What is a Barcode Scanner?

To simply define it, a barcode scanner is a device used to read barcodes. Using light emission, it scans a barcode and decodes it, similar to how Morse codes are decoded. Hand-held or stationary, this input device transforms light energy to electrical energy which is then converted into data form by the decoder part, and then stores the information on a computer. Also known as a price scanner, or a point-of-sale (POS) scanner, it is in high demand in the retail and production industries. With the rise of information technology, the need for data security enhances the demand for barcode scanners. The five basic kinds of barcode scanners are:

1. The pen scanner - the simplest barcode reader. Also known as the pen wand, it is so called because of its pen-like appearance. Besides the appearance, other distinct characteristics of the pen barcode scanner include:

  • Durable
  • Low cost
  • No moving parts
  • Must be in direct contact with the barcode
  • Must be held at an angle
  • Must be moved over the code at a specific speed
  • Available in several resolutions to read barcodes of various sizes

2. The charge coupled device (CCD) scanner - commonly seen in shops for cashier operations. The CCD scanner looks like a gun, and has a lengthier read range than the pen wand. Other characteristics of the CCD scanner are:

  • Reads ambient light from the barcode
  • Can scan the code from up to one inch away
  • To decrease chances of error, multiple readings are made during scanning
  • Cannot read a barcode wider than the head of the reader
  • Recommended for short range scanning

3. The laser scanner - this method of scanning the barcode is similar to the pen scanners, but the difference is that it emits a laser beam. Because it uses a laser beam, it can read barcodes at a further remove. Aside from the range, other characteristics of laser scanners are:

  • Available in hand-held and stationary
  • Average maximum scanning range is 24 inches away
  • Modern laser scanners can read up to 30 feet away
  • Like the CCD, it reads the codes multiple times to decrease errors, at a rate of 500 times per second
  • Like the pen type, it is also available in multiple resolutions
  • More expensive
  • Utilizes mirrors and lenses to read barcodes
  • More prone to damage because of its lenses

4. The slot scanner - a stationary scanner usually seen for reading IDs.

5. The image scanner - also known as a camera reader because it captures the picture of the code using a video camera. Advantages of the image scanner include:

  • Uses complex digital image processing to decode the barcode
  • Average scanning range is 3 to 10 inches away
  • Cheaper than laser scanners
  • Don't have internal movable components, thus more resistant to accidental drops and knocks

Each kind of barcode reader uses slightly different technologies. Yet whatever type they are, the most significant feature of them all is the efficiency they enable.


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