2D Barcode Labeling

What Is 2D Barcode?

2D Barcode labeling is the latest symbology for machine readable information on shipping labels and documents. The 2D symbology can hold 2,000 characters compared with 1D barcode holding only 20-25 characters. 2D barcode is already being used in applications including QR codes we see on many products and publications. Some in our industry have converted to 2D barcode and others are planning to change. The industry will eventually adopt 2D barcode.

Examples of 2D barcode includes:


Implementing 2D Barcode

ECIA hosts a 2D Barcode Certification Portal to enable distributors and manufacturers to update their systems to meet the new standard.

To facilitate that process, ECIA has partnered with Bar Code Graphics (BCG) to help the industry transition to 2D Barcode labeling. BCG has been in the bar code business for more than 30 years and has been working with Digi-Key to transition many of their suppliers to 2D Barcode labeling. This has given BCG a good understanding of our industry and some of the challenges we present.

Label certification will be administrated by Bar Code Graphics (BCG) through the ECIA certification portal.  The portal will enable suppliers to manage their testing in one location, and enable distributors to track implementation progress.  The objective is to simplify manufacturers’ 2D barcoding certification, requiring only one label certification accepted by the distributors.

This portal hosts a number of resources, including the ECIA 2D barcode specifications, instructions for getting started, frequently asked questions, and an online 2D barcode decoding tool. It is the ECIA’s official conduit for all 2D barcode testing.

BCG is managing our Barcode Labeling Program through the following initiatives:

Manage joint ECIA/BCG 2D barcode certification program

  • Jointly branded certification program
  • Reduce burden on suppliers for having to test labels with each distributor.
  • Reduce costs for distributors performing in-house testing.

Host ECIA 2D Barcode Certification Portal

  • Facilitate supplier label submissions for testing and view certification test history.
  • Participating distributors have access to their respective suppliers’ certification status.
  • Suppliers are provided pre–made label templates for popular labeling software

Barcode Labeling Program Benefits

Currently there is no universally accepted label for our industry causing increased costs, time, and errors. The ECIA specification can standardize labeling regardless of the use of 2D. It's time our industry used one standard for labeling, saving time, money, and reducing complexity.

Benefits for Distributors

  • Increased participation from manufacturer community
  • Confidence in supplier provided labels and pack slips
  • Eliminates the need for internal testing

Benefits for Manufacturers

  • Industry-wide commitment is both incentive and imperative to convert to 2D
  • Single testing process eliminates duplicate efforts with each distributor.

For companies currently using 1D barcode, receiving operations often take as many as nine scans. Each scan has the potential for inaccuracy and frequently these have to be rescanned. All of this takes time. Companies using 2D report they reduced the number of scans from eight to two.

ECIA Specification

The Supply Chain Council of the ECIA established a committee of member companies to develop a specification for package and packing slip labeling. This specification includes human readable, 1D barcode, and 2D barcode.

The specification can be used by manufacturers and distributors regardless of their readiness for 2D barcode. This specification standardizes labeling and packing slip fields and label designs for our industry.

Industry Next Steps and Lessons Learned

ECIA recommends that companies start converting labeling specifications to comply with this specification regardless of the use of 2D. Some companies are requiring their trading partners to use 2D and are including this on scorecards.

Here are some comments and lessons learned from those on the front lines of implementing 2D barcode:

  • Set realistic expectations for each partner. This is a huge undertaking for suppliers AND distributors. It’s worth it.
  • Work one on one with each other to test the labels. It’s important to determine what the problems are before they start shipping with the new information. It’s not always a supplier problem. Many times it’s a tiny flaw in the distributor's system design.
  • Select your equipment carefully. Scanners claim to be (and many are) backwards compatible but they might not be so easy to use in your specific application. Get a few samples. Don’t skimp. You’ll decrease the benefits.
  • Design your system to collect ALL of the data provided if possible even if it’s just stored somewhere in the background. You never know when it may be valuable in the future.
  • Don’t just send the spec to your partners. Get someone on the phone with the supplier or distributor that truly understands the spec. By having one good call, you’ll save 20 more.
  • Underestimated the time it took suppliers to ramp-up. The initial outreach should have been done earlier. Should have better gauged timelines and approach.
  • The labeling standardization must be important across the industry. All distributors should be using the same labeling specification.
  • Each supplier’s ship points need to be tested individually.
  • Upfront engagement between relationship touch-points is crucial.

What others are saying:

“We are seeing about 50% increase in productivity for the staff using 2D barcodes. We’ve reduced the proofing required because of the accuracy. We were surprised about the training advantages. Right now the # of staff using 2D is low. Where 2D is being used, it is very beneficial.”

In a Nutshell: Advantages of 2D barcoding

  • Faster, more efficient
  • Accurate information direct from supplier
  • One scan loads all information
  • Eliminates proofing
  • Eliminates human error
  • Cuts cost
  • Reduces training time

2D Barcode Basics Document
2D Barcode Basics Presentation


2D Barcode Explanation
2D Barcode Demo

For more information contact:Staff: Don Elario, VP of Industry Practices
Email: [email protected]