How to select a Barcode Scanner

Barcode decoder

Barcode decoder are devices that read 1D or 2D barcodes and send/transmit the data contained to an App or software. The 1D laser scanners were first developed to emit a light that bounce back information to the reading sensor. Barcode reader evolved then to 1D Linear Imagers using CCD technology where an array of light sensors captures and convert the image into data, these scanners can capture and interpret poor or damaged barcodes. Current 2D Scanners (area imagers) can read one- and two-dimensional barcode by image analysis. In general, linear barcodes (depending on the type) can only hold up to 20-25 characters.

A 2D barcode scanner doesn’t just encode alphanumeric information. These codes can also contain images, website addresses, voice, and other types of binary data. That means you can make use of the information whether you are connected to a database or not. A large amount of information can travel with an item labeled with a 2D barcode scanner. The 2D barcodes can hold up to 2,000 characters or more because they read horizontal and vertical information.

In most breeding program activities it is recommended to use 1D barcodes, where alphanumeric unique identifiers can be used to identify germplasm, samples, plots, plants, inventory stocks, etc.

When possible, select scanner with 1D (one dimension barcode) and 2D (two dimensions barcode as QR) capability.


Corded vs cordless

Corded scanner limits the operation to 1-3m to the workstation (PC, laptop or tablet). Corded scanners are recommended for weighting harvested seed in bags, lab sample reception.

Cordless scanners allow several hours of unplugged work sending readings to the workstation (usually a PC or laptop connected to docker/cradle or BT receptor), it may send readings to workstation at 10 to 100 m away. Cordless scanners are recommended for activities that may require freely operation as storage room management, seed preparation for planting. Cordless scanners usually require charging and/or communication cradles. For cordless scanners and its cradles verify the country specific AC line cords availability.



General purpose scanners are a good option for lab use, but when barcoding operation that are in the field or in places where harsh environments are a concern, a rugged barcode scanners are a more suitable option. Ruggerized scanners are pack with tough casings that can withstand drops and in some cases operate in high moisture and/or low temperature conditions.

IP ratings are usually made up of four characters. The first two characters, I and P, stand for Ingress Protection or - in other words - how good it is at stopping stuff getting inside it. The third digit is the number that indicates how good it is at protecting against small solids (dust/sand etc), with a maximum rating of 6. This ranges from no protection at all, through small screws, a little dust or all dust. The last digit is the liquid or water resistance rating, with a max rating of 8.

For lab use a Scanner IP52 rated may be a good option, for operation in the field or harsh environments look at scanners rated P65 to IP68.

IP = Ingress Protection
6 = Dust Tight
8 = Survives being submerged in water up to 1.5m deep (normally for 30 minutes)

For operation in cold rooms as medium-term storage facilities choose models that work at low temperatures. Also consider that the barcode scanner may present problems if moved in and out controlled temperature rooms increasing the moisture condensation that may affect the reads.


OS Compatibility

Most Apps to be integrated with barcode reading are based on Windows and/or Android.


Label/barcode size and density

Choose specific models for small size barcodes with high resolution scanning capacity, when scanning labels on Eppendorf tubes using a small label and barcode, it is requiring a barcode scanner that can read them, for example in Zebra brand, look for HD (High density) models. Similar decision of selecting the model when scanning for barcodes with high density information.


Scanning/reading distance

Decode ranges depend on printing resolution, barcode size and density, contrast, and ambient light dependent. Regular distance/standard range scanner can read accurately barcodes at distances from 1cm to 100cm. Long distance/extended range scanners may read barcodes at distances over 10-20 m. For most activities in a breeding program a regular distance/standard range scanner do the job.

Ambient Light Immunity: most scanners are for warehouse operation, some scanners do not perform well at direct sunlight, revise specs when operation require to work in sunlight environment (>100000 LUX).


Some examples of reliable Barcode scanner are: Zebra DS3608-SR (Corded), Zebra DS3608-SR (Cordless).