Printed Barcodes vs. Mobile Barcodes

It will shock absolutely no one to read that the rapid growth of smart phones along with mobile Internet access has changed the way we do business and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We shop, checkout, collect virtual tickets and coupons and much, much more with our smartphones. Many of these items are accompanied by, or are inclusive with, a barcode – a mobile barcode to be exact.


Now, while many retailers are turning to mobile barcodes in order to make shopping easier for their customers, managing that information on a smartphone’s LCD introduces new challenges as compared with its printed counterpart. Let’s take a look at the differences between these two cousins and where some challenges currently lie.


Printed VS PIXEL

So, the most obvious difference between printed barcodes and mobile barcodes is that one is printed and the other is, you know, mobile. But there’s a bit more behind that. Printed barcodes are typically designed once and printed multiple times. The quality of the barcode can be monitored and tested to international printing standards using commercial barcode verifiers to ensure readability. Pretty straight forward.


Mobile barcodes, on the other hand, are typically generated spontaneously and displayed on cell phones LCDs. And unlike printed barcodes that reflect and absorb light, mobile barcodes actively admit light. Plus, a single LCD pixel is typically constructed from three rectangular color sub pixels. Barcode readers may need to address additional noise resulting from the underlying pixel structure along with reflections and distortions exhibited by the display.



While printed barcodes adhere to international standards, mobile barcodes, well, let’s just say they are currently ahead of such standards and commercial verification equipment. The lack of standards combined with the dynamic nature of mobile barcodes displayed on an increasing variety of phones present an additional burden on developers and increase the possibility of errors that can make a barcode unreadable. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating mobile barcodes.


              Barcode Quit Zones

In addition to the display area needed for the barcode itself, a “quiet zone” is required to promote robust reading. Think of this as white space that surrounds the perimeter of the barcode. Larger quite zones can increase the robustness of the barcode, while the lack of one can result in unreadability.


Element Distortions

It’s important that no distortions – such as bitmap stretching, scaling, and pixel round off – are introduced when the barcode is rendered onscreen. Distortions that seem acceptable to the human eye, can render a barcode unreadable.


Backlight Illumination

Because a mobile barcode are self-illuminating, any mobile barcode app must assure proper backlighting required by the reader. Phone model, user settings, display timeout settings and ambient light conditions can affect the backlight level. Generally, the maximum backlighting is recommended when displaying barcodes.


Of course there’s more to the story, such as 1D vs 2D barcodes, atmospheric lighting, and, as always, user error, but that’s all for another day. Leave it to say, that the simple barcode is just one part of the massive tracking and information machine that evolves on a seemingly daily basis. And at Tri-State Business Systems it’s our job to help you stay ahead of the curve. To learn more about how we can help you specifically, please visit us online at or give us a call at 908.359.8001.