Creating your own barcodes: small business guide

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Barcodes are some of the most versatile, affordable, and easy-to-use inventory management tools that small businesses have at their disposal.

By printing your own barcodes, you can track inventory, manage customer loyalty programs and even create personalized marketing materials.

In this post, we’ll talk about the following:

  1. What barcodes are and how they work
  2. Use cases for barcode systems
  3. How to get started with a barcode system
  4. Choosing tools and software to create and track your barcodes

What are barcodes, and how do they work?

Barcodes are a series of black and white lines that can be read by a machine. The widths and spacings of the lines represent unique data that can be decoded by a scanner.

Barcodes were invented in the 1970s as a way to track inventory in grocery stores. Today, they’re used in all sorts of industries to track everything from books to livestock.

Barcodes are read by a scanner, which converts the lines into electrical impulses. The scanner then sends these impulses to a computer, which translates them into numbers or other symbols. Together barcodes, scanners, and printers make up the majority of warehouse scanning equipment used by eCommerce retailers.

This scannable information can be used for a variety of inventory management purposes, including tracking products, managing loyalty programs, and creating personalized marketing materials.

Tracking products

By scanning a barcode, you can quickly and easily pull up information about an item, such as how many are in stock, where it’s located, when it needs to be reordered, etc.

Barcodes are often scanned many times throughout a product’s lifecycle. For example, warehouse employees will scan products when they’re received, ordered, picked, processed, and shipped, thus keeping tabs on their status throughout the entire logistics pipeline.

Pro-Tip: Want to make sure your barcode systems integrates with the rest of your business? See our post on popular barcode softwares that can help keep your business in sync.

Managing customer loyalty programs

Barcodes can be used to track customer purchases and award points accordingly. For example, you could give customers a card with a barcode that they can scan every time they make a purchase.

You could then use this data to generate reports that show how often customers are shopping, what kinds of things they’re buying, how much they’re spending, etc.

This information can be used to tailor loyalty programs and marketing campaigns to individual customers.

Creating personalized marketing materials

Barcodes can be used to create personalized marketing materials, such as coupons and discount codes.

For example, you could use a barcode to generate a unique discount code for each customer. The customer could then scan the barcode to receive the discount.

You could also use barcodes to track how often customers are using your coupons or how much they’re spending.

As you can see, barcodes offer a lot of benefits for small businesses. In the next section, we’ll talk about how to get started with your own barcode system.

When is it time to implement a barcode system?

There’s no hard and fast rule for when you should start using barcodes. However, there are a few general guidelines that can help you decide if it’s time to make the switch:

You’re manually tracking inventory

If you’re keeping track of your inventory with pen and paper or a spreadsheet, it’s probably time to switch to a barcode system. Barcodes can save you a lot of time and effort by automating the inventory management process.

You have a lot of products

If you have a large inventory, it can be difficult to keep track of everything without barcodes. Barcodes can help you quickly and easily locate specific items in your inventory.

You have multiple locations

If you have multiple warehouses or retail stores, barcodes can help you keep track of inventory levels in each location.

You want to track customer loyalty

If you want to start a loyalty program or collect data about your customers’ purchasing habits, barcodes can help you do that.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of barcodes and how they can benefit your small business, let’s talk about how to create your own barcodes.

More use cases for barcode systems

There are many other ways that barcodes can be used to improve efficiency in small businesses. Some of the most popular use cases include:

  • Asset tracking: Barcodes can be used to track the location of assets, such as computers, tools, and equipment.
  • Time tracking: Barcodes can be used to track employee clock-in/clock-out times.
  • Visitor management: Barcodes can be used to track who is coming and going in a building.
  • Event management: Barcodes can be used to track attendees at events, such as conferences and trade shows.
  • Shipping and receiving: Barcodes can be used to track shipments and deliveries.

A step-by-step guide to implementing a barcode system

Now that you know how barcodes can benefit your small business, let’s talk about how to get started with your own barcode system.

1. Choose a barcode type

There are two main types of barcodes: linear (or 1D) and 2D.

Linear barcodes are the most common type of barcode. They are often used to track inventory in retail stores. Linear barcodes can store up to 20 digits of information.

2D barcodes are less common, but they are gaining popularity due to their ability to store more information. 2D barcodes can store up to 7,089 characters of information.

So how do you know which barcode type is right for your business? It depends on your needs. If you only need to track basic information, such as product names and prices, a linear barcode will probably suffice.

However, if you need to track more detailed information, such as customer data or shipping details, a 2D barcode would be a better option.

2. Choose a barcode symbology

Once you’ve decided on a barcode type, you need to choose a symbology. Symbology is a specific format for encoding data in a barcode. There are dozens of different symbologies, but the most popular ones are Code 128, Code 39, and UPC-A.

Code 128 is the most versatile symbology and can be used to encode any type of data. However, it is more complex than other symbologies and requires more computer processing power to decode.

Code 39 is a popular symbology for encoding alpha-numeric data. It is often used to track inventory in warehouses.

UPC-A is the most common symbology for encoding numeric data. It is often used to track products in retail stores.

3. Get a barcode scanner

Once you’ve chosen a symbology, you’ll need to get a barcode scanner that can read that symbology. Barcode scanners are available in both handheld and fixed-mount models.

Handheld scanners are the most common type of scanner. They are small, portable, and easy to use. However, they can only scan one barcode at a time.

Fixed-mount scanners are larger and more expensive than handheld scanners. But they have the advantage of being able to scan multiple barcodes at once. This makes them ideal for use in warehouse or retail environments.

See our post on how to pick the right barcode printer and scanner to get the right equipment for your business.

4. Generate your barcodes

Now that you have a barcode scanner, you need to generate the barcodes themselves. There are many software programs that can help you do this.

Some barcode generators, such as Barcode Maker, allow you to create barcodes for free. Others, such as TEC-IT, charge a monthly subscription fee.

It is possible to generate barcodes for free using tools like Excel, Google Sheets, or LibreOffice.

However, these tools only support a limited number of symbologies, and they can be cumbersome to track. For example, Excel only supports Code 128 and UPC-A.

We recommend using a dedicated barcode generator, such as Barcode Maker, to create your barcodes. This will save you time and ensure that your barcodes are generated correctly.

5. Print your barcodes

Once you’ve generated your barcodes, you need to print them. You can print barcodes on labels, tags, or cards using a regular printer.

However, if you plan on printing a large number of barcodes, we recommend investing in a thermal transfer printer. Thermal transfer printers are designed specifically for printing barcodes and labels.

Barcode printers are specialized machines that are designed specifically for printing barcodes. They are more expensive than regular printers, but they offer the advantage of being able to print barcodes directly onto products.

Regular printers can also be used to print barcodes, but you’ll need to purchase labels or tags specifically for that purpose.

If you don’t have a thermal transfer printer, you can also use an online printing service, such as Moo or Vistaprint.

6. Test your barcodes

Once you’ve printed your barcodes, it’s important to test them to make sure they work correctly. The best way to do this is to scan the barcodes with your barcode scanner.

If the barcodes are working correctly, the scanner should be able to read the data encoded in the barcode. If the scanner is unable to read the barcode, it may be due to a printing error or the wrong symbology being used.

It’s also a good idea to test your barcodes with multiple scanners, just to be sure. Barcode scanners can differ in their ability to read certain symbologies, so it’s important to test with a variety of scanners.

7. Apply your barcodes

Now that you’ve generated, printed, and tested your barcodes, it’s time to apply them to your products. This can be done using labels, tags, or cards.

Labels are the most common type of barcode, and they can be applied by hand or with a labeler. Labelers are specialized machines that apply labels quickly and accurately.

Tags are similar to labels, but they are larger and more durable. They can be applied by hand or with a tagger. Taggers are specialized machines that apply tags quickly and accurately.

Cards are the least common type of barcode, but they offer the advantage of being more durable than labels or tags.

They can be applied by hand or with a card printer. Card printers are specialized machines that print barcodes directly onto cards.

8. Track your barcodes

Once you’ve applied your barcodes, you need to track them. This can be done manually or with inventory management software like SkuVault Core by Linnworks.

Inventory management software makes it easy to track your barcodes and inventory levels in real-time. This can save you a lot of time and hassle, especially if you have a large inventory.

You can also track your barcodes manually, but this can be time-consuming and error-prone. We recommend using inventory management software to track your barcodes.

Frequently Asked Questions about barcode systems

What is the most commonly used barcode type?

The most commonly used barcode type is Code 128. It is a universal barcode that can be read by all major barcode scanners.

What are the different types of barcodes?

There are many different types of barcodes, but the most common are:

  • Code 128
  • UPC-A
  • UPC-E
  • EAN-13
  • EAN-8
  • ITF (Interleaved Two of Five)

How do I generate barcodes?

There are many ways to generate barcodes. The easiest way is to use an online barcode generator, such as Barcode Generator.

What is a 10-digit barcode called?

A 10-digit barcode is called an EAN-13 barcode.

What is a 5-digit barcode called?

A 5-digit barcode is called a UPC-E barcode.

What type of barcode is a QR code?

A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode. Two-dimensional barcodes are also called matrix codes or dot codes.

How much data can a barcode hold?

The amount of data that a barcode can hold depends on the type of barcode. The most common types of barcodes can hold up to 20 digits of data.

What is the difference between EAN-8 and EAN-13?

EAN-8 is an 8-digit barcode that is used for small items, such as books. EAN-13 is a 13-digit barcode that is used for larger items, such as appliances.

Final thoughts

Implementing a barcode inventory management system should be a no-brainer for businesses of all sizes, especially small businesses.

Given their low implementation cost and versatility, barcodes offer a wide range of benefits that can streamline operations, improve accuracy, and save time and money.

Just remember, scanning barcodes won’t mean a thing if you don’t have a digital system for organizing your inventory.

This includes things like product information, supplier details, stock levels, and more.

Investing in dedicated inventory management software like Linnworks is the best way to get the most out of your barcode system and keep your business running like a well-oiled machine.

To learn more about how Linnworks can help you save time, money, and headaches in your inventory management, check out our features page or click the button on this page to get a live demo.

Matt Kenyon

Matt Kenyon


Matt has been helping businesses succeed with exceptional content, lead gen, and B2B copywriting for the last decade. When he’s not typing words for humans (that Google loves), Matt can be found producing music, peeking at a horror flick between his fingers, or spending quality time with his wife and kids.