Barcode Scanners – How to Choose

Choosing a barcode scanner can be a challenging task if you don’t have a lot of experience.  This is a quick overview of what you should know when selecting barcode scanners.

1D or 2D?

The first question you need to ask is what type of barcode you will be scanning:  1D or 2D.  This is important because a 1D scanner cannot scan 2D barcodes, although 2D scanners can scan 1D barcodes.  A 1D barcode has black vertical lines and looks like:

 code 3 of 9 barcode

1D barcodes have a range of symbologies:  code39, code128 and UPC are typical.  UPC (Universal Product Codes) barcodes are what is found on merchandise and store products, whereas the other symbologies are typically used for internal tracking such as manufacturer serial numbers, inventory locations, etc.  Most scanners are configurable to filter out and read only the symbologies you specify.  If you don’t know the symbology you are using, you should check to confirm that the scanner can read it if you elect to use a 1D scanner.

2D barcodes store more information than 1D, but they require a 2D reader.  Common examples of 2D include drivers license, FedEx and UPS package tracking.  Benefits of 2D include being able to read the barcode even if a portion of the label is damaged or obscured.

 2D barcode image sample 

Most people need 1D barcode scanners.

Imager or Laser Barcode Scanner?

Laser barcode scanners read 1D barcodes. Most new handheld, PDA or mobile scanners have converted and use an imager. An imager allows you to read 1D or 2D, although when you purchase the scanner you should be careful to specify that you need to read 2D barcodes even if it says in includes an imager.

Laser scanners emit a thin red line of light (the laser) which reads the barcode. Many imagers also emit a red line of light to help the user target what they are scanning.  Imagers tend to read broken or dirty barcodes better than laser scanners.

Mobile, Handheld or Fixed?

The form factor for scanners varies by the type of application. Most of our customers use handheld scanners built into rugged mobile devices like Intermec CN3, CN50 or Motorola MC55 or MC75 devices.  These scanners are built into mobile computers and mobile software application talks directly to the scanner using the scanner API.  Examples of mobile computer scanner applications include:

  • Inventory counts
  • Proof of Delivery
  • Asset tracking and audits
  • Inspections
  • Operator rounds
motorola MC55 intermec CN3
Motorola MC55 Intermec CN3

Mobile computer scanners range in price from $1250 to $3000+.

Handheld barcode scanners are dedicated devices that usually are connected to a PC or terminal.  With handheld scanners, it is up to the PC to handle the application and processing of the barcode. These are usually seen in retail environments at the Point of Sale (POS) or mounted on forklifts where an operator has a terminal on the forklift and uses the scanner to confirm what they load. 

Handheld scanners usually connect via the serial port and can work wirelessly (e.g. Bluetooth or proprietary) or tethered.  If wireless, they can scan anywhere from 2 – 30 feet away from the host computer.

Most handheld scanners have an option to take whatever is scanned and put it in the keyboard buffer, which makes it appear that someone typed the barcode value. When operating in this mode, it is simple to use with existing applications. You should check with each type of scanner to ensure it supports this, otherwise you will need to ensure it has drivers to support your operating system. Most support Window; however, that does not mean they support Windows CE which is usually the OS on forklift terminals. 

If you elect to use a BlueTooth scanner, you need to ensure it supports your device. For instance, if you want to scan to a phone or PDA, you need to ensure the scanner has drivers. Just because you have a Blackberry device with Bluetooth, do not assume at Bluetooth scanner will work.

Handheld scanners like the Motorola LS 2208 are around $200. Tethered scanners can be less than $100.  Bluetooth scanners like the Baracoda or Socket scanner are $400-$600.

Symbol LS2208 General Purpose Bar Code Scanner Motorola LS 2208

A third option is a fixed mount scanners. These scanners are usually installed on conveyor belts.  Self-serve grocery checkout stands and store price lookups also have fixed mount scanners. With fixed mount scanners, you have to ensure the barcode will pass within a readable distance and at a suitable angle. Grocery store checkout stands have multiple scanners to address this. In applications like conveyor belts, fixed mount scanners can be tied to light-activated sensors so the scanner is activated when the light beam is broken. This enables you to 1) know when you should expect to read a barcode 2) control the time to read a barcode.

Fixed mount scanners for industrial type use can range in price from $500 – $1500. 

Keyence BL-1300 SeriesKeyence  BL-1300


If you have questions on scanners, please enter a comment or submit a question.  We work with a number of companies and can assist in scanner selection as well as barcode label generation.


  1. Teresa Rivera says

    we get about 100 ups and fed ex in a day for our company. We need a scanner that when scanned would like the tracking number and the name on the package. and a way to upload that into the computer so we can print out a list of all the packages. Is there any scanner out there like this? Or anything that you can suggest. Because we hand write everything and very time consuming. Please give me any information you have. email me or call me at …
    Teresa R.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *