Hand Held 2D Barcode Scanner – Advantages and Disadvantages

Hand held barcode scanners are available in two main categories. 2D and 1D. 2D barcode scanner sales are growing at an impressive rate.  1D scanner sales are fairly flat year over year.  The question that many potential buyers of 2D barcode scanners ask is, “what are the main advantages of using a 2D barcode scanner over a 1D barcode scanner?”  This article discusses just some of the many advantages.  There are some disadvantages that need to be considered when making a decision.


The most important advantage of using a 2D barcode scanner is the ability to read and decode 2D barcodes.  Data Matrix, Aztec, QR Code and Han Xin are examples of 2D barcodes being used today.  2D barcodes are capable of holding much more data than 1D barcodes in the same or less physical space.  Product manufacturers can put hundreds or even thousands of characters in a single 2D barcode. 

Having the ability to read barcodes omni-directionally is another big advantage of using a 2D barcode scanner.  All hand held 2D barcode scanners use an image sensor to capture an image of the barcode.  That image is then run through a software decoder program that resides in the scanner’s firmware.  The software decoder program has the ability to locate the barcode based on each barcode’s unique characteristics, no matter what the orientation of the barcode is.  This system allows the user to hold the scanner in the same position for every barcode read no matter the position of the barcode.  The scanner does not have to be oriented to line up with the barcode being read.  User fatigue and overall read times are greatly reduced.

The image sensor uses the same technology as today’s digital cameras.  The one main difference is that 2D barcode scanners use a grayscale imager as opposed to a color imager.  Because it is an imager, many scanners have the capability of taking a picture and sending that picture to the computer that it is connected to.  Taking pictures of signatures for proof of delivery, damaged packages, forms recognition and off scanner image processing are just a few of the applications that are being utilized with the images from 2D barcode scanners.

Reliability is another big advantage of 2D barcode scanners.  There is only one moving part in a 2D barcode scanner.  The trigger switch.  All scanners use trigger switches rated at millions of activations.  Rarely will there be a failure in the field.  No failures means no down time for customers which results in higher efficiencies, less frustration and lower total cost of ownership. 

These are just some of the advantages of using a 2D barcode scanner instead of a 1D barcode scanner.  There are more advantages not listed here.  There are also some disadvantages.  Typically the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but the disadvantages do need to be taken into consideration when making a decision.


Price.  2D barcode scanners are a fairly new technology and continually evolving.  Image sensors with more pixels, faster decode algorithms, improved illumination and aiming patterns are all being tweaked and improved.  Because of all these investments in the technology, the price of 2D barcode scanners is higher than 1D barcode scanners.  But that price gap is quickly diminishing.  All scanners are approaching the price point where they are considered a commodity.

Working range of 2D barcode scanners is a second disadvantage.  Working range is defined as the furthest point away from the scanner a barcode can be read minus the closest point a barcode can be read.  For example:  A UPC-A barcode can be read at a far distance of 10 inches away from the scanner.  That same barcode can be read at a near distance of 2 inches away from the scanner.  10 inches minus 2 inches equals 8 inches of working range.  1D barcode scanners could read that same barcode at a far distance of 18 inches and a near distance of 1 inch.  That lesser working range can be a problem in some applications.