02 Jul

Five barcode myths debunked

This barcode is not Satanic. Honest.

Barcodes reveal a product’s country of origin

EAN13 barcodes used on European products encode a number which begins with a sequence of digits that refer to a country. However, this refers to the country of the organisation which allocated the number. This isn’t necessarily the same as the country of origin.

For example, if a French company import oranges from Spain, puts them in boxes and sells those boxes of oranges then the barcode number would probably start with the French country code. Yes, despite the oranges being Spanish. So if you want to know where a product comes from, read the label, not the barcode!

The first digit of a barcode tells you if the product is organic or not

Not true. As discussed above, the initial digits of a barcode tell you the country of the organisation that allocated the barcode number. This is usually the same as the country of the organisation selling the product. PLU codes used in the USA can include this information, but they’re nothing to do with the barcode.

The font used for the numbers is important

Well, okay, sort of. Generally speaking the numbers in a barcode use the font OCR-B or Helvetica (Barcode Basics uses Helvetica). However, barcode scanners scan the bars of the code, not the human-readable numbers so in that respect, the font used doesn’t matter. However, if the barcode fails to scan for any reason then someone may end up having to key in the code manually (e.g. a checkout assistant). For that reason, it’s important to make sure that whatever font you use, it’s easily readable.

It’s difficult and expensive to generate a barcode

No it’s not. You can buy software very cheaply, often for under $10 (e.g. budget Mac OS X barcode generator Barcode Basics) that will do the job. You do, however, need to check a few things.
1. Find out whether you can make up your own barcode number or whether you need to get an organisation to allocate you one.
2. Find out what type of barcode you need e.g. EAN13, UPCA, ITF14 etc
3. If your barcode will be printed by a commercial printer, ask them for their recommended barcode specifications e.g. bar width reduction (bwr), magnification etc.

You can get professional quality barcode applications for Mac OS X for under £10 on the Mac App Store, for example our very own Barcode Basics.

Link to Mac App Store to purchase Barcode Basics - Mac barcode software

Barcodes are the work of Satan

We can see how you might think that if you’ve ever been a supermarket checkout assistant and tried to scan a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Seriously though, do those codes ever scan?

Some barcodes are just never going to scan...

Some barcodes are just never going to scan…

However, an urban myth has long circulated that “666” (regarded by religious types and Iron Maiden fans as a Satanic number) is encoded into every barcode. Apart from being one of the dumbest urban myths on the face of the Earth, it’s also just basically not true. Read more about how this myth came about over at Wired.

So, to summarise, barcodes are not the work of Beelzebub, don’t include any mysterious secret information and are relatively easy to create yourself!