Barcode Scanner Buying Guide

What you need to know before buying a barcode scanner

Barcode Scanner Buying Guide

by Karl Trepagnier | Senior Solutions Architect

What you need to know before buying a barcode scanner

Honeywell Granit 1981i Barcode ScannerBarcode scanners offer a streamlined way to capture data for inventory tracking, distribution, shipping and receiving, and more. They are designed to integrate into your operations with minimal disruption. The decision to deploy barcode scanners in your workforce can result in increased productivity, reduced operating costs, and ultimately, competitive advantage.

But before committing to buy a barcode scanner, you should evaluate the type that will work best for your business. In addition to having a clear understanding of your specific application or use case, here are some questions you should ask yourself before purchasing a barcode scanner.

1. What barcode type are you scanning?

The first step in identifying the right scanner is to determine whether you are scanning one-dimensional (1D) or two-dimensional (2D) barcodes. A 1D barcode will suffice for most applications, but in some cases a 2D barcode is required.

1D barcodes 1D Barcode Exampleare the most common barcode type. They are used in warehouses, retail and point-of-sale operations around the world. Popular 1D barcode types include UPC, EAN and Code 39. UPC codes are primarily used on consumer goods in the U.S., while EAN codes are more common in the European market. Code 39 and Code 128 barcodes have alphanumeric capabilities and are often used in the automotive, transportation and supply chain industries.

2D barcodes 2D Barcode Examplecan store more information in a smaller space. While 1D barcodes typically contain less than 30 characters, 2D barcodes are capable of storing up to 3000 characters in a more compact format. 2D barcodes can embed text, numbers, and even web addresses that take users directly to a website for online purchases. Common types of 2D barcodes include QR codes, PDF417, and Datamatrix.

From 1D to 2D

A 1D scanner will not be able to read 2D barcodes, but a 2D scanner can read 1D and 2D barcodes. So, what if your business only requires 1D scanning today but may need 2D capabilities in the future?

The good news is that manufacturers have started creating devices that are capable of both 1D and 2D technology. For example, the Honeywell Voyager 1400 is a line of general-purpose 2D imagers that are upgradeable through software and do not require reconfiguring the hardware. This is a cost-effective option for companies that need to add more features to their handhelds but can’t afford to lose productivity by sending the device back to the manufacturer for the upgrade. Another affordable 2D imager is the Honeywell Intermec SG20T corded scanner, which is also available in a wireless Bluetooth option.   

What about mobile computers?

If you are considering mobile computers for your workforce instead of barcode scanners, the choice between 1D and 2D is less critical. In most cases, the scan engine in a mobile computer can be upgraded from 1D to 2D by sending the device back to the manufacturer and requesting the switch. There’s a cost associated with doing this, but it’s a significantly cheaper way to get 2D scanning capabilities than purchasing a new 2D mobile computer.

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2. At what distance do you need to scan your barcode labels?

The second question to ask pertains to scanner range. For example, do you need to scan shelf labels from more than 10 feet away or read barcode labels on items at close range?

Barcode scan range, or depth of field refers to the distance at which a barcode scanner will be able to read a barcode label. Barcode scanners are designed for a variety of ranges, and you should choose one capable of scanning labels at the distance you need; otherwise, the device may not work for your use case.

Standard Range (SR) – from contact to around 2.5 feet

Medium Range (MR) – from contact up to 3.5- 4 feet

Long Range (LR) – from around 2 feet up to 20-25 feet

Extended Range (ER) – from 3 feet up to 60 feet

As you may notice from the ranges listed here, a long-range scanner doesn’t have the same close-range scanning ability as a standard-range scanner. If you need to scan barcodes from far away and also at close range, you may require two different devices.

Barcode size is determined by the distance at which your labels need to be read. The longer your scan range, the larger the barcode needs to be in order for the scanner to accurately capture the data. If you need to scan a barcode at long range, be sure the barcode is printed in the correct mil size and dpi so that the scanner can read it.

Retro-reflective material will be required for long-distance barcode scanning. In order for a scanner to read the barcode at extended range, retro-reflective material provides greater depth of field – about three times greater range than paper labels -- so that the device can read the laser beam that is reflected back to it. Typically, these labels are custom printed and cannot be created in house. For example, warehouses often have hang tags that denote staging areas or locations, and these are commonly printed on retro-reflective labels.

3. What is your environment?

Environment will determine several factors about the type of barcode scanner you need, including ruggedness, connectivity, and form factor.


How durable does your barcode scanner need to be? What is the likelihood that your device will be damaged in your environment? Will your scanner be used in a retail store, shipping and receiving, warehouse or stockroom environment?   

Retail – Typically, scanners used in retail environments aren’t subjected to repeated drops. They may occasionally be dropped onto the counter from a short distance, but this doesn’t normally cause enough damage to affect performance.

The Symbol LS2208 is a popular general-purpose handheld scanner suitable for retail point-of-sale and other light-duty applications. Common types of scanners used in retail that are usually stationary are omnidirectional laser scanners and in-counter scanners.

barcode scanner warehouseShipping and receiving, warehouse or stockroom – These environments will require a more heavy-duty scanner to withstand drops to concrete and other normal wear and tear. Industrial barcode scanners are designed to be durable and reliable even in harsh conditions. Also referred to as rugged scanners, they are more expensive than general-purpose scanners. However, rugged scanners are typically more cost-effective in the long run because their sturdy design helps avoid maintenance and repair costs. Most rugged handhelds like the Zebra DS3608 are available with Bluetooth connectivity for increased scanning mobility in a warehouse environment.


Does your environment require workers to move freely or stand in one place to scan barcodes? A barcode scanner must be connected to a computer or base station to automatically capture data. This can be achieved via tethered (corded) or cordless options. 

Tethered – Some manufacturers refer to corded scanners as “tethered” if they are physically connected to a computer or base. Using a USB scanner is the most basic and common way to connect -- simply plug the device into your computer and get started. Many scanners are available with other port types, including serial, parallel, keyboard wedge and RS-485 to match the port of your computer.

Bluetooth – As a simple wireless connectivity option, Bluetooth scanners pair easily with a laptop, tablet or base unit and typically do not require additional hardware or software to connect. Using a Bluetooth barcode scanner in a warehouse environment can significantly increase efficiency and productivity for workers by giving them freedom of movement.

Bluetooth connectivity has a limited range, typically around five to ten meters. The range varies based on the conditions of your environment, and walls or other obstacles can reduce signal strength. Bluetooth works best when there is line of sight between the scanner and computer or base station.

Datalogic Area Imager ScannerMost scanners are available in corded or Bluetooth options. However, Bluetooth may not work for warehouse environments that run multiple systems on different frequencies. To avoid interference from Bluetooth, you will need to set specific frequency ranges for different systems. Not all scanners are capable of this, but Datalogic offers scanners with higher frequency options for environments where Bluetooth can’t be used to connect a scanner with a base unit or handheld computer.

Form factors

Form factor refers to the physical shape and design of the scanner. While industry requirements should also be considered, the environment in which the scanner will be used is the most critical factor.

Handheld – As the most common type, handheld barcode scanners are point-and-shoot devices where the user simply pulls the trigger to scan the barcode. Sometimes referred to as “gun” format because of their easy-to-grip handle, these scanners are available in corded or wireless options. Handheld scanners are available with almost any type of scan engine from SR, MR, LR, ER, direct part marking (DPM), driver’s license (DL), 1D and 2D.

Handheld scanners are versatile enough for use in a variety of industries. While a specific type of scanner isn’t typically required for a certain industry, healthcare professionals can benefit from scanners made of antimicrobial materials to withstand the chemicals from cleaning fluids. Healthcare scanners are similar to general-purpose standard-range handheld scanners, but they are designed to meet the demands of the industry environment.

In-counter – Designed to be installed into a countertop, in-counter scanners are commonly used in grocery checkouts. Similar to presentation scanners, items must be passed over an in-counter scanner, and the high-volume scan engine can read barcodes from any angle.

Presentation – Typically used on a counter in a retail environment, presentation scanners contain an omnidirectional scan engine that allows you to scan barcodes from any angle. Items are scanned by placing them in front of the scanner. Omnidirectional barcode scanners are ideal for retail, Point-of-Sale (POS) and some manual picking applications.

Fixed mount – Used in retail POS and transportation and logistics applications, fixed-mount barcode scanners are powerful hands-free devices that can scan any type of barcode, even direct part marking and driver’s license codes.

Mobile computers – For applications that require a portable scanner and computer in one device, mobile computers are a good option. These are typically used in distribution and manufacturing environments and are available in rugged industrial form factors to minimize wear and tear.  Vehicle mount computers are an example of devices that can be attached to forklifts, allowing the operator to scan items from the vehicle. Handheld scanners can also be paired with mobile computers to capture barcodes on smaller items in the warehouse.

Form factors by application

The chart below includes examples of the type of scanners commonly used in certain applications. Keep in mind that this list refers to typical scanner attributes and should not be considered all-inclusive.

General Purpose Applications



Scan Range

Form Factor




Grocery – checkout



Grocery – other




Healthcare – Admittance




Healthcare – Pharma




Healthcare - Patient Care













Ruggedized Applications






Standard, Extended

Vehicle mount computers; Handheld

Stock room


Standard, Mid




Standard, Long

Vehicle mount computers; Handheld 

Laser scanners and imagers

If you’re doing research on barcode scanners, you are probably finding a lot of information about laser scanners versus linear imagers or area imagers. However, this terminology can be confusing, and answering the question “do I need a laser scanner or an imager” requires an understanding of the difference between these two scan engine types. While this can be educational from a buyer’s perspective, it can also overcomplicate the decision-making process. Laser scanners are typically used for extended-range scanning, but an increasing number of linear imagers also have similar long-range capabilities, making it less important to differentiate between the two types.

Here at Peak Technologies Direct, we recommend a requirements-based approach where your ideal scanner type is determined by the needs of your application. If you know your barcode type, scan range, and environment, you won’t need to figure out whether you need a laser scanner or an imager.

Your barcode scanner purchase should be determined by the requirements of your business. To learn more or discuss the needs of your particular application, contact us today.

Karl Trepagnier
Senior Solutions Architect, Peak Technologies
As a dedicated solutions architect for Peak Technologies customers, Karl brings extensive technical expertise with multiple data collection technologies, including WLAN, RFID, mobile computing, printing, media and software. Prior to joining Peak Technologies, Karl spent eight years in the RFID industry where he focused on the healthcare and pharmaceuticals markets. Before that, Karl spent 26 years at Intermec as a Sr. Field Engineer.


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