Barcode Scanner Buying Guide

Barcode scanners are electronic devices that are able to read and output printed bar codes to a computer with a lens, a light source and a light sensor. Barcode scanners illuminate the black and white elements of a barcode with a red light, which is then converted into matching text. With so many new options and varieties becoming available to consumers, it is vital to define a few key needs prior to making a decision on which barcode scanner will work best for you.

Types of Barcode Scanners

The most important discerning factor of barcode scanners is the scan engine type. This is determined by the types of barcodes you'll be scanning and how aggressively the unit will be used. For example, laser scanners tend to provide better performance at reading distances over 2 feet and in low light situations. The 3 types of scan engine are Laser, Linear Image and 2D Area Imagers.


The most common barcode scanner type. Laser barcode scanners utilize a red diode laser to read the reflectance of the black and white spaces within the barcode. Laser scanners are only able to read standard linear (1D) barcodes. A standard range Laser Barcode Scanner can read a barcode from about 6 to 24 inches away, and a long range Scanner can read one from about 2 to 8 feet away. Certain extra long-range Laser Barcode Scanners are capable of reading a barcode from up to 30 feet away. Extended range laser scanners are also available, like the Motorola DS3508-ERAU0100ZR, which is able to read up to 30ft away when using large reflective labels.

Liner Image

Like Laser barcode scanner, Linear Image scanners can only read 1D barcodes. Instead of reading reflected light from the laser, Linear Image Scanners photograph the barcode and analyze the image in order to extract the code information. Linear imagers, such as the Honeywell Hyperion 1300g Linear-Imaging Scanner, are becoming common replacements for standard laser scanners. Linear Imagers tend to do a better job at reading poorly printed or damaged codes in comparison to lasers. For projects that require more aggressive capabilities, a linear imager will be a great fit for close to the same cost.

2D Area Imagers

2D Area Imagers offer exceptional reading of both linear 1D and 2D barcodes. Similar to linear imagers, 2D Area Imagers capture an image to analyze. However, as opposed to only being able to scan 1D barcodes, these scanners can read 1D, stacked, and 2D barcodes. Another advantage these imagers have is that the orientation of the barcode isn't important when reading. 2D Area Imagers work more quickly and intelligently than Laser and Linear Image scanners, eliminating the need to fix codes in a specific orientation and capability of extracting barcodes from any surface, such as a monitor or phone screen.

It will also be important to define your needs in order to choose the appropriate form factor when choosing a barcode scanner. Form factors include handheld, presentation, mobile computer, In-counter and fixed mount.


The most convenient barcode scanners are handheld, allowing you to simply aim at the barcode and pull the trigger. Most models, like the Datalogic Powerscan PBT8300, will also provide a hands-free, cordless option.


Presentation Barcode Scanners usually sit on top of a counter or desk where barcoded items are passed in front of them. These hands-free scanners generally produce an "omni-directional" scan pattern, which means they can scan barcodes at any angle. Presentation scanners are ideal for point-of-sale retail uses.

Mobile Computer

Mobile Computer Barcode Scanners combine the PC that would otherwise be receiving the coded information with the barcode scanner in one single device. With Mobile Computer Barcode Scanners like the Motorola MC75A, users are able to move around freely while storing information into their internal memory.


Just like Presentation Scanners that are meant to read barcodes which are scanned past them, In-Counter Barcode Scanners are designed to be affixed permanently to a countertop surface. These are the scanners you see in the checkout line of the food store.

Fixed Mount

A Fixed Mount scanner is specialized to be integrated with a larger automated system, made to be mounted on conveyer line. Their capabilities are also greatly increased, as seen in the Honeywell 3310G-4, which is able to adapt to varying speeds of assembly line without the need for user interaction.

Pay Attention to

Which scan engine you require

Which form factor should your barcode scanner be?

What type of environment will your barcode scanner be used in?

Will you be scanning at close range to the barcode or from a distance?

What will your scanner need to be connected to?

Will you need the information scanned in real time?

Do you need cordless or bluetooth capabilities?

Will you be scanning codes from multiple directions?

Top Brands and Product Lines

Honeywell, Motorola, Zebra, TaoTronics and Socket Mobile have released some of the most impressive and well receiver barcode scanners. With intuitive reading of 13 mil barcodes out to 18 inches, as well as reading of high density barcodes as small as 3 mil, the Honeywell Voyager series eliminates the need to purchase specialty scanners. Taotronics is the first choice for over 1.3 million Amazon customers and among the most popular products is the TaoTronics? USB Barcode Scanner Wired Handheld Laser. The TaoTronics Laser Scanner is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux and works with Quickbook, Word, Excel, Novell and all common software. Finally, with omni-directional scan pattern and the ability to support all common interfaces, the Zebra Symbol DS4208-SR Handheld 2D Omnidirectional Barcode Scanner/Imager with USB Cable offers everything you could ask for in a 2D Area Imager.