Last updated: July 1, 2020

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A barcode scanner uses a laser to read the bars and spaces that makeup a barcode. These devices are usually limited to only being capable of reading this type of information, which they send to a computer via a cable or a wireless connection. It is the computer that actually decodes the reading made by the scanner.

Barcode scanners are most commonly used by logistics companies, and in shops, warehouses and offices. However, in recent years, they have become more popular with people using them in their homes. With a barcode scanner and the right software, you can now catalog and organize your collection of books, CDs, DVDs or any other type of item.

Key Facts

  • Barcode scanners are capable of reading the information contained in barcodes and transmitting it to a computer. The first models date to the 1970s, and since then they have become an indispensable tool in various sectors such as industry, administration, transport and retail.
  • These days there is a wide range of barcode readers available on the market, so there is definitely an option to suit any requirement. There are so many advantages offered by barcode scanners, but there are also a few drawbacks you should consider. For example, you will need to train your staff how to use them, and of course there is the necessary financial outlay you will need to make.
  • There are barcode scanners available at very low prices these days, however, professional models will require a significant investment. To find the scanner that best suits your needs, it’s important to consider certain important factors, such as the type and frequency of use, the conditions in which it will be operated, connectivity and the types of barcodes it can read.

Our Selection: The Best Barcode Scanners on the U.S. Market

With such a wide range of different products available on the market right now, finding the barcode scanner that best suits your needs can be a little overwhelming. To give you an idea of the different models currently available, we have prepared this selection of the four best barcode scanners in four different categories.

Most Economical Barcode Scanner

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, and you don’t need a wireless barcode scanner, this is the option for you. This handheld scanner can be used to scan and decode linear one-dimensional (1D) colored barcodes. It effectively scans barcodes in a variety of hash conditions, including through glass/plastic, in bright sunlight, in dark environments, or on curved/reflective surfaces, and even works with damaged, scratched or wrinkled barcodes.

Best Wired USB Barcode Scanner

If you are looking for a USB barcode scanner, this is the best option available on the market right now. Use the included stand to free your hands, and simply wave the barcodes under scanner, and the scanning light will turn on to scan automatically. Made of high-quality ABS plastic, tested to withstand being dropped from 6 feet in height. High compatibility with various types of barcode formats, and computer operating systems.

Best Wireless Barcode Scanner

This barcode scanner offers Long Distance Wireless Transmission Technology. Transmits up to 400 yards outdoors and 100 yards indoors. No more data cable needed, as it easily connects wirelessly to your laptop or desktop computer. Internal offline storage supports up to 100,000 barcodes in offline storage mode. Scan and store barcodes when far away from the receiver, and then update the data to your device when you come back within the wireless transmission range.

Best Barcode Scanner with a Compact Design

Don’t let the compact design fool you, this barcode scanner is packed full of features. It can connect using a USB cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth or RF. It has a built-in 16MB high-capacity memory, supporting offline storage of 50,000 QR Code. Delivers up to 250 yards transmission in open air under the 2.4G wireless mode, or up to 40 yards transmission in open air using Bluetooth mode.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Barcode Scanners

In order to find the option that best suits your needs from the wide variety of barcode scanners currently available on the market, it’s important to have some background knowledge about the features of these devices and how they work. In this section we answer the most frequently asked questions about barcode scanners, so you can find out everything you need to know.

Man in warehouse scaning a boc with barcode scaning

The first barcode was developed by an American student.
(Source: Wavebreak Media Ltd: 36345218/

When was the first barcode developed?

The very first barcode was developed by an American science student in the late 1940s. The idea came to him after he overheard a conversation between two businessmen, who were complaining about how long it took them to do an inventory, and how long customers were forced to wait in checkout queues. The system was patented in 1948, but the very first reader would not appear until several years later.

In 1974 Symbol Technologies manufactured the first barcode scanner, with the first barcode read by a scanner in a supermarket in the town of Troy, Ohio, which was actually on a packet of chewing gum. In 1980 the first handheld laser reader was developed by this same company.

What types of barcode scanners are available on the market?

These days there are many types of barcode scanners available on the market, which are designed for different uses and with various functions and features. In the following table we compare the most common types of scanners, from the almost obsolete optical pens to the most powerful industrial scanners. We will compare their uses, functions and connectivity and portability.

Type of Use Functions Connectivity Portability
Optical Pen Small business or office Few benefits, difficult to use, fragile, unreliable Cable Portable
CCD Reader Supermarkets Reliable, fast, some types require physical contact with the code Cables Portable or fixed
Pistol Lazer Scanner Industrial, logistics, offices Reliable, resistant, even read codes on irregular surfaces, easy to handle Cable, Bluetooth, radio frequency, WiFi Portable
Omnidirectional Laser Scanner Supermarkets, industrial Reliable, fast, accurate, can scan in any position Cable Fixed
Standalone Laser Scanner Industrial, normally for conveyor belts Fast and precise Cable Fixed
2D Laser Reader Industrial, logistics, offices Can read 2D codes, which contain much more information Cable, Bluetooth, WiFi, radio frequency Portable or fixed

How does a barcode scanner connect to a computer?

Most of the latest generation of scanners usually offer a USB connection, which is the fastest and most reliable way to transmit data. If this is the case, you will only need to connect it to a USB port of your computer, without the need for any additional drivers. However, many models also include Bluetooth or WiFi, which allows you to avoid the hassle of cables.

Radio frequency (or RF) scanners are the most commonly used by logistics companies and in department stores. This is because they do not require the use of a cable, and because they offer a much greater range than that of Bluetooth readers. RF scanners are the most highly recommended devices for professional applications. These barcode scanners are usually very durable, and designed to withstand daily use.

Arthur C. ClarkeBritish Scientist

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What types of formats can barcode scanners read?

EAN/UPC: The most common type of barcode is EAN/UPC. It is found on the packaging of most consumer items, since its use is mandatory in retail and food. Code 39 is totally different, and uses numbers and letters. It is the format most widely used for industrial applications.

Code 128: Used by logistics companies, code 128 is more compact than 39, but it does allow the inclusion of a larger number of characters. The code is displayed on crates and boxes used to pack goods for transport. DUN14 is most commonly used for sets of product units, and is characterized by the black frame surrounding the bars.

PDF417: The most commonly used two-dimensional barcode is PDF417. It consists of a rectangle which is formed by a cloud of small squares, each capable of encoding not only alphanumeric data, but also images. QR code is another 2D format that is widely used for advertising campaigns, as it can be easily decoded by most mobile phones using an app.

How can I create barcodes that will be recognized by a scanner?

Making labels of a decent enough quality to be scanned is just as important as investing in a reliable barcode scanner. To generate your own codes you can use Excel, or one of several free online programs.

If you are going to use the barcode scanner for professional use, we recommend that you purchase a laser printer, or even better a label printer. This will mean that you will never have any issues when it comes to reading the data with your scanner. The quality of paper or labels used is also a key factor in avoiding scanning failures.

A arcode scannig on boxes

Most of the latest generation barcode scanners incorporate a USB connection.
(Source: Chutima Sonma: 83714121/

If you are creating barcodes solely for internal use, you can choose whatever numbering system you want. However, if you need to legally identify your products, you should contact GS1 US, who can provide you with the barcodes you need.

Why is a barcode scanner better than a mobile application?

For several years now, apps for mobile phones capable of reading barcodes have become very popular. Many of these apps are free and are able to scan some of the most common codes, including the popular QR, which is widely used in advertising. However, these apps are not suitable for professional use, or for scanning a large volume of items.

If you are a professional and you are going to catalog a large number of items, you should consider purchasing a barcode scanner. For a small outlay you will have a much more efficient, reliable and durable device than a mobile application. Additionally, these devices can read any of the different types of existing codes, which is something that an app can’t do.

Henry FordFounder of the Ford Motor Company

“I cannot discover that anyone knows enough to say what is and what is definitely not possible.”

Shopping Criteria

Barcode scanners have become indispensable gadgets for professionals in sectors such as commerce or logistics. In order to find the model that best suits your needs, we have prepared a list of important factors to keep in mind when making your purchase.

Cable or Wireless Connection

All barcode scanners must be connected to a computer in order to transfer the scanned data. This is done either via a USB cable or wirelessly. Scanners that connect using a USB cable are usually cheaper than wireless models. They are also the most reliable, because the data is transferred directly from the scanner to the PC without any interference.

However, wireless barcode scanners are much more convenient to use. Although they can be prone to interference produced by other electronic equipment or due to the presence of walls. The range of wireless scanners is much greater than that of USB models.

Man using barcode scannig

Before deciding which barcode scanner to buy, you should think about how you plan to use it.
(Source: Dmitry Kalinovsky: 74831817/

Types of Barcodes

Most barcode scanners are capable of reading both linear (1D) and two-dimensional (2D) codes. 1D barcodes are most commonly used for industry, commerce and logistics. The use of 2D codes, although they can store significantly more information, is not as widespread. This means that many models of scanners cannot read them.

Scanners capable of reading 2D codes are the most popular models these days. This is because these devices are capable of scanning 1D codes no matter the orientation. They also offer faster data reading than scanners that only read linear codes, even on irregular surfaces.

Use of the Scanner

Before deciding on a certain model of scanner, you really need to think about how you intend to use it. Handheld gun-shaped devices are very useful for stocktaking, taking inventories and keeping a record of incoming and outgoing goods. Omnidirectional barcode scanners are the most suitable for supermarkets and retail stores, given their efficiency and reliability.

If you are just looking for a scanner to use at home, in your office or in a small shop, you don’t need to buy a very expensive unit, a moderately priced option will be sufficient. On the other hand, if you are looking for something for intensive professional use, we strongly advise you to invest in a scanner that is specifically designed for this purpose. Although it will be more expensive, it will be much more durable.

Aldous HuxleyBritish Philosopher

“Pure science does not remain pure indefinitely. Sooner or later it is apt to turn into applied science and finally into technology.”

Type of Conditions

The conditions under which you plan to use your barcode scanner is a very important factor to keep in mind. Industrial scanners are usually made of shockproof materials and are completely sealed against moisture and dust. Some of the professional models of barcode readers are rubber coated, not only to make them easier to grip, but also to serve as a cushion to protect against bumps and accidental drops.

Frequency of Use

An industrial barcode scanner is likely to be used much more frequently than one found in a retail store or an office. Industrial models are very sturdy and reliable, capable of scanning at a high speed and at a greater distance than other more moderately priced scanners. They do require a significant economic investment, but this is justified by their efficiency and durability.

If you are simply looking for a barcode scanner to use in a small business, such as a retail store, a model capable of reading 1D and 2D codes, with either a fixed or pistol-shaped design will be sufficient. The sales volume will determine the frequency of use and the model of scanner you should buy. If you need something for a larger business, such as a grocery store or small supermarket, an omnidirectional scanner is definitely the way to go.


Since they first appeared in the 1970s, barcode scanners have become an essential part of the running of many different types of businesses, and they are now even used in homes. These days there is a wide range of barcode readers available on the market, so there is definitely an option to suit any requirement.

In order to find the barcode reader that is best for you, it is important to consider how you plan to use it. This will determine the type of connectivity you should choose, and the type of barcodes it must be able to read. If you need something for frequent use, it is a good idea to spend a little more, while a more moderately priced option will be suitable if you only plan to use it occasionally.

We hope you have found this shopping guide useful, and it has made your purchase process easier. If you enjoyed reading this article, please leave us a comment below, and be sure to share it with your family and friends!

(Source of Featured Image: Dmitry Kalinovsky: image of a person in the warehouse using a barcode scanner/

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Brett Holmes Technology Geek
Brett is a keen observer of the latest technology trends and knows his way around the industry because he runs an electronics store. He writes about it in his spare time and wants to help others learn more about the technology industry.