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System ID Barcode Scanner FAQs

Our barcode scanner FAQs provide answers to questions commonly asked about scanners. Browse this list to learn more. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, please contact System ID.

Barcode Scanner Basics

Barcode Scanner FAQs

Have questions about scanners? Check out our barcode scanner FAQs!

What is a barcode scanner?

Also known as a barcode reader, a barcode scanner is an electronic device that captures data stored in printed barcodes. It uses a light source, lens, photo conductor, and decoder to collect, analyze, and transmit information. Unlike mobile computers that serve as their own host, barcode scanners must link to a host computer to pass along captured data.

Barcode scanners automate the data collection process, which, in turn, reduces human error and expedites processes such as asset tracking, inventory control, and point-of-sale transactions. This makes them ideal for most any organization and industry.

Learn more about barcode scanners.

What is the purpose of a scan engine?

A scan engine sits inside a barcode scanner or mobile computer. When either device is activated, the engine works with the light source, lens, photo conductor, and decoder to read the barcode. This allows organizations to extract information stored in the code.

There are three types of barcode scan engines: laser, linear imager, and 2D area imager. The laser and linear imager only read linear, or one-dimensional (1D) barcodes, while the 2D area imager reads both 1D and 2D (two-dimensional) barcodes. Both the linear imager and the 2D area imager take pictures of the barcode, which enables the engines to read poorly printed and damaged barcodes.

Scanners with 2D engines are omnidirectional, meaning they scan barcodes from any angle. They are also more accurate and fast, which is why organizations are widely adopting their use.

Learn more about barcode scan engines.

What types of barcode scanners are available?

Barcode scanners typically fall into one of the following categories:

  • Handheld – Most popular type; comes corded or cordless
  • Mobile computers – Combine a PC and scanner into one device
  • Presentation – Enables scanning of multiple items at once
  • In-counter – A type of presentation scanner that sits inside a counter
  • Fixed-mount – Attaches to an item such as a forklift or truck
  • Wearable – Worn on the body to expedite processing

Within each category are a wide variety of scanners with features that benefit specific environments, applications, and industries.

Learn more about barcode scanner types.

Which should I use—a corded or a cordless barcode scanner?

It depends on your requirements for connectivity, infrastructure, and data transmission. There are also industry and environmental issues to consider, such as compliance with federal regulations and scanning distances.

Learn more about corded and cordless scanners.

What is the difference between a cordless barcode scanner and a mobile computer?

Many people think a mobile computer is a cordless scanner, which is partially true. You can wirelessly capture and transfer data using both a wireless scanner and a mobile computer, but that’s where the similarities end. A barcode scanner only provides the ability to scan, while a mobile computer combines a PC and a scanner into one device.

Another way to tell whether a wireless device is a mobile computer is to see whether it comes with an operating system that allows you to upload software applications. If it does, then the scanning device is considered a mobile computer.

Learn more about wireless barcode scanners and mobile computers.

1D vs. 2D Barcode Scanners

What is a 1D barcode scanner?

A 1D barcode scanner reads linear, or one-dimensional (1D), barcodes, such as those commonly used in retail packaging in the United States. You must use a scanner with a laser or a linear imager scan engine to read linear barcodes.

Learn more about linear barcodes.

What is a 2D barcode scanner?

A 2D barcode scanner reads 1D and 2D barcodes, including those used on drivers’ licenses and in marketing, retailing, shipping, and logistics. Because 2D barcodes contain large amounts of data and can usually be read when damaged, organizations such as the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, and airlines depend on them for security and identification.

Learn more about 2D barcodes.

Which are better—1D or 2D barcode scanners?

Some organizations prefer 2D barcode scanners because they can read both 1D and 2D barcodes. Another advantage of 2D scanners is that they can also read damaged or poorly printed barcodes. This makes them ideal for environments where reliability and flexibility are important.

Mobile workers such as field service personnel also benefit from using 2D scanners, which allow them to capture digital images such as signatures. Laser (1D) scanners do not offer this capability.

Learn more about 1D and 2D barcode scanners.

Buying a Barcode Scanner

Do I need to purchase anything besides a scanner?

To answer that question, let’s take a quick look at how barcode scanning works.

A barcode scanner or mobile computer sends the information it captures to a computer. There, an application uses the data to automate processes such as inventory control, asset tracking and management, and retail point of sale. So, you would need to purchase software if you do not already have some. Wasp makes several that improve productivity and increase efficiency for all types of organizations, including small-to-medium-sized businesses.

You will also need a way to design and print your barcode labels. There is labeling software that helps with this process, or you can create a single barcode using our barcode generator tool.

To identify your products, assets, or inventory, you’ll need a barcode label or tag. We recommend that you determine your labeling requirements before purchasing a printer. Why? Barcode labels come in a multitude of sizes, stocks, and adhesives to accommodate most any use and industry. Too, labels dictate the type of printer you’ll need, so it’s critical that you identify labels first.

For help selecting a label, try our Barcode Label Finder. Or, contact a System ID label expert, who can recommend the right labeling solution and provide you with samples of name brand labels or Black Tie, an affordable option for organizations on a budget.

After identifying your labels, it’s time to pick a printer. As with labels, there is a wide variety of printers out there, including those by industry giants Zebra, Datamax O’Neil, and Brother. You can choose mobile or desktop printers for industrial, heavy-duty, or light use and may purchase them new or gently used. Check out our selection of certified, pre-owned barcode printers (and scanners).

I’ve done my research, but I’m still not sure what to buy. Can you help me?

Absolutely! System ID has been advising customers for 30 years, so we have the knowledge and experience to help you find the best barcode scanner.

When ready, give us a call at 1.855.484.8149. Our trained advisors are happy to listen to your requirements and recommend the right scanning solution for your needs. They are on call Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. (CT).

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Jay Schofield

Jay Schofield’s passion is numbers. For more than 10 years, he has been turning facts and figures into actionable business intelligence for System ID. When he’s not researching, analyzing, and planning for the “next big thing,” Jay can be spotted on the lake with family and friends.

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