Why Aren’t My Barcodes Scanning? 3 Common Problems & Solutions

Why Aren’t My Barcodes Scanning? 3 Common Problems & Solutions

Barcode Basics | 26 May 2020

Posted by John Masica

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Is scanning your barcodes more difficult than it should be? There are many reasons barcodes might not scan and most of them can be boiled down to one of three things—your equipment isn’t suited to your barcodes, your scanner isn’t being operated properly or your barcode labels aren’t suited to your application or environment. Though these explanations may sound simple enough, they each have their own complexities and various solutions.

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Here we aim to cover the most common issues we see when confronted with scan problems, and what you can do to resolve or avoid them. Let’s get started!

3 Common Reasons Barcodes Won’t Scan

  1. Your Scanner Isn’t Suited to Your Barcodes
  2. You’re Not Scanning at the Optimal Angle or Distance
  3. Your Barcode Labels Aren’t Suited to Your Application or Environment

 

1.   Your Scanner Isn’t Suited to Your Barcodes

First of all, you need to ensure you have the right scanner for the job. Is your scanner older? If so, consider what type of barcode you are using. Is it linear or 2D? Although it’s unlikely to come across a barcode scanner incapable of reading 2D barcodes nowadays, some older or models may only be able to read linear barcodes.

Learn more about what makes linear and 2d barcodes different

Now, once you’ve determined you have a suitable scanner, or if your scanner has worked in the past but has suddenly stopped, you can move onto the settings. One thing to check for is auto-discrimination—this is what detects barcode language. Check to see if auto-discrimination is enabled, if not you might want to try enabling it.

We should note that turning on auto-discrimination isn’t always the best solution, in fact we recommend against it in certain situations! So, if you have been advised to disable auto-discrimination, or see that your scanner is only enabled to pick-up certain barcode languages ensure the settings allow your scanner to pick up the barcode language you are using.

If your scanner is neither old, nor set to read the incorrect barcode language, your issue may have to do with programming (or one of our later talking points).

There are many ways to program a barcode scanner and not all of them will work with your barcodes. It’s a good idea to check in with your scanner and/or barcode supplier to ensure your equipment and barcodes are compatible. If they aren’t, depending on the most suitable resolution for your application you may want to look into reprogramming your scanner, ordering a new scanner, or trying a different type of barcode.

2.   You’re Not Scanning at the Optimal Angle or Distance

If your scan issues aren’t consistent, or you can otherwise confirm your scanner is set-up to read your barcodes, you may not be scanning correctly. We know! Scanning barcodes sounds like an easy enough task, but there are limits to what your scanner is capable of.

The two most important factors when it comes to a good scan technique are angle and distance. Let’s go into more detail on each:

Angle

Scanners read barcodes by picking up on the contrast between the dark lines and spaces depicted in the code. You’ve probably noticed, especially on glossy surfaces, that at certain angles light reflects off the barcode and visually disrupts the contrast of the code. This glare not only effects the way we see the barcode, but the way the scanner sees it, making it more difficult for the scanner to pick up the image.

Environmental and label construction factors play a big role when it comes to angle as bright fluorescent lighting or glossy laminates can increase the likelihood of glare. In this case the best solution is to place or hold the labeled object at an angle that minimizes glare and provides your scanner with the clearest possible image.

Distance

Each scanner is designed with a specific read range or depth of field. Within that overall range are read ranges defined by the size of barcodes being read. In the simplest terms, the smaller the barcode, the closer the scanner needs to be, however, this does not mean the scanner needs to be extremely close to the barcode just because it’s small!

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Your barcode scanner’s manual should contain an image that looks something like the one depicted above. This image displays the ranges at which your scanner can read barcodes of different sizes. In this case, our reader can read 5mil barcodes at a distance between 2.5”-6”, but it can read a 10mil barcode between 1” and 14.5”.

Keep in mind that different scanners are designed with different scan distances (or depths of field) to accommodate different use cases. For example, one scanner may be best suited for close range, or even contact scanning because it’s intended for use cases where items will be handled closely. Another scanner might be designed to read barcodes from further away to allow for quick scanning of items as they pass through a workflow on a conveyor belt.

If you suspect operation issues could be responsible for your scan problems take some time to review the specs and user manual of your scanner. Since environmental and label construction factors may have an impact as well, experiment with angle and distance recommendations to find an ideal method. Once you’ve taken the time to familiarize yourself with your scanner, provide your team with training on proper use and any additional tips or tricks you discovered as you experimented with the scan angle and distance.

3.   Your Barcode Labels Aren’t Suited to Your Application or Environment

So you have the right equipment and your employees are fully trained to use it but you’re still having consistent scan issues. Now it’s time to look at your barcodes and their relationship to your application and environment.

There are 2 major application and environmental factors when it comes to scannability: image quality as well as dirt and damage.

Image Quality

Image quality is determined by your printer—both its specifications and how it’s being operated and maintained.

First you want to make sure you have the right printer for the job—and by that we mean it’s capable of printing the resolution you need (in most cases it will be). Most printers are capable of at least 200 dpi image resolution, if not 300 dpi. 300 dpi is considered standard and is suitable for nearly all applications.

There is really only one situation where image resolution can become an issue—you have really small labels and are trying to store a lot of data.

If your printer meets dpi requirements but barcodes still aren’t performing, or performance seems to be worsening over time, the operation or maintenance of your printers could be the culprit.

Does your printer have multiple speed options? Are you always running it at the highest speed? If you answered yes to both of these questions and you’re experiencing scanning problems you may want to try lowering the speed of your printer. Speed compromises quality, so although your printer may be capable of 300 dpi, it may not be capable of that quality when running at 12 inches per second.

Have you replaced your print head recently? Are you cleaning it regularly? If not, your printer may just need a little TLC, you can click here to learn how to properly care for your printhead. Some suppliers offer regular maintenance visits so be sure to take advantage of those offerings if they are part of your contract! A well maintained printer will perform better and last longer so, prioritize your printer’s wellness to take your investment further.

Concerned about your ANSI score? Find out what it really is here >

Dirt & Damage

Many of our customers work in harsh environments where grease, grime or harsh chemicals are unavoidable. These factors can play a major role in the readability of your barcodes.

First, if you’re working in a particularly grimy environment you will want to ensure barcodes are wiped clean before scanning if you are struggling with reads. Dirt and grime covering even just a section of your barcode can prevent a scanner from getting an accurate read.

If your barcodes are clean and you’re struggling to get reads towards the latter end of harsh processing or storage practices, the issue may have more to do with damage than dirt. Harsh chemicals, extreme temperatures and abrasion can all lead to barcode damage. Whether the damage comes in the form of peeling, smearing or scratching, it can affect barcode scanning.

Because these damaging exposures are likely a necessary part of your processing, the best way to ensure the readability of your barcodes is to protect your barcodes. Take a look at your print technology, is it the most durable option? If you’re utilizing a print on-demand strategy you’ll likely want to be using thermal transfer technology, as it’s the most durable print on-demand technology. If that’s not working and you can sacrifice time sensitive information, talk to your supplier about more durable pre-printed options.

Find out how our ‘FLAP’ histology slide label provides extra barcode protection  while accommodating a print on-demand strategy

If you’re already ordering pre-printed labels ask your supplier if they have any recommendations. They may have more durable options, they might cost a bit more, but you’ll see return in the lasting integrity of your products or samples.

We offer various durable print technologies that simply require too much equipment for most of our customers to achieve in-house, we can also enhance their durability with coatings and laminates. In addition, our customers in healthcare can gain access to highly durable marking technologies, like direct mark and ceramic labels, through our READY Labware Services program.

A comprehensive labeling service to suit your specifications. Download the READY Labware Services Brochure

As you can see, there are a lot of things that can interfere with the readability of your barcodes. Fortunately there are a lot of ways you can correct scanning issues on your own. We hope this blog helps you locate and solve any readability issues in your facility, and if you weren’t able find a solution it might be time to give your suppliers or solutions partner a call.

This leads us to another piece of advice, if you aren’t already, we recommend working with a solutions partner rather than individual suppliers if you can. When you work with a solutions partner they can source all necessary equipment and utilize their expertise to ensure your barcodes and equipment are complimentary to one another for optimal scanning.

If you have any additional questions about barcodes, readability or any of our solutions please feel free to reach out or visit our tech support page to resolve any issues you’re having with Computype.

Running into an issue with a Computype solution? Check out our support page for  advice or to reach out directly to the team

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John Masica

Based in St. Paul, MN, USA, John Masica is Computype’s Technical Support Specialist. Specializing in label printer maintenance and engineering, John is the go-to person for all things label printing. Through his 24 years here at Computype, he has learned many tips and tricks to make your label printing easier and more efficient.