A multi-color barcode

Barcode colors – a quick guide

Barcodes are extremely important for automatic identification and data capture (AutoID), but rarely the highlight of packaging design. ‘Why not add some color?’, you might think. Good idea, but be careful! Some color combinations can affect legibility. Scanning errors do not only kill efficiency in retail, logistics and production processes. They can also lead to high correction costs and upset business partners. This is why in addition to our 6 tips for better barcode quality, you should also consider the following advice!

Best Practice: black on white barcodes

Barcode scanners require a certain amount of light/dark contrast between the bars and gaps of barcodes so that their sensors can optimally detect and evaluate the reflected light. The reflection difference between light and dark elements is called Print Contrast Signal (PCS). If you don’t want to take any risks with the scanability, make sure it is not lower than 80 %.

Black and white makes for the highest contrast. Therefore, it is the most reliable and common combination for industrial markings, such as those realized with barcode labels. They are usually produced via so-called thermal printing methods.

Barcode schwarz/weiss

These colors go well together in barcodes

The rule is quite easy: always put dark colors on light backgrounds. For example, the following colors work well together:

Barcode colors that go well together

Bad color combinations for barcodes

light on dark

Generally, barcode colors must not be inverted. If the background is dark and cannot be changed or covered, here is a trick: Instead of printing the black bars, just print the white spaces!

Barcode weiß auf schwarz

light on light / dark on dark

Light stripes on a light background or dark stripes on a dark background are unsuitable because the contrast between the colors is usually insufficient for scanners.

Barcode gelb auf weißBarcode schwarz auf braun

red / white

Conventional barcode scanners use red light or infrared light. It is strongly reflected on red surfaces, which are therefore interpreted as white. If the background is also light, there is not enough contrast. Even shades with high red content (such as pink or orange) are unsuitable in combination with light colors as well.

Barcode rot auf weiß

green and black / blue and black

Being the complementary color to red, green also has a disadvantage with barcodes: Because green “swallows” the red light of the scanner, it is interpreted as black. Turquoise and blue tones do not form a good team with dark colors either.

Barcode schwarz auf grünBarcode schwarz auf blau

metallic colors

Shiny metallic colors and shimmering effects are problematic because they could reflect the light too much.

Barcode goldBarcode metallic

patterns / transparency

You guess it: Patterned backgrounds are not suitable for reliable barcodes. The same applies to transparent surfaces that allow the dark contents of the package to shine through and could thus impair contrast.

Barcode mit Muster-Hintergrund

Possible alternative: data matrix codes

Data matrix codes are two-dimensional barcodes and offer a few more advantages. Since a contrast of only 20 % is sufficient for most 2D barcode scanners, they allow more design options. In addition, they require less space and can therefore be integrated even more discreetly into the packaging design. Learn more about them here:

Test barcode quality and follow guidelines

When designing barcodes, there is a lot to consider. In some cases, legislators or business partners specify guidelines for product labeling. Incorrect markings could even lead to recalls. All barcodes used along the supply chain should therefore be thoroughly checked for quality in accordance with defined standards (see ISO/IEC 15416). Many manufacturers install appropriate verification systems in their production lines.

Rely on professional coding and marking systems

Whether you want to use label printers, print-and-apply labeling systems or professional inkjet printers for your industrial barcode applications: Weber Marking Systems has the right equipment for your business! Additionally, you might want to consider the use of RFID labeling systems to make your labeling process a lot more efficient. Contact us for more information:

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