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Codabar Barcodes: Everything You Need to Know in 2024

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In this article, we explore what Codabar barcode is and its pros and cons. We also share the design rules and applications for this type of barcode. Read on to learn more.


What is a Codabar Barcode?

Codabar is a one-dimensional (1D) barcode symbology developed in 1972 by Pitney Bowes. Characterized by its linear sequence of varying widths of bars and spaces, it was initially conceived for applications in the retail and healthcare sectors, notably for color-slide and film labeling.


Let’s consider a hypothetical product named “MediVial2031” which is a type of medical vial. In this instance, the numeral sequence “2031” could be encoded using our simplistic Codabar representation.

If the product's name, "MediVial2031", were to be encoded solely based on the numeric part “2031” using our simplistic representation:

  • “2” might be encoded as |__|
  • “0” might be encoded as |||_
  • “3” might be encoded as |__
  • “1” might be encoded as ||_|

Thus, the Codabar barcode representing the numeric portion “2031” of the product name “MediVial2031” would visually appear as:


codabar barcode

Codabar Barcode Format

Here's a brief overview of Codabar barcode format:


Codabar can encode the numbers 0-9 and six additional symbols: -, $, :, /, ., and +.

Start/Stop Characters: 

A unique feature of Codabar is the use of start and stop characters. There are four possible start/stop characters: A, B, C, or D. These characters are used exclusively as start and stop markers and are not used for encoding regular data within the barcode.

Variable Length: 

Codabar barcodes can be of variable length but it depends on the data they're encoding.

No Checksum: 

Codabar barcodes do not inherently have a checksum character (a character used for error-checking). However, certain applications might add one.

Bars and Spaces: 

Codabar encodes data using a series of bars and spaces of varying widths. Each character is represented by a unique combination of these bars and spaces.

Pros of Codabar Barcode

With its unique structure and adaptability, the Codabar barcode offers several advantages suitable for specific industries and applications. We will explore some below:


Codabar barcodes offer hassle-free creation without the need for a checksum to ensure streamlined printing.


Adaptable by design, Codabar can be printed across diverse methods, including dot matrix printers.

High Density: 

Codabar efficiently encodes a significant amount of data in its compact form, making it ideal for space-saving applications.

Low Error Rate:

Due to its self-checking feature, it tends to have a lower misreading rate compared to some other barcodes.

Broad Compatibility: 

Older systems, especially in retail and healthcare, are often already set up to read Codabar, making it a good choice for legacy systems integration.


Given its simplicity, implementing Codabar is generally less expensive than more complex symbologies.

Cons of Codabar Barcode

While Codabar presents many benefits, it also has certain limitations that might deter its use in particular situations. Let’s explore some below:

Limited Data Set: 

Codabar restricts encoding to numbers and a select few symbols, limiting its versatility in diverse data representation.


With the advent of 2D barcodes and more sophisticated 1D barcodes, Codabar is often overlooked for newer alternatives.

Limited Capacity: 

Compared to modern barcode technologies, Codabar's storage capacity is significantly limited, prompting a shift towards more expansive alternatives.

Lack of Global Standards: 

Unlike some newer barcodes, Codabar doesn’t have a universal standard, potentially causing inconsistencies in its use.

Less Secure: 

Given its age and simplicity, Codabar isn't ideal for applications requiring high security or data protection.

Design Rules for Codabar Barcodes

Here are the basic design rules for a Codabar barcode:


Codabar can encode the numbers 0-9, and the special characters $, :, /, ., +, and -. It starts and ends with a start/stop character. The valid start and stop characters are A, B, C, D, E, *, N, or T. Not all of these are used in all applications, so you'd need to check which ones are relevant for your application.


Codabar uses 7-element symbols. Each character is made up of 4 bars (lines) and 3 spaces. There are two widths in Codabar: narrow (often denoted as 'N') and wide (often denoted as 'W'). Typically, the wide width is 2 to 3 times wider than the narrow width, but this can vary based on the exact specifications used.


The width ratio between narrow and wide elements is crucial for the readability of the barcode. The most common ratios are between 2:1 and 3:1. This means that a wide bar or space is 2 to 3 times wider than a narrow bar or space.

Quiet Zone:

A quiet zone is a space without any marks on either side of the barcode. It helps barcode readers distinguish the beginning and end of the barcode. The quiet zone should be at least 10 times the width of the narrowest bar or space, or 0.25 inches, whichever is greater.

Check Character:

Some applications of Codabar utilize a check character for added security. This character is computed based on the other characters in the barcode and can help identify scanning errors. Not all Codabar barcodes will have a check character; it depends on the specific application and use case.


The height of a Codabar barcode should be at least 0.15 inches or 15% of its length, whichever is greater. A taller barcode is generally easier to scan, especially when it's scanned manually with a handheld scanner.

Print Quality:

To ensure proper scanning, the barcode must be printed clearly. Avoid smudging, blurring, or other printing defects.


There should be a high contrast between bars and spaces. Typically, bars are black and spaces are white, but other high-contrast color combinations can also be used.


Codabar can be read in either direction, so it doesn't matter if it's scanned from left to right or from right to left.


Codabar's density (number of characters per inch) can vary. The density you choose will depend on your specific needs, the quality of your printing method, and the capabilities of your scanning equipment.

what is codabar

Applications of Codabar Barcode

Codabar barcodes have been employed in various industries for specific purposes. Here are some applications of Codabar barcodes:


Codabar has historically been used for library book checkout systems. Even though many modern libraries have transitioned to other systems, there are still some that use Codabar for book labels and patron ID cards.

Blood Banks:

Codabar barcodes are used on blood bank labels to help ensure the correct and safe handling of blood products. This assists in tracking blood donations from donors to recipients and maintaining a detailed blood inventory.


Besides blood banks, other healthcare environments use Codabar for patient identification, laboratory specimen labeling, and medication administration to ensure accurate patient care.


Some retail applications, especially in older systems, use Codabar barcodes for shelf labeling or for certain product identification purposes.

Courier Services:

Package tracking and sorting in certain courier and postal services have employed Codabar barcodes, although many have moved to more modern symbologies.

Membership Cards:

Clubs, organizations, or places that offer memberships might use Codabar for member identification, especially in systems where a quick and simple barcode solution is needed without the complexities of modern 2D barcodes.

Transportation Tickets:

Codabar has been used for ticketing in various transportation systems, including buses, trains, and ferries. The barcode can store information about the journey, class, date, and more for quick validation.

We hope our article has now left you with a better understanding of what Codabar barcodes are and how this type of barcode is utilized in different industries.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our article on code 39 barcode or our article on merchandise inventory. 

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