Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Basics of Barcode Fonts

by Nate Schubert

Barcode generation can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and the best method of depends largely on environment. Barcode images can be streamed into applications via the Internet or internally within an organization. They can be static or dynamic depending on the information required. There are a lot of different ways barcode technology can be integrated into your environment, but barcode fonts continue to be the most flexible choice.

What is a Barcode Font?

Like traditional fonts such as Calibri, Arial, Times New Roman and even the dreaded Comic Sans, barcode fonts can be applied to an encoded string of data to transform it into a readable barcode representation of that data. That may sound complicated, but it is a lot easier to understand in practice rather than in theory.

What is Encoded Data?

If you want to create a barcode from a font in a program like Microsoft or Excel, then that data needs to be encoded before the appropriate barcode font can be applied to it. Well, that's not completely true. It's absolutely possible to highlight your un-encoded data and then select the appropriate barcode font from the font drop-down list. It may look like a regular barcode, but you won't find a barcode scanner that can read it because there is important information missing in an un-encoded barcode. The absence of that information results in a barcode that looks correct but doesn't have things like start and stop characters which, as you may have guessed, tell a barcode scanning device where the targeted barcode begins (starts) and ends (stops).

Encoding is also important because it can include a check digit, which is a digit identifier in the barcode that may help to determine the standard or some other important aspect of it. IDAutomation provides a wide selection of free font encoder tools that can assist it's customers in encoding data strings to create a readable barcode which is a huge convenience given how cumbersome the manual process of calculating check digits can be.

The Benefits of Barcode Fonts?

Choosing to integrate barcode fonts into your process as opposed to components or stand-alone barcode generation programs is a decision that shouldn't be made lightly. While the Java Barcode Component may create the same barcode as our Postnet & Intelligent Mail Barcode Font Package, they way they are created is quite different.

They're just fonts, which means they can integrate into a number of different operating systems, production environments and software applications. This means you can use the same barcode fonts on a Windows platform, a Unix or Linux system or even Macintosh.

With IDAutomation Font Tools, users are free to integrate barcode fonts into popular reporting software such as Crystal Reports, Oracle Reports, Access, FileMaker and much more. This means you are not limited in your environment when generating barcodes which can be a plus, especially if the barcode fonts will be used in multiple departments.

Drawbacks of Barcode Fonts

While barcode fonts may bring greatly increased levels of flexibility across platforms and applications, it is important to note that there are some drawbacks which can influence any integration decision.

Barcode Fonts need to be installed on a computer or a server where the computer is connected, or the user will not be able to view, let alone generate the barcode. This can be an issue when distributing documents outside of your organization where the recipients will not have access to the barcode font, which will result in no barcode displayed on the document once it leaves your organization. This problem can be solved by embedding barcode fonts into documents but the process is usually more complicated than a standard user has time to grasp and execute.

While barcode fonts increase cross-platform and application compatibility, the actual types of barcodes generated are limited to just the type that exists in the package itself. For example, the Code 128 Barcode Font Advantage Package allows generation of any barcode that is created from the Code 128 symbology. This includes UCC-128, EAN-128, GS1-128, SCC-18 and more. On the same token, the .NET Linear Barcode Forms Control component allows generation of code 128, code 39, codabar, postal barcodes and many other types, but only in a .NET environment.

A Word About 2D Barcode Fonts

If you need something with a little more power, consider a two-dimensional barcode font like Data Matrix, PDF417 or QR Code. These fonts are more complex than the standard linear fonts above and so their encoders are usually available for Java, .NET, ASP, ActiveX and others. These fonts have more in common with components, although they are still fonts and should be considered appropriately.

At The End of The Day...

Finally, it's the end of the road. You've identified which barcode type you want to generate. You've made the font vs. component decision based on which barcode(s) you want to create, which environment(s) you'll be creating them in, and how you'll be encoding the data, and you're ready to pull the trigger. Whether you're a developer working to integrate the product inside an existing application, a custom application or even an internet web page or just a regular joe who wants to turn a zip code into a barcode, barcode fonts are going to help you make that possible.

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