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Unscannable Barcode Guide: Causes and Fixes in 2024

5.2 minutes

In this article, we will explore the common causes of unscannable barcodes and provide practical fixes to ensure seamless operations and customer satisfaction.

unscannable barcode

Causes and Fixes for Unscannable Barcodes

It is not uncommon to come across an unscannable barcode. Below are the common causes and fixes of unscannable barcodes. We will explore each below:

1. Poor Printing Quality

One of the primary reasons for unscannable barcodes is poor printing quality. Low-resolution printers, worn-out printheads, or improper printing settings can lead to fuzzy or distorted barcodes that scanners struggle to read.

Fix: Invest in high-quality printers and ensure they are properly maintained. Regularly clean printheads, use the correct resolution settings and choose suitable printing materials to enhance the clarity and durability of barcodes.

Example: Investing in high-resolution printers transformed a local retail store's operations. Clear and crisp barcodes on products enhanced the checkout experience, ensuring swift and error-free transactions.

unscannable barcodes

2. Inadequate Barcode Size and Placement

Barcodes come in various sizes, and choosing the wrong size or placing them incorrectly on products can render them unscannable. If a barcode is too small, scanners may not capture it accurately. Similarly, placing barcodes on curved or uneven surfaces can cause scanning errors.

Fix: Follow industry standards for barcode sizes and placement. Ensure barcodes are placed on flat, clean surfaces and are easily accessible for scanners. If barcodes need to be placed on curved surfaces, consider using specialized materials or printing techniques to maintain scanability.

Example: Following standardized guidelines, a warehouse optimized its inventory process. Uniformly sized and strategically placed barcodes streamlined picking operations, minimizing errors, and maximizing efficiency.

3. Data Encoding Errors

Data encoding errors occur during the generation of barcodes, where incorrect information is embedded. This could be due to manual entry mistakes, outdated software, or incompatible formats between systems.

Fix: Implement barcode generation software that automatically validates and encodes data accurately. Regularly update databases and ensure compatibility between software systems to prevent data discrepancies that can lead to unscannable barcodes.

Example: By implementing automated barcode generation software, an e-commerce platform ensured accurate encoding. This approach eliminated manual errors, leading to precise product information in every barcode and enhancing shipping and inventory management.

4. Environmental Factors

Harsh environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures, humidity, or exposure to chemicals, can damage barcode labels, making them difficult to scan. Additionally, poor lighting in scanning environments can hinder the reading process.

Fix: Use durable barcode labels designed to withstand specific environmental challenges. Implement proper storage conditions and ensure adequate lighting in scanning areas to enhance barcode readability.

Example: A grocery store's introduction of moisture-resistant barcode labels maintained readability in humid conditions. Coupled with improved lighting, these measures reduced errors, guaranteeing smooth scanning processes.

5. Outdated Barcode Standards

Barcode technology constantly evolves, and using outdated standards can lead to compatibility issues with modern scanning equipment.

Fix: Stay updated with the latest barcode standards and technologies. Regularly review and upgrade barcode systems to ensure compatibility with contemporary scanning devices and software.

Example: Upgrading to the latest GS1 standards transformed a manufacturing company's supply chain. Seamless integration with partners eliminated compatibility issues, enhancing overall efficiency and traceability.

unscannable bar code

6. Printing Ink and Material Selection

The type of ink and material used for printing barcodes significantly affects their scannability. Ink that smudges, fades, or bleeds can distort the barcode lines, making them unreadable. Similarly, using low-quality or incompatible label materials can lead to wear and tear, diminishing the barcode's clarity.

Fix: Choose high-quality, fast-drying ink that adheres well to the printing surface. Select appropriate label materials designed to withstand the intended environment, whether it's moisture-resistant labels for refrigerated items or heat-resistant labels for products exposed to high temperatures.

Example: Utilizing heat-resistant ink and labels safeguarded pharmaceutical product information. Even in high temperatures, these labels remained legible, ensuring accurate tracking and inventory management.

unreadable barcode

7. Lack of Quiet Zones

Barcodes require clear spaces, known as quiet zones, on either side to be accurately scanned. If other graphics, text, or borders encroach upon these quiet zones, scanners may misinterpret the barcode, resulting in scanning failures.

Fix: Ensure that there are clear margins on both sides of the barcode. Adhere to international standards, where the quiet zone should be at least 10 times the narrowest element of the barcode. Educate designers and staff about the importance of maintaining these quiet zones in all printed materials.

Example: Educating designers about quiet zones improved packaging designs. Clients experienced fewer scanning issues, enhancing the professionalism and functionality of their products' packaging.

8. Barcode Damage During Handling

Throughout the supply chain, products often endure rough handling, potentially damaging the barcode labels. Crinkles, scratches, or tears can render barcodes unscannable, causing disruptions in inventory management and sales processes.

Fix: Opt for robust label materials and adhesives that can withstand rough handling. Implement proper handling and packaging procedures to minimize physical damage during transportation and storage. Consider using protective methods such as barcode sleeves or over-laminates for extra durability.

Example: Implementing barcode sleeves for fragile items in logistics reduced scanning errors. These protective measures ensured that barcodes remained intact, preserving accuracy throughout the supply chain.

9. Scanner Calibration Issues

Barcode scanners, if not calibrated correctly, may struggle to read barcodes. Calibration problems can stem from outdated firmware, misaligned scanners, or worn-out scanning components.

Fix: Regularly update scanner firmware to the latest version to ensure compatibility with various barcode standards. Implement routine scanner maintenance, including cleaning lenses and sensors, to prevent misreads due to dust or debris. Train staff to recognize and report calibration issues promptly, enabling timely repairs or replacements.

Example: Regular updates of scanner firmware maintained scanning accuracy. By addressing calibration promptly, businesses ensured their scanners functioned optimally, reducing errors and improving overall productivity.

10. Lack of Employee Training

Even with perfectly printed and placed barcodes, human error can cause scanning problems. Insufficient training of employees regarding proper scanning techniques, scanner settings, or barcode placement awareness can lead to mistakes.

Fix: Invest in comprehensive training programs for employees involved in scanning operations. Provide clear guidelines on how to use scanners, including correct angles and distances for optimal scanning. Regularly reinforce training and conduct refresher courses to keep staff updated with the latest best practices.

Example: Incorporating comprehensive training programs empowered employees in a distribution center. Properly trained staff not only mastered optimal scanning techniques but also understood the importance of barcode accuracy, significantly reducing errors and ensuring efficient inventory management.

We hope that our article has now left you with a better understanding of the cause of unscannable barcodes and their potential solutions.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our article on data matrix barcodes or our article on vertical barcodes. 

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