When most of us think about barcodes, we tend to envision 1D linear barcodes such as the UPC symbols used on items at the grocery store or barcode labels used for tracking packages. But there are over 20 major barcodes commonly used in different industries and applications today, including high-density 1D and 2D barcodes that are used in the life sciences to label and track lab equipment, blood and biological samples, chemicals, vaccines, and more.


The advantage of high-density barcodes is that they can pack much more characters and data into each symbol. Instead of only storing numerical information, as a UPC symbol does, these barcodes can store all standard ASCII characters, including numbers, letters, and even special characters and control codes. Some can encode binary data as well.


Additionally, some high-density barcodes, such as QR codes or Data Matrix codes, are two-dimensional, so they can encode information both vertically and horizontally. This allows them to encode up to thousands of letters or characters in a single code. In the case of Data Matrix codes, which are often used with life sciences and medical equipment and circuit boards, the barcodes can be as small as 2.5mm, without losing any of its data capacity.


Data Matrix and QR codes also have built-in error correction, allowing barcode scanners to read these codes successfully, even if the symbol is up to 60% damaged. This is particularly important in life sciences applications where labels might come into contact with harsh chemicals, high heat, extreme cold, or other conditions that could affect printing. In addition to using 2D barcodes that help with compensating for potential symbol damage, you can also use specialized synthetic labels and resin printer ribbons that combine together to create a much more durable barcode and label that can withstand these exposures and prevent damage in the first place.


This extra durability and all the data capacity of a dense barcode are great because they allow companies tremendous flexibility and sophistication in how they identify and track the inventory, equipment, and specimens that move through their operations. But taking advantage of dense barcodes requires having the right barcode printers and scanners to get the job done.


For printing the densest barcodes, you’ll often need a printer that can print as many as 600 dots per inch (dpi) or 24 dots per millimeter (dpmm). Zebra’s ZT610 and ZT411 industrial printers are two of the top devices for this kind of print resolution.


With Zebra’s printers, you can print at 600 dpi or 24 dpmm on labels as small as 3mm, allowing you to encode and apply dense barcodes for use on small instruments, glass vials, and other items requiring smaller labels. But Zebra printers are also great for printing larger labels as well, with the ability to print maximum widths of up to 4.09” or 104 mm with both the ZT610 and ZT411 industrial printers.


If you don’t need quite that level of print resolution, you can still use Zebra’s industrial printers to print at 300 or 203 dpi (12 or 8 dpmm). And the ultra-rugged all-metal components and premium construction of these printers make them an ideal choice for continuous and reliable labeling as well as maximum durability that can save you money on long-term printer costs. Zebra’s industrial printers also provide all the connectivity you need, including USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, RS-232 Serial, and Bluetooth communications, plus two open communication slots to accommodate additional options.


If you’re labeling at lower volumes and only need 300 or 203 dpi resolution (12 or 8 dpmm), then Zebra’s ZD6212 or ZD421 compact desktop printers are also good choices. They can print at 300 dpi or 12 dpmm resolution at speeds up to 8 inches (203 mm) per second, on widths up to 4.21 inches (108 mm). Plus, you get the same standard connectivity that Zebra offers on its industrial printers, including Ethernet, Serial, USB, USB host, 802.11ac WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.1.


However, printing high-density labels is one thing. Scanning them is another, and that’s where the right barcode scanners or imagers are also important.


Some barcode scanners are just that: they’re scanners, and many of them will only scan 1D barcodes, often with limited densities. But a barcode imager can scan both 1D and 2D barcodes, including the tiniest barcodes with the densest printing.


Fortunately, you don’t have to go to a different supplier or manufacturer for barcode imagers. Zebra, which makes the world’s top barcode label printers, also produces the highest-quality and most advanced barcode imagers. Its PRZM Intelligent Imaging and decoding algorithms ensure first-time, reliable data capture every time you scan a barcode, whether it’s a 1D or 2D symbol, and even if it’s curved and applied to round surfaces.


Two excellent examples for life sciences applications are Zebra’s DS4608-HC and DS9900-HC imagers. The DS4608-HC is a disinfectant-ready device that easily captures virtually every barcode type in the world, including Code 128, Data Matrix, and QR codes with the highest density.


As an imager, the DS4608-HC uses an 800 MHz microprocessor and high-resolution megapixel sensor that work together with Zebras’ exclusive PRMZ Intelligent Imaging to instantly capture and decode the densest and most challenging barcodes. It can also capture multiple barcodes with a single press of the scanning trigger, and you can configure it to only transmit the barcodes you need in the order your application expects.


The DS9900-HC imager provides the same data capture capabilities but in a hybrid handheld and hands-free device that’s designed specifically for labs. It provides first-time, every time capture of small, high-density, curved, and even color-coded barcodes. And its one-of-a-kind hybrid design allows you to switch seamlessly between a handheld mode and placing it in an included cradle to use as a hands-free presentation scanner.


If you need printers and scanners that can handle dense barcodes, particularly in life sciences, you can’t go wrong with Zebra’s technology. To learn more about these solutions, connect with our team at Vantage ID Applications Inc., and we’d be happy to answer any questions and provide recommendations of the best solutions for your barcoding and scanning needs.


We’ve been providing barcoding solutions to leading life sciences, biotech, pharma, and medical firms for over 28 years, and we’re a woman-owned, minority-owned small business certified by the SBA. Vantage ID Applications, Inc. See it all. Track it all.


To get started, call us now at 1-866-234-8468, or visit us on our website at vantageid.com/life-science-solutions