Barcodes are a key part of any logistics process and have become common place in every day life; they're on every package we receive, every product we buy and are even used in restaurants to view the menu. Perhaps then, it is this familiarity, that leads people to misinterpret the rules of creating barcodes, resulting in a barcode that can't be scanned and is rejected.
We have recently seen customers creating barcodes in software like Crystal Reports and stretching them onto labels, printing barcodes over 2 labels, missing off or adding on characters, the list goes on...
So how can you ensure that your barcodes are always printed correctly? Follow our 3 simple steps to produce perfect barcodes every time:
Step 1 - Design Your Barcode Labels Using The Right Product
Most barcodes used within the supply chain have rules and standards that must be conformed to when they are created. Follow the rules and the barcodes will read and more importantly be accepted by the industry body that has created the standard. Unfortunately, some developers fail to understand the rules and structure of barcode creation, resulting in incorrectly formatted or entirely new barcode systems, that can't be read.
For example, Crystal Reports is a popular tool among developers for creating barcode labels, but it is not always adept at creating barcodes that adhere to industry standards. To ensure that barcode labels are created and structured correctly, it is best to use a tool or software application that takes data directly from your business system (ERP). Not only will this ensure that data is always up to date and accurate, but also that the barcodes and their structure are correct.
There are a number of software packages available for barcode label creation, some for on-premise use and others in the cloud. These applications sit outside the business system and pull data in a read-only format using standard ODBC connections or tools provided by the ERP company. By using a tool like this, businesses can ensure that their barcode labels are correctly structured and comply with industry standards, avoiding potential issues with unreadable or nonsensical barcodes.
Step 2: Choose The Right Media
Labels seem to be at the bottom of the to do list during a project implementation, yet they're one of the most crucial elements of an automated solution. Without a readable barcode, there is no barcode driven solution after all.
Selecting the correct media for your application is integral to the success of your operation. Labels need to be fit for purpose, which means matching them both to the products being labelled and their storage location. For example, purchasing direct thermal paper labels to be stuck onto items being stored outside is likely to result in black labels that disintegrate in the rain.
If you're printing thermal transfer labels for longer life or chemical/weather resistant labels, it's worth spending the time to ensure the ribbon and label combination you select are well matched and suitable. Smudged barcodes or missing text caused by using wax ribbons with plastic labels, won't produce the long term image you require.
Colour of label is another often overlooked element of labelling. Yes, your purple and blue pallet labels stand out easily to your operators, but do the barcodes scan? The answer is probably not. If the barcode scanner cannot differentiate between the background of the label and the barcode itself, scanning will fail. To test this out, photocopy one of your barcodes on a coloured background. If it comes out all black, it won't read, as that's how the scanner sees the image too. Opt instead for coloured borders to make products easily recognisable - but don't forget the quiet zones!
Step 3: Carry Out Routine Printer Maintenance
Nothing hampers barcode scanning more than lines of print missing on a label. Whether these are from pixel failure causing vertical white lines, bits of ribbon material stuck to the printhead causing white patches or ribbon wrinkle creating a bolt of white lightning across the label, the end result could well be costly rejection of your product by suppliers.
Regular cleaning protocols often lengthen the life of printheads and prevent poor print quality affecting barcode scanning, but actually getting operators to carry these out regularly can be somewhat of a challenge. In reality, cleaning printheads is a quick and easy task that simply involves running a cleaning pen over the surface of the printhead, to remove any paper dust or resin debris every time they change the roll of labels. Once they get into a routine, they won't even give it a second thought.
In the (not necessarily so unlikely) event that an operator puts a ribbon in upside down, burnt on ribbon residue can be polished off using specially designed cleaning film to restore print quality and keep barcode labels looking their best.
And don't forget the platen roller - one major cause of print quality issues is a worn or sliced platen roller. Ensure platen rollers are changed at around the same time as your printheads and make sure operators don't go anywhere near your printers with Stanley knives! There are much more effective ways to remove stuck labels!
Most modern printers have simple to fit printheads that can be changed by the user, causing minimal downtime. If you can keep a spare printhead and platen roller in stock, any print quality issues can be fixed quickly and with as little collateral damage as possible.
Follow these 3 simple steps and barcode label printing issues will be a thing of the past, but the best way to avoid any issues is to get good advice at the start of your project. If you have a problem with unreadable barcode labels, drop us a line and we'll happily share our vast knowledge of barcodes to get you printing perfect labels in no time.