From Supermarket Aisles to Factory Floors: What Colours to Use in your Barcode Printing to ensure problem free Scanning

Barcode Colours for Scanning

We often overlook a critical aspect of barcodes, barcode colours. Barcodes are everywhere in the 21st century, appearing on labels, product packaging, and even on digital screens. It plays a vital role in automating several supply chain steps, such as inventory management and tracking.

Selecting the right colours for your barcode will not only reduce errors but also optimise the scanning process. This barcode colour guide will explore common problems and how to overcome them with the right colours.

Common problems with Barcode Colours

Barcode scanning issues arise when incorrect colours are used. Lack of contrast in the background and the bars often leads to errors, significantly affecting inventory management, disrupting the supply chain, and increasing correction costs. Let’s take a look into the common problems when printing coloured barcodes or choosing coloured labels for barcode backgrounds.

  • Low Contrast Colours

Barcode scanners make efficient use of contrast between the bars and the gaps between them. The reflection creates a difference between light and dark, named Print Contrast Signal (PCS).

Low contrast between the bars and the background makes it difficult for the scanners to evaluate reflected light, causing errors.

  • Red and Green Colours

Barcode Scanners use red/infrared light, which can cause some complications. Red surfaces with high red content reflect the light and interpret them as white light, reducing contrast of the barcode colour. The green colour is the complementary colour of red and interferes with the scanner’s light, slowing down accurate scanning.

  • Metallic Colours and Patterns

Shiny metallic colours also reflect excessive light making it hard for scanners to distinguish between bars and white spaces. Similarly, patterns make it hard for the scanners to evaluate the light between the bars, affecting the overall readability. This can also affect high-sheen/glossy labels, hence why some of our customers use matt or semi-gloss for their barcode labels. 

Choosing the Right Barcode Colours

Choosing the right colour helps ensure optimal scanning and reduce errors. Consider the following measures. 

  • Contrast is Key

The core principle in colour selection is contrast. Aim for a sharp contrast between the background and the bar for better accuracy. The classic combination of black bars on a white background provides the highest contrast and is recommended for reliable scanning.

  • Dark vs. Light Colors

Placing dark colours on light colours, such as dark blue and dark brown on light backgrounds, enhances scanning accuracy. These colours absorb light and stand out against a light background. Conversely, selecting light colours for the bars increases errors.

  • The Troublesome Reds and Greens

Incorporating red or green hues in your barcode can increase errors as they reduce contrast, as scanners emit red light. Complementary barcode colours interfere with the scanner’s infrared light. Avoid these colours for efficient scanning.

  • Colours that do work

For GS1 barcodes, dark colours such as black, dark blue, dark brown, or dark green are required for the bars. The bars should always be of a single-line colour and should not be printed using multiple imaging tools (e.g., plate, screen, cylinder, etc.). Light backgrounds, typically white, are optimal for the Quiet Zones (areas without printing surrounding the barcode) and spaces.

Good colours for barcodes
Barcode colour combinations for printing and scanning

Getting fancy with your Barcodes

GS1 New Zealand and WelTec hold a barcode design competition that incorporates the use of creative barcodes which still meet the GS1 barcode standards.

Test and Verify

Barcode scanners can vary in colour calibration. Consider testing your labels with various types of scanners. 

You can also get your printed barcodes checked by a professional organisation or business such as GS1.

Barcode Colours, Conclusion

Barcodes don’t need to be boring! You can bring your labels to life using coloured barcodes with the help of our simple guide. 

Printing barcodes with direct thermal labels is generally the most cost effective way. But if you want to add colour you can use a coloured thermal transfer ribbon and/or a coloured label for the background. 

If you need help with labels, thermal printers or printing barcodes get in touch with Accurate Labelling.

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