What Is a 2D Barcode?

Zebra employee explaining what is a 2D barcode.

2D barcode labels offer significant advantages over traditional 1D barcodes. A 2D barcode is a graphical image that holds information in its design, not only from left to right but also from top to bottom.

What are 2D Barcodes?

2D stands for two-dimensional and a 2D barcode contains information in both the horizontal and the vertical unlike traditional barcodes which are vertical black and white lines and contain a lot less data. A 2D barcode also physically looks different compared to a traditional linear 1D barcode.

Below are two of the typical 2D barcodes that you will see.


2D Data Matrix Code


2D Quick Response QR Code

In terms of data capture, a 1D barcode can capture a series of digits, like a serial number but a 2D barcode can capture anywhere up to over 7000 characters so it can contain a high amount of information within the barcode itself.

Traditionally, with a 1D barcode, if you are capturing a serial number or information, you would have to connect back to a server and your device would have to connect back to get any information associated with that serial number. With 2D Barcodes, all the information can be contained within the barcode so it can be anything such as a product name, product color, category, any information you want and you do not need to connect back to a server to collect the data.

What are the Applications of a 2D Barcode?

There are many applications for a 2D barcode that can be used across various industries.


2D barcodes can bring a lot of value to retailers, a good example is their use within grocery stores which could add 2D barcodes. For example, to their meat products which means they can add a lot more information in the barcodes such as expiry date and batch information which in turn could support the reduction in the amount of product recalls, food wastage and selling goods that are expired.


There are a lot of synergies between Healthcare and Manufacturing when it comes to 2D barcodes, For example, 2D barcodes can be used for the traceability of pharmaceuticals and authentication but on top of that barcodes can be etched into metal so the 2D barcodes could be etched into. For example, a stent in healthcare or a very small metal item in manufacturing, so it can assist in traceability.


Often warehouses are getting products coming in with 2D barcodes already on them so if they have a small parcel. For example, it may have a 2D barcode displayed on the delivery label and the barcode and information can be easily scanned and parsed immediately without connecting to any backend or third-party systems.


In pharmaceuticals, they tend to have very small containers and you can fit a 2D barcode in a very small spot so you can get a lot of information into a small space and the kind of information you can get such as a serial number, batch information, product description and even a URL from which you could look up more information on that product.

There are a lot of benefits to the supply chain as a result of having access to that information. When it comes to scanning those barcodes. Traditionally, there were 1D laser scanners which were designed for scanning the 1D barcodes so it was a laser line that went across every line of the barcode and would decode that barcode.

With society changing, we are all carrying out mobile phones around with us and now we see mobile barcodes on our phones for various reasons and this is another advantage of 2D imagers as they can scan off backlit devices, such as mobile phones. Traditional 1D laser scanners cannot scan off a backlit device so a 2D imager has an additional advantage and if you think about the example of checking out at a supermarket, you have probably got your points card on your phone so you have a barcode and you want to be able to scan quickly when you check out and that is where a 2D imager can help.


With a 2D barcode, you need a 2D imager which is dedicated to scanning both 1D and 2D barcode labels and it is a camera that will take a photo of the barcode and decode it very fast and with great accuracy.

2D imagers nowadays are just as fast as 1D lasers and they are the go-to scan engine not only because they are just as fast as 1D so there is no detriment to going to 2D. There are a number of benefits that come with a 2D imager.

An operator traditionally with a handheld 1D scanner with a single line would have to line up the barcode with the scanner but with 2D imager scanner, you do not have to worry about orientation meaning you can scan upside-down, the right way up, the camera sees the barcode in 2D and can decode it in any orientation and also 1D barcodes as well so even if you have got 1D barcodes, you still get a benefit by having a 2D imager scanning the 1D barcode because of any orientation, it's going to be able to decode it.

All you need is a 2D Imager and at Zebra we have a range of 2D imagers in most of our portfolio of products including barcode scanners, mobile computers, tablets and scanner scales. You will need an image-based scanning engine in your device to capture 2D barcodes.


A 2D imager can scan 2D barcodes, it can also scan 1D barcodes. In addition, scanning in direct sunlight, with a laser, if the sunlight is too bright, the laser will be washed down and you won't be able to decode the barcode. With a 2D imager, it doesn't matter how bright the sun is, you can still decode the barcode outside.

A 1D scanner will have difficulty scanning dirty or damaged barcodes. 

Another example is the loyalty barcode on your mobile phone, you go to the checkout at a grocery store and you try and scan the mobile phone on the scanner scale and nothing is scanning, you're stuck with a laser scanner. With a 2D imager, even on the scanner scale, there are bioptic images in there that you can scan a mobile phone.

Speed of scanning is another benefit, you may have had a situation where you've had your mobile phone and you want to scan a QR code off of a poster and you are holding your camera there for a few seconds before it decodes.

Zebra has dedicated imagers for scanning 2D barcodes and it's not just the hardware, we have algorithms inside our devices that are designed for scanning for accuracy and speed so it's the fastest you are ever going to decode a barcode.

Explore Zebra's Range of 2D Imagers