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Barcoding 101

Our guide to compliant barcoding

As a GS1 Alliance Partner, insignia are equipped with the knowledge and training to provide barcoding solutions to our customers, ensuring they are complying with the global standards (set by GS1 Australia).

Any company who needs to barcode their trade units for point of sale purposes will need to obtain a set of barcode numbers from GS1 Australia. These numbers are assigned to companies and are unique in identifying products from each other using a number called a GTIN – global trade item number.

Barcoding is necessary to keep track of sales, orders and pricing information and is used by almost all retailers in Australia. The price, description and any other details about your product are not stored in the barcode; it is simply a 'unique look-up number'.

1D vs 2D Barcodes

The difference between 1D and 2D barcodes begin with their appearance. While 1D barcodes have black and white contrasting vertical lines, 2D barcodes are built with black and white squares or dots. Both serve distinct purposes – 1D codes have offered price lookup functionality for decades. However, 2D codes can be used to store much larger amounts of data about products, traceability, authentication and more. These abilities of a 2D barcode improve inventory management, enhance recall readiness, greater sustainability and ethical sourcing, better product authentication and greater brand trust.

It’s also important to understand the difference between GS1 Datamatrix and Datamatrix barcodes. While both barcodes look the same, the GS1 DataMatrix begins with the special start sequence FNC1. The FNC1 turns a DataMatrix code into a GS1 DataMatrix code. It tells scanners that the code is structured in accordance with GS1 standards and how to interpret the data. A scanner will generate an error message if it is expecting a GS1 DataMatrix code, but the label only contains a DataMatrix code.

Source: GS1 Australia

Transitioning to 2D Barcodes

1D barcodes, such as EAN/UPC, are only capable of carrying a product identifier known as the Global Trade Item Number® (GTIN®). 2D barcodes can carry additional data, such as expiration date, batch/lot number, serial number and more. Having this additional data in the barcode adds value by allowing the information to be automatically captured and acted on.

Some 2D barcodes, like a QR Code powered by GS1 Digital Link, can carry additional data while connecting consumers and other users to online resources and experiences. Having this data in the barcode adds value by allowing the information to be automatically captured and acted on. In addition to carrying more data, 2D barcodes are likely to be smaller than their 1D counterparts and include features, like built-in error correction that add to their reliability.


By 2027, the industry is planning to implement 2D barcodes, however, during this transition stage there will be trials of a combination of EAN/UPC and an option 2D barcode. This is due to some items not requiring additional data beyond the GTIN to the product. 1D barcodes will still be used and coexist for as long as there are uses for them and the shift to 2D barcodes is purely industry driven.

  • Increased data storage - Linear (1D) barcodes store less than 25 alphanumeric characters, while 2D barcodes can store thousands whilst freeing up packaging space.
  • Inventory management - 1D barcodes are great for retailers and grocery stores but can’t contain enough information for businesses who want to track more than just name and pricing of a product.
  • Enhanced marketing – QR codes can be scanned by prospective customers to learn more about your company, a link to an interesting website or a short viewing experience.


Once a barcode is scanned, it will reference a particular item stored in a retailers’ system – which will store more information about the product.

Products that are identical and have the same characteristics (size, weight, shape, colour) will have the same GTIN barcode number. If products vary in any description, they will be required to have a different GTIN from that of other products.

The thought of learning the GS1 barcoding system can be very overwhelming. However, GS1 Australia have provided an easy four step guide to obtaining a barcode. insignia also offer software available to produce barcode formats, making it easier for your company to produce the correct standardisation for products throughout the logistics chain.

Your Guide to Barcodes - Four steps for getting a barcode

Follow these steps to ensure that your barcoding is up to standard. Contact us for any enquiries you have about your barcoding needs.

The type of barcode used is defined by the type of item that is required to be barcoded:

Retail items (also referred to as point of sale and consumer items)

To begin with, make a list of your retail items which will need a GTIN-13 barcode.

Non-Retail Items (Inners and Cartons)

The most common type of barcode needed for non-retail items is a GTIN-14 barcode

GS1-128 barcodes may also be used and allow for additional information such as use-by dates and batch numbers

After listing your retail items, list your inners and cartons that will require barcoding. Check the list of non-retail items against your retail items to ensure you have thought of all the necessary inners and carton barcodes required.

Pallets (Logistics Units)

If you or your trading partners require identification at a pallet level within the logistics chain, an SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code) is required for each pallet.

SSCC label formats come standard with most barcoding software, and the standard must be adhered to in order for your trade partners to receive goods in their warehouses and distribution centres.

After finding the correct types of barcodes needed for your trade units, it is important to note the barcode specifications that need to be adhered to. Should a barcode not adhere to the standards set by GS1 Australia, inefficiencies will be caused in the supply chain causing dramas to your trade partners and in effect your products will not be stocked on shelves.


Barcodes are required to be specific sizes in order for the barcode to be read by the scanner. If the barcode is not the required size, the scanner cannot read the bars and register the number, requiring costly manual intervention. The below size guide will help to ensure your barcodes are the correct size when placed on the product in its' formed state. Remember that it is important to consider the product in its' formed state – as the process of vacuuming, sealing, labelling and plastic wrapping products should not tamper with the readability of the product.


Cutting the barcodes height to fit in with the package design is not recommended due to the scanning problems it causes. See the size guide above as a guide for the minimum label heights required on each trade unit, carton, inner and pallet.


A scanner produces a red laser light that reads the spaces and bars, recognises the contrast between dark and light and returns a number according to the width of the bars (which is determined by the space in between the bars and the bar width itself). A dark barcode on a light background is essential as the scanner recognises only contrast. It is important to note that a red laser scanner will not read a red barcode – because it will not read the spaces upon reflecting its own red light against the contrasting background.

Scannable Barcodes:

  • White background, black barcode
  • Orange background, black barcode
  • Yellow background, black barcode

Non-scannable Barcodes:

  • Black background, white barcode
  • Yellow background, red barcode
  • Blue background, yellow barcode


As mentioned earlier, the product must be in its' finished form before the barcode is applied. That means all plastic wrap, labels, vacuuming and sealing should be applied to the product before the barcode is applied to the product. Seams, seals, additional labels, corners, overlapping materials etc. can render the barcode unreadable. Pallets have specific location requirements which can be found by visiting the GS1 Australia website.

Quiet Zones

Barcodes require a specific measurement of 'Quiet Zones' on either side of the barcode in order for the scanner to recognise the bars and spaces contained within it. The scanner will identify the quiet zones first, and then identify that it should read the bars and spaces contained within the quiet zones. Areas to the left and right of the barcode must be kept clear of obstructions that will cause scanning difficulties.

insignia can help to prepare your barcode by using barcoding software – it takes the difficulty out of ensuring that quiet zones, magnification requirements and other specifications are adhered to. We will also work with you to find out what you are barcoding and provide advice on the right label stock and printing method.

It is important to produce a crisp, clear barcode without smudges or blur – imperfections in the print of the barcode will make it difficult for the scanner to read the bars.

Barcode printers are quite common in Australia and overseas, and popular brands are readily available:

However it is important to ensure the supplier you choose can provide the advice you need on printing the barcode you are after, to the specifications needed, on the label material required for your product. If they are not a GS1 Alliance Partner, it is unlikely they will be able to help you with your requirements.

Barcode Testing

Barcodes should then be sent to GS1 Australia's Testing Services team for verification that the barcode adheres to the standards necessary and obtaining to that barcodes standard. This is a great way to check that your product is able to be scanned in store, and most major retailers will require a GS1 Barcode Verification Report before accepting your product in store.

A verification test is a wise precaution to ensure that your barcode is able to be read – failure to do so may result in your product being rejected from the store where you will need to re-label it before acceptance.

Failed Barcodes

The following images below are photos taken by GS1 Testing Services, of barcodes sent to them to test. There are a number of reasons barcodes can be rejected, including colour, print quality, location placed on product and size.

Problem: Location not being able to be scanned

Problem: Barcode blurry and not able to be scanned

Problem: Barcode print quality is incorrect and can't be scanned

Problem: Barcode is cut off and cannot be scanned

Problem: Multiple barcodes on one carton, multiple SKU's

Problem: Contrast of orange barcode on grey background cannot be read

Problem: Red barcodes cannot be read by scanners

Problem: See-through bag, must be opaque

Problem: Wrap obsecures barcodes and cannot be read

More Information

Information is freely available about the barcode testing services on the GS1 Australia website. Visit the website to find out more about the process of sending in barcodes for testing. You are required to fill out a form to send in barcodes for testing, which you can obtain from the GS1 Australia site or download below. Additionally, if you are a member of GS1 Australia you will not be charged for sending in barcodes for testing. If you are a non-member, you will be charged at the non-member rate (please see below PDF for fee schedules).

Download the GS1 Australia Barcode Testing Form
Download the GS1 Australia Fee Schedule

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