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Barcode laser scanners vs 2d imagers for barcode scanning

While other barcode scanning technologies exist, laser-based decoders and 2D barcode imagers are probably the most popular today. The following guide will help you decide which sort of technology might be best for your application.

An overview of Technology

  1. Barcode laser scanners

These laser scanners have been around for centuries. Compared to other kinds, barcode laser scanner has a lot of moving components. Subsequently, they are sometimes considered unstable. But years and years of product development have made them quite durable.

Working of laser-based barcode scanner

How does a barcode effectively “read” by laser scanners? These scanners use two optical systems to support the task.

  • The scanning optics system produces a laser beam and utilizes a lens to focus the beam. An oscillating scan mirror moves the beam across the destination bar code quickly to generate a laser line that illuminates the bar code.
  • The collection optics system then retrieves the reflected laser light from the bar code and concentrates that light on a photo detector. The collection optics also allow the scanner to dismiss external light that may interfere with the laser light.
  • A photo detector then transforms the reflected laser light into an analog electrical signal and shifts changes over the analog signal to digital data. Digital data is processed by the scanner decoder and a symbology algorithm is applied to interpret the data. It then verifies the information through a check digit, typically the last digit of a bar code that informs the scanner if the data has been scanned correctly, and sends the data to the connected host.


  • Lasers provide a sharp, clear laser line that focuses solely on the barcode for quick and reliable results at a normally lower price.
  • laser scanners are better at reading at distances more than two feet, than other barcode readers
  • Laser scanners are the go-to hardware of choice for accuracy when you need high-speed barcode reading. It is a simple, low-cost, but still reliable option.
  1. 2D image scanners

These scanners decode barcodes using a camera and image processing techniques. Cell phones can also be lumped into the 2D imagers classification. They are currently world widely utilized as barcode readers, specifically for QR codes. But since there are so many types of cell phones, there are distinct quality levels to be had. So depending on the platform, reliability differs. And, because there are so many versions of the operating system, application reach can be complicated.

Working of digital area imagers

Digital area imagers use a different strategy to decode barcodes, but keeping in mind the same end outcome – to read the bar code rapidly and efficiently.

  • The area imager projects LED light that illuminates the target barcode. Like a digital camera snapping a photo, a lens projects the bar code image (and the area around the bar code) onto a 2D array, and the light is transformed into an electrical signal for digital image construction.
  • Decoder software in the imager locates the bar code within the image and uses advanced decoding algorithms to process its data. Then, similar to the laser scanner, the imager verifies the bar code data via its check digit and forwards the information to the associated host.


  • In the barcode world, smartphones can be classified as 2D imagers. So, almost everyone is walking around with a barcode reader in their pocket. This has opened up a whole new wave of possibilities for application.
  • Camera technology scanning has the flexibility to read a much wider range of symbols and the added benefit of validating quality.
  • Camera technology scanning can read the entire label or scanning area, in any orientation and when stationary.

Barcode consideration

Find out what kind of barcode you need in the beginning. To do that, you will need to figure out what type and amount of data you are looking to embed into a barcode.

  • For decades, 1D barcode has been around while relatively newcomers are 2D barcodes.
  • In general, laser scanners can more effectively read linear barcodes than 2D imagers can. Laser scanners sweep a laser across a barcode to capture the pattern and decode it.
  • On the flip side, 2D imagers can also read linear barcodes, though generally not as efficiently or rapidly. But, 2D imagers can of course read 2D barcodes such as QR Code and Data Matrix, which laser-based scanners do not do.

It is common to switch to barcode laser scanner as being more optimal if you need to read single barcodes in fast succession. However, 2D imagers are more effective if you need to read multiple barcodes in one pass.


Finally, most users will need whichever reader will get the work done as quickly as possible. This might imply scanning 500 items an hour. Or, it might mean scanning 5 items an hour and capturing rich information with which to populate a database. These final results are critical to consider before setting out on choosing a barcode reader. As a manufacturer, you should evaluate the best technology and product to satisfy your particular application requirements.

ADC Barcode is involved in the supply of  barcode scanners, barcode label printers, barcode verifiers and label applicators. We also provide custom software, EPOS systems & hardware, RFID and wireless networking technology amongst other professional services. Get in touch now and obtain more information.

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