What Is a 2D Barcode? – Types, Benefits, and Uses [Explained]

2D barcode

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2D barcodes, also known as two-dimensional barcodes, have transformed how businesses manage data by offering a compact, high-capacity solution for encoding information. These versatile barcode systems are widely used across industries for asset tracking, inventory management, secure data transfer, and customer engagement applications. 

2D barcodes’ compact size, error correction capabilities, and capacity to hold different data formats make them invaluable tools in today’s data-driven world. However, implementing 2D barcodes requires a solid understanding of their types, benefits, and appropriate usage.

In this article, we’ll explore what 2D barcodes are and examine their different types. We’ll also delve into their advantages and most common applications, providing a comprehensive understanding of how to enhance data management strategies.

What is a 2D Barcode?

Definition of 2D barcode

2D barcodes are graphical codes designed to store data in both horizontal and vertical axes, enabling them to hold significantly more information than traditional 1D barcodes. They use various shapes like squares, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns to encode data across two dimensions. 

2D barcodes can store diverse data types, including alphanumeric characters, binary data, and special symbols. They have high barcode density, ensuring improved readability and accuracy. Additionally, 2D barcodes have built-in error correction, similar to check digits in some 1D codes. This error correction capability allows the codes to remain readable even if parts of the code are obscured or damaged due to wear & tear, dust, or dirt.   

Furthermore, 2D barcodes can be easily scanned and read by smartphones, expanding their practical applications. They are frequently used in interactive advertising, electronic ticketing, sharing contact information (like social media profiles), and distributing documents such as guides.

Types of 2D Barcode Symbologies

2D barcodes fall into two categories: Stacked 2D Barcode and Matrix 2D Barcode

Stacked 2D Barcodes

Stacked 2D barcodes arrange multiple rows of linear barcodes or 2D barcodes on top of each other, creating a compact two-dimensional structure. They are named “stacked” because they store encoded data in multiple layers, or stacks, one atop another. 

Examples include PDF417, MicroPDF417, Codablock and GS1 DataBar. Stacked 2D barcodes are commonly used in logistics, government identification, and shipping labels due to their robustness and ability to store large amounts of information.

Four types of stacked 2D barcodes
Four types of matrix 2D barcodes

Matrix 2D Barcodes

Matrix 2D barcodes use a grid or matrix of small individual elements, called cells or modules, arranged horizontally and vertically. These cells encode data and can vary in size and shape, such as squares, rectangles, hexagons, dots, or bars. Matrix 2D barcodes can store diverse data types, including URLs, numeric codes, and even images. 

Popular examples include QR codes, Data Matrix, Aztec Code and MaxiCode. Matrix 2D barcodes are widely used in inventory management, marketing, and digital payments due to their high data density and flexibility in storing various data formats.

Why Are 2D Barcodes Better?

Seven reasons why 2D barcodes are better

2D barcodes offer several notable advantages over traditional 1D barcodes, which is why they are gaining popularity across various industries. Here’s a deeper look into why 2D barcodes are superior. 

Higher Data Capacity

Due to their two-dimensional structure, 2D barcodes can store significantly more information than traditional 1D barcodes. This high data density allows businesses to encode comprehensive details, such as product specifications or batch information, within a compact, scannable area.

Compact Size

Despite their capacity to store extensive data, 2D barcodes are compact. They can fit on small packaging or labels without occupying much space. Their space-efficient design makes them ideal for high-density labelling, particularly when saving space is critical, such as on medical devices, circuit boards, or small electronic components. 

Error Correction

2D barcodes come with built-in error correction algorithms, such as Reed-Solomon error correction, enabling them to be read even if partially damaged or obscured. This ensures that the information remains accessible even if the barcode is scratched, stained, or covered by dust, providing reliable performance in challenging environments like warehouses, logistics, and outdoor settings.

Omnidirectional Scanning

2D barcodes offer omnidirectional scanning, meaning the barcode can be read from any angle without requiring precise barcode scanner alignment. This feature is invaluable in fast-paced environments such as retail grocery stores, inventory management, and manufacturing, where quick and accurate scanning is crucial.

Versatile Data Encoding

2D barcodes can accommodate various data formats, including numeric, alphanumeric, binary, and graphical data like images or logos. They can also encode non-English languages, enabling global usage across different regions. 

Smartphone Compatibility

2D barcodes can be easily scanned using mobile phones, offering widespread accessibility for digital ticketing, contact sharing, interactive advertising, and other consumer-facing applications. Their compatibility with consumer devices makes them a versatile tool for bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds.


2D barcodes allow businesses to gather extensive information in a single scan rather than requiring multiple scans of various one-dimensional barcodes. This efficiency leads to fast data access and processing, particularly in time-sensitive environments like logistics, retail checkouts, and warehouse management.

What is the Most Common 2D Barcode Type?

Five most common 2D barcode types

Each 2D barcode type offers unique features and is suited to different purposes. The table below highlights the data capacity, character type, and typical applications of the most common 2D barcode symbologies.

Data Capacity
Character Type
Common Usage
QR Code
4296 Alphanumeric Characters, 7089 Numeric Characters, 2953 Bytes of Data or 1817 Kanji Characters (character set according to JIS X 0208)
Numeric, Alphanumeric, Binary
Marketing, Digital Payments, Advertisement
Data Matrix
2335 Alphanumeric Characters, 3116 Numeric Characters, or 1556 Bytes of Data
Numeric, Alphanumeric, Binary
Aerospace, Electronic, Logistics and Automotive
Aztec Code
3067 Alphanumeric Characters, 3832 Numeric Characters, or 1914 Bytes of Data
Numeric, Alphanumeric, Binary
Document Verification, Ticketing
1850 Alphanumeric Characters, 2710 Numeric Characters, or 1105 Bytes of Data
Numeric, Alphanumeric, Binary
Airline Boarding Passes, Government Identification Documents
93 Alphanumeric Characters, 138 Numeric Characters
Numeric, Alphanumeric
Packaging, Logistics, Courier Services

Where Are 2D Barcodes Used?

Six industries where 2D barcodes are used

2D barcode technology is employed across various industries due to its high data capacity and versatile encoding capabilities. Here are some common applications. 

Retail and E-Commerce

2D barcodes are widely used in retail for product identification, inventory management, and point-of-sale transactions. 

QR codes are often found on product labelling, linking to detailed product information or promotional content online, enhancing the customer experience. PDF417 codes are also commonly found on customer loyalty cards and membership programs due to their ability to store comprehensive customer data. 

Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals

In healthcare, 2D barcodes like Data Matrix codes and Codablock are commonly found on pharmaceutical labels. They are essential for tracking medical devices and ensuring medication traceability. They help meet regulatory requirements for accurate patient identification while providing swift access to drug information.

Logistics and Supply Chain

2D barcodes such as MaxiCode and PDF417 optimise parcel and courier delivery by providing comprehensive shipment details. They are used on shipping labels to streamline package tracking and facilitate the sorting process.

Travel and Transportation

QR codes, Aztec codes, and PDF417 are widely used in electronic ticketing for air travel, railways, and public transportation. They offer secure and efficient ways to validate tickets, minimise fraud, and simplify boarding. 

Marketing and Advertising

2D barcodes, such as QR codes, act as interactive tools, linking to websites, promotional videos, or digital coupons. By scanning these barcodes, customers can engage with a brand directly through their mobile devices, creating a seamless connection between physical and digital marketing.

Identification and Security

Governments and organisations use 2D barcodes like MicroPDF417 and PDF417 on identification documents such as passports, driver’s licence, visas, and ID cards. These barcodes securely store personal data, making it easier to authenticate identities and prevent counterfeiting.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a 2D Code the Same as QR Code?

No, a QR code is a specific type of 2D barcode. While all QR codes are 2D barcodes, not all 2D barcodes are QR codes.

What Is the Difference Between 1D and 2D Barcodes?

1D barcodes store data in a single linear direction, usually horizontally, while 2D barcodes encode data both horizontally and vertically, enabling higher data capacity and error correction. Refer to our 1D vs 2D barcode comparison guide for more information. 

What Is the Difference Between 2D and 3D Barcodes?

2D bar codes encode information on a flat surface in two dimensions (horizontal and vertical). In contrast, 3D barcodes (like barcodes with embossed features) incorporate physical depth to encode data, often for anti-counterfeiting or particular security purposes.

How to Scan 2D Barcodes?

To scan a 2D bar code, you can use a dedicated 2D barcode scanner or a smartphone camera with barcode-scanning software. Simply align the barcode scanners or camera with the barcode, and the software will decode and display the information.

The Bottom Line

2D barcodes have transformed how data is managed across various industries, offering significant advantages such as more data capacity, compact design, and error correction. Their versatility in encoding different data types and compatibility with a mobile device makes them essential for applications in retail, healthcare, logistics, and beyond.  

Understanding the different barcode types, applications, and unique features can help businesses streamline their data management processes and enhance efficiency. Whether used for product identification, marketing, or secure identification, 2D barcodes provide a powerful solution to meet modern data management needs.

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