All barcode scanners alike share the common purpose of reading barcodes & interpreting them into human-readable text. But not all scanners are created equal.

Early barcodes were only linear (1D). As the technology has advanced, 2D barcodes have grown in popularity and require a different scanning method – creating the great divide between 1D (linear) and 2D barcode scanners.

1D vs 2D Barcodes – What’s the Difference?

(Linear) 1D Barcodes1D-barcode 2D Barcodesqr-code data-matrix
Example UPC, Code 39 QR Code, Datamatrix
Data Stored Text (20-25 character limit) Text (2,000 character limit), voice, images, product information
Common Uses General retail, small-scale inventory management Mobile couponing, product/batch information, inventory management


As shown in the chart above, 2D barcodes are capable of storing much more data than 1D barcodes. A key differentiator between the two is where the data comes from. Because 1D barcodes are limited to 20-25 characters, they need to reference a database to look up detailed information about the specific product.

2D barcodes, capable of storing far more information, don’t need to reference a database. Instead, they store all of the specific information right in the barcode. This makes it extremely convenient for traceability and auditing product batches remotely or in a large facility.

Note: For more Barcodes 101, check out our What Is a Barcode? Article.

But what industries benefit most from making the 1D-to-2D switch?

RetailRetail button

  • Mobile Couponing

60% of today’s customers look for discounts and sales on mobile devices. While mobile coupon barcodes can come in linear form, many 1D scanners have a hard time scanning on reflective surfaces (like a smartphone screen) and may not read the barcode. 2D scanners are able to scan barcodes at multiple angles and on reflective surfaces, making it the ideal option for mobile couponing.

  • Stronger Inventory Management

Running a medium-to-large scale retail operation? Use 2D barcodes to store more information about inventory or lots of inventory. While the UPC linear barcode on the product itself simply stores its product number, a 2D barcode can keep track of expiration dates, date of arrival, color, weight, etc. to better manage inventory.

  • Loyalty Programs

Is someone interested in signing up for a loyalty program? Great, but save some time asking for their information. With a 2D scanner like the Honeywell Xenon 1902, you can scan the PDF417 barcode on the back of their driver’s license to collect their personal information instead. Just ask for their email address and they’re on their way to receiving those mobile coupons you send out to your loyal customers.

Manufacturing & Industrial WarehousingManufacturing

  • Improved Traceability

When it comes to manufacturing thousands of products daily, manufacturers need to know the location of the product batches at all times. While 1D barcodes can only store a small a strand of information (typically the product’s part number), a 2D barcode can store more information, like the batch’s assigned location, for increased traceability. With information stored directly in the barcode rather than a database over a network, manufacturers can conduct on-the-spot audits with a laptop and 2D scanner or a mobile computer.

  • Stronger Inventory Management

Similar to the point above, 2D barcodes can also store information like batch production date, expiration dates, scheduled ship date, number of products in a batch, what assembly line it came off of, etc. This heightened level of information improves the inventory management process. Many manufacturers use Datamatrix 2D barcodes to store this information.

  • Versatile Scan Capabilities

Using 1D scanners limits you to only using 1D barcodes. But 2D scanners read both 1D and 2D barcodes, opening up the range of options available for storing information. Since 2D scanners are more versatile, scaling operations is easier and less costly if 2D scanners are already used.

With the clear benefits of using 2D barcodes over 1D barcodes laid out in front of you, ask yourself, is it time for me to utilize 2D barcodes? If that’s the case, now’s the time to upgrade your scanner. We’re holding a year-end promotion to upgrade your old scanners & save up to $75 on select 2D scanners.

If you have questions about how 2D barcodes and scanners could benefit your specific application, we’re here to help. Give us a call at (800) 830-9523 or email us at