Recently, a question stretching the limits of barcodes was posed to us.
“How small can a barcode get?”
This customer has a need for barcodes as small as we can make them. As this is not a question we receive every day, we decided to do some testing to find out. We already knew the best barcode for tagging small items would be a 2-D barcode, but we didn’t know all of the limits. So we proceeded to make some samples and identify the limits of how small we could go!
From a manufacturing perspective, there were two issues that needed to be addressed.
A. The very slight issues with registration between the printing and die cutting. Normally these are on the order of half a mm top to bottom and left to right, but with small barcodes, this can become an issue. In example A below, it is clear that the text and barcode are not centered in the tag – something we had to avoid.
B. Quiet zones need to be maintained for 2D barcodes of one cell equivalent around the edge of the barcode. In example B below, the red zone is the quiet zone which is required for readability of the barcodes.
I should also mention that we had two constraints imposed on us by our customer. They wanted:
- A six digit number preceded by letter – good for up to 27 million unique barcodes.
- A human readable number that could be read with the naked eye below and company information as the header.
- And the label had to be readable by all of the following barcode readers
As it turned out, the printing of the company information and human readable were the final limiting issues for the size of the tag. In terms of the barcode size, we were able to get the following sizes for 2D Data Matrix barcodes to be readable for all the associated barcode readers:
|12 x 12 cell
|3mm X 3mm
|8 x 18 cell
|2mm X 4mm
The final barcode tag size for this customer was 5mm X 5mm. Could we have gone smaller? Most certainly! But given the limitations of their scanners’ reading capability and the need for a human eye readable number, this was the appropriate tag for this customer.
If your company has difficult tagging problems – or just a question that is out of the ordinary, please drop us a e-mail and let us see if we can solve it for you!
This post was originally posted June 20, 2012, and updated January 10, 2019.