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2d Barcode versus 1d Barcode (with pictures)

Summary: A 2d code (QR Code) can hold thousands of times more characters (data) than a standard 1d barcode (UPC/EAN, Code 39 barcode).  This is because 1d data is stored only left to right, but 2d data is stored in dots (pixels) from top to bottom and left to right.   2d codes are more readable on mobile devices than 1d barcodes.


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2d barcode versus 1d-barcode comparison

2d barcode versus 1d-barcode comparison. The 1D Barcode stores data only left to right. The 2D code stores data both left to right and top to bottom.

1D (one-dimensional) barcodes are the the type of barcode with vertical bars, such as the UPC barcodes you see on retail product packages or on a FEDEX label or UPC label,   1D Barcodes are not a good QR code alternative because a 1D barcode can’t contain much data relative to the space they consume on a printed page.  For example, a UPC code contains precisely 12 characters (such as the one in the illustration above) and a Code-39 barcode can contain only up to 128 characters, but the printed code 39 barcode becomes so long that it is often unreadable.  While 1D barcodes can be read on mobile devices (with the right software or app) 1D barcodes are not as easily read as 2D codes on mobile devices.

2D (two-dimensional) barcodes are much more easily and quickly read than standard bar codes because a phone’s camera is much better at decoding pixels than it is at accurately decoding the various lines and line thicknesses of old-style line-based bar codes, especially when there is a chance that the code may be read at an odd angle. You’ll notice that most 1D barcode readers require the QR Code to be precisely level for an accurate scan, but 2D codes can typically be read at angles, sideways, even upside down.


1d BARCODE (traditional) QR CODE (2D CODE)
Readability Traditional bar codes are best read with dedicated barcode scanners. Bar code must be level for Left-to-Right or Right-to-Left scanning 2D codes can be read with a cell phone or any mobile device having a camera. 2D codes are reaable at any skew or angle.
Used UPC codes can be seen on retail packaging such as groceries.  Code 39 codes are displayed on FedEx and UPS labels. 2D Codes are the square codes displayed on direct mail, billboards, magazine advertisements.
Shape A traditional barcode is rectangular in shape that widens with more data. 2D Code is square and can be static in size.  Adding more data increases the number of dots (pixels) in the code.
Data Capacity Barcodes hold typically 13 to 36 characters 2d codes can hold 2,100 characters or more.
Data Correction If a barcode is defaced there is no data correction. A 2d code is readable even if 7% to 30% of the code is defaced.
Design & Color Traditional Bar codes should be Black & White (high contrast) for best readability. A 2d code can be any color (or multiple colors) as long as contrast exists between the background and the pixels (dots).  2d Codes can be hand drawn.
Types Most popular 1d types:

  • Code 3 of 9 (FexEx, UPS)
  • UPC/EAN (product pricing)
  • Interleaved 2 of 5 (manufacturing)
  • ISBN (books)
  • QR code (open source, most popular)
  • Aztec Code
  • Data Matrix
  • CueCat
  • Microsoft Tag
  • PDF417, or Stacked Barcode
  • Semacode
  • ShotCode
  • Touchatag
  • SPARQCode
  • SQR codes
  • Maxicode


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