhancing sections of the printing.

Vector Vector images are made up of many scalable images and are defined by mathematical equations so they can render at the absolute highest quality. This objects can consist of lines, curves, shapes with editable characteristics.

Verifier A device that makes measurements of the bars, spaces, quiet zones and optical characteristics of a barcode field to determine if the code meets the requirements of a specification or standard.

Vertical barcode A barcode field printed in a rotation perpendicular to the horizon so that the individual bars appear as rungs on a ladder.

Vinyl A synthetic plastic product which can be made into film, sheets or other forms. Is generally more flexible that polyester or other films. This tough durable plastic film has excellent resistance to oils, chemicals, and solvents. Can be colored and has excellent abrasion-resistance. Also known as PVC and has a high degree of stretch due to the addition of a plasticizer.

Visible laser diode Used in some hand laser scanners to project a beam of light visible to the human eye, simplifying the scanning process.

Void A printing and barcode verification term. An undesirable absence of ink in a bar.



X-dimension The width of the narrow bars and spaces in a barcode type; usually measured in mils.



Zebra (Brand) A thermal print technology company intent on providing innovative labeling solutions and quality products of renowned reliability to its customers.