What is a Data Matrix Code? – A Complete Guide

What are data matrix codes

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In today’s technology-driven world, the use of barcodes is an inevitable necessity. From tracking inventory to preventing counterfeiting, they have asserted their presence in every industry. One such type of barcode is the Data Matrix code.

Data Matrix codes are two-dimensional barcode symbols composed of black and white squares. These barcodes are capable of storage of both text and binary data. Their compact size and expansive storage capacity make them versatile for various applications.

In this article, we will discuss what data matrix code is, how it works, and what benefits it brings to your business. So, let’s dive in, shall we?

What are Data Matrix Codes?- A Detailed Explanation

What do you mean by data matrix code

Data Matrix barcodes are two-dimensional barcode symbology that allows for the storage and retrieval of data in a compact, square grid. 

The Data Matrix code was developed in the 1980s by International Data Matrix Inc. (ID Matrix). It gained significant popularity due to its ability to encode large amounts of information in a very small space.

Unlike traditional linear barcodes that encode data in a single line, Data Matrix codes consist of black and white squares arranged in a matrix pattern. The size of the Data Matrix code can vary depending on the amount of information to be stored.

The Data Matrix barcode encodes various characters, including all 256 ASCII characters, ISO characters, and EBCDIC characters. Data Matrix codes can encode up to 2335 alphanumeric characters, 3,116 numerical characters, or 1556 bytes of information.

One of the key features of Data Matrix codes is their high data density. These barcodes can store a large amount of information in a relatively small space. This makes Data Matrix codes an excellent choice for applications where space is limited.

Data Matrix codes also offer robust error correction capabilities. By utilising advanced error correction algorithms, these barcodes can withstand up to 30% of damage and still be readable. This makes them ideal for labelling small items, where barcode labels may become damaged or obscured.

Another notable feature of Data Matrix codes is their readability. These barcodes can be scanned from any orientation, allowing for quick scanning without the need for precise alignment of the scanner.

Data Matrix codes have found extensive use in a wide range of industries. They are used in logistics and supply chain management for tracking and tracing products and in manufacturing processes for inventory control and quality assurance. They are also used in healthcare for patient identification, medication tracking, and medical device labelling.

A Data Matrix code is often confused with a QR code. Here is an article on Data Matrix codes vs QR Codes that will help you understand the difference between these two barcode types.

Various Standards of the Data Matrix Code

List of nine various standards of data matrix code

The Data Matrix symbology is covered by various ISO/IEC and other standards. Let’s take a look at the various norms of the Data Matrix code:

AS9132 – Society of Automotive Engineers Parts Marking

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has developed the Data Matrix standard AS9132 for the automotive industry. This standard specifies using Data Matrix barcodes to mark automotive parts with key information such as part numbers, serial numbers, manufacturing dates, and other important data.

EIA 706 – Electronics Industry Marking Standard

The Electronics Industry Marking Standard, or EIA 706, is a set of guidelines created by the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). It is a standard for marking electronic components and products using Data Matrix barcodes.

ISO/IEC 16022:2006

The ISO/IEC 16022:2006 standard provides comprehensive guidelines for the structure, encoding, and decoding of Data Matrix barcodes.

ISO/IEC 15415

The ISO/IEC 15415 standard is internationally recognised and specifies the print quality requirements for 2-D barcodes, including Data Matrix codes. It provides guidelines for evaluating the readability and quality of printed 2-D barcodes, ensuring that they can be accurately scanned and decoded by barcode readers.

MIL-STD-130 – US Department of Defense Standard

The MIL-STD-130 standard outlines the requirements for identifying and marking military assets established by the US Department of Defense. It provides guidelines for using barcoding technologies, such as Data Matrix barcodes, to ensure the accurate identification of items in the defence supply chain.

NASA-STD-6002 – Aerospace Parts Marking

The NASA-STD-6002 standard is a set of guidelines established by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for marking aerospace parts and components. It includes specific requirements for using Data Matrix barcodes as a part of the marking process.

NASA-HDBK-6003 – Aerospace Direct Part Marking Methods and Techniques

The NASA-HDBK-6003 is another standard developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This standard provides a guide for aerospace direct part marking methods and techniques and outlines the requirements and best practices for marking aerospace parts with Data Matrix barcodes. 

Direct part marking involves permanently applying identification codes onto the surface of aerospace components.

SAE AS9132 – Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Aerospace Industry Marking Standard

The SAE AS9132 is a standard for marking aerospace components with Data Matrix barcodes. It was created by the Society of Automotive Engineers. This standard is specific to Data Matrix symbols and provides guidelines and requirements for their use in the aerospace industry.

Add Your HeadinX6721 – Korean Standardg Text Here

The X6721 standard is a set of guidelines and specifications developed in Korea for using Data Matrix barcodes. This standard outlines the requirements for creating and using Data Matrix symbols in various industries within Korea.

Why Do We Need Data Matrix Codes?

Data Matrix codes are an effective way to store digital data in a small space. They can be used for various applications, from product labels to ID cards and more. Data Matrix codes are also highly durable and resistant to damage, making them ideal for environments where consistent tracking is necessary.

Data Matrix codes offer several advantages over traditional barcodes, including a higher degree of fault tolerance, lower resolution requirements, and greater data storage capacity.

Data Matrix codes use ECC200 code for error correction. This means that even if substantial parts of the code are missing or damaged, it can still be decoded accurately.

The usage of Data Matrix codes has grown rapidly in the food industry, as they are used to accurately track product information and prevent incorrect packaging or expiry dates. These codes can be scanned even when printed on smaller items such as cans or bags.

Data Matrix codes are also used by manufacturers to keep track of production runs and supply and Retailers for inventory control and stock monitoring. Data Matrix codes are also used in the healthcare industry to identify and verify the authenticity of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Features of Data Matrix Code

Four features of Data Matrix Code

Here are some features that Data Matrix codes offer.

High Data Density

Data Matrix codes have a much higher data density than traditional barcodes. The data density makes Data matrix codes more space-efficient, allowing more information to be encoded within a smaller area.

Resolution Flexibility

Data Matrix codes have a lower resolution requirement (as low as 15%) than traditional barcodes, which require at least 80%. This makes them easy to read from small labels and product packaging or even from a distance or at strange angles.


Data Matrix codes have omnidirectional reading capability, meaning they can be scanned from any direction. This makes them easier to read than traditional barcodes, which must be scanned in a linear fashion.

Error Correction

Data matrix codes have a built-in error correction process. They can automatically correct errors even if up to 30% of the code area is damaged, thanks to their advanced algorithms.

How to Recognise A Data Matrix Code?

A Data Matrix code contains data encoded as black-and-white modules (or cells). These modules are organised into rows and columns and can be either square or rectangular in shape.

Each module represents one bit, with black typically representing “1” and white representing “0”. The data is arranged in a specific pattern that allows machines to recognise the code and decode its contents easily. 

QR codes (Quick Response code) and Data Matrix codes bear some similarities in appearance, but there is a notable distinction.

QR codes have a finder pattern consisting of three square structures placed at the top right, top left, and bottom left corners, while Data Matrix codes have an “L” shape as their finder pattern.

Elements of a Data Matrix Code

Detailed structure of Data Matrix Code

The Data Matrix code consists of the following elements.

  • Finder pattern
  • Data regions
  • Timing patterns
  • Quiet zone

Finder Pattern

The finder pattern in a Data Matrix code is made up of two solid adjacent borders arranged in a perpendicular shape, resembling the letter “L”. It helps the barcode scanner to locate and determine the position and orientation of the barcode symbology. 

Two points about finder pattern in the Data Matrix code
Point about data regions of Data Matrix code

Data Regions

The data region is the core area of the Data Matrix code. It is the area where the encoded data and error correction information are stored. The data region can be identified by the presence of alternating black-and-white modules.

Timing Pattern

The timing pattern is a series of alternating black and white modules located on opposite sides of the finder pattern. Its purpose is to help determine the module size, barcode scale, barcode rotation, number of rows and columns, barcode size and any potential distortion in the code.

Detailed points about timing patterns of data matrix code
Point about quiet zone in data matrix code

Quiet Zone

The quiet zone is a clear white area surrounding the Data Matrix code. It helps the barcode scanner accurately detect and scan the code.

The quiet zone should have at least one module width and should not include any patterns or structures.

Variants of the Data Matrix Code

Two variants of data matrix code

Data matrix barcodes can be classified into two types based on their error correction code (ECC) and the error-checking techniques they use. 

ECC 200

ECC 200 is the newer version of Data Matrix codes that uses Reed–Solomon codes for error correction.

Reed-Solomon codes work by adding redundancy to the original data. This redundancy is generated using mathematical calculations and appended to stored data. When the data is received or retrieved, the code can identify and correct errors based on the redundant information.

ECC 200 enables the reconstruction of the entire encoded data string even when the symbol has sustained 30% damage.

Data Matrix codes that use ECC 200 always have an even number of modules, which are mostly square and have sizes ranging from 10 × 10 to 144 × 144 modules. However, some symbols have rectangular modules with sizes ranging from 8 × 18 to 16 × 48, but only with even values.

ECC 200 variant also has a few additional features that make it stand out from earlier standards. These include inverse reading symbols (light images on a dark background), specification of the character set (via Extended Channel Interpretations) and structured append (linking up to 16 symbols together).

ECC 000-140

ECC 000-140 is the older variants of Data Matrix codes that use convolution-based error correction.

A convolutional code is a specific type of code used for error correction. It produces additional symbols, called parity symbols, by applying a boolean polynomial function to a stream of data in a sliding manner.

The amount of error correction provided by each version varies, with ECC 000 providing no correction and ECC 140 offering the greatest amount. Additionally, each version encodes a cyclic redundancy check (CRC) for error detection at decode time.

The CRC is a method for detecting errors. It involves using a polynomial calculation to compare the encoded check value to the calculated check value. If the two values don’t match, there’s a data error.

All Data Matrix codes using the ECC 000-140 variant have an odd number of modules and can be made in sizes from 9 × 9 up to 49 × 49 modules.

According to the ISO/IEC 16022 standard, ECC 000-140 is suitable only for closed applications where one party manages both the production and reading of symbols.

Uses of Data Matrix Barcodes

Six uses of data matrix code

Below are some of the most common uses for Data Matrix barcodes.

Used on Small Spaces

The primary advantage of using Data Matrix codes is their ability to store data in a small space. They are ideal for applications that require encoding large amounts of information but have limited space, such as on small electronic components, product labels and packaging.

Tracking Items

Data Matrix codes are used to keep track of items or shipments. By encoding the details of each item into the code, businesses can easily monitor their shipments and inventory.

Access Control

Data Matrix codes are used for access control applications, such as employee ID cards and membership cards. By encoding the user’s information into the code, businesses can easily manage and monitor who has access to their premises.

UID Tags

In military applications, a UID tag is mandatory for every piece of equipment. UID tags are made using Data Matrix codes, which store important data such as the serial number and date of manufacture. This helps to identify individual items in large batches and also track the item’s history.

Industrial Applications

Data Matrix codes are used in various industrial applications such as automated production lines and automated storage and retrieval systems. By scanning Data Matrix codes, machines can receive instructions on how to move or process items. This eliminates manual data entry, helping reduce human error and increase efficiency.

Food Industry

The food industry uses Data Matrix codes to store important information such as product’s origin, production date, expiration date and batch numbers in the code. Such information allows businesses to track their products from production to distribution easily. Data Matrix codes also help to trace any food item back to its source in case of a recall or a contamination incident.

How to Get A Data Matrix Code?

To generate a Data Matrix code, you need to follow these step-by-step instructions.

  1. Choose a Data Matrix code generator: Several online tools and software (both free and paid) can generate Data Matrix codes. Choose a reliable and trusted barcode generator that suits your needs.
  2. Input the data: Enter the data you want to encode into the Data Matrix code.
  3. Specify code size and format: Select the desired size and format for your Data Matrix code. You can choose the module (cell) size, symbol size, and additional formatting options, such as border thickness or colour.
  4. Generate the code: Click the “Generate” or “Create” button to generate the Data Matrix code based on the provided data and specifications.
  5. Verify the code: After the code is generated, take a moment to verify its accuracy. Ensure that the encoded data matches your intended content.
  6. Download or save the code: Once satisfied with the generated Data Matrix code, download it to your device.
  7. Test the code: Print the Data Matrix code or display it on a screen and use a barcode scanner or a mobile device. Ensure that the code can be scanned accurately.

Following these steps, you can generate a Data Matrix code that encodes your desired information and can be easily scanned.

When it comes to generating Data Matrix codes, there are plenty of options available online. It’s tempting to turn to free barcode generators to save money, but it’s important to keep in mind that these free tools come with limitations.

Paid Data Matrix code generators offer a level of flexibility and customisation that just can’t be matched by their free counterparts. They also typically offer better security measures and customer support, which can be invaluable if something goes wrong. Ultimately, investing in a paid barcode generator is a wise decision for those seeking to manage and create Data Matrix codes in a more effective and streamlined way.

One paid software we highly recommend to our customers is Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software, the world’s premier label design and printing software.

Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software doesn’t just enable users to create high-quality labels with stunning graphics and text but also allows for easy automation and management of the entire labelling process. With the ability to incorporate barcodes and even RFID tags, this software is a game-changer in label design, management and printing software.

With BarTender Software, you can create the following types of Data Matrix barcodes. 

  • GS1 DataMatrix
  • GS1 DataMatrix (01)(17)(10)(21) (10.0 mils, 15.0 mils, 15.6 mils, 19.5 mils, 39.0 mils)
  • DataMatrix 36×36 (01)(17)(10)(21) ( 30.0 mils and 60.0 mils)
  • GS1 DataMatrix (01)(90)

At Triton, we understand the value of having the right software for your business needs. That’s why we offer all four editions of BarTender Software, including Starter Edition, Professional Edition, Automation Edition and Enterprise Edition. We also offer the latest addition to the Bartender family, BarTender Cloud, at the best prices available. Choose Triton and get ready to revolutionise your label printing experience with BarTender Software!

To learn more about Seagull Scientific BarTender Software, contact us via the live chat widget below or fill out a form here.

How to Design a Data Matrix Code?

Creating efficient barcodes and labels is crucial for businesses to optimise their operations. To achieve this, it is necessary to follow proper guidelines to avoid errors and maximise the benefits of label and barcode usage.

The most important factors to consider when designing Data Matrix codes are the sizing rules, the X-dimension and the quiet zone.

Data Matrix Code Size

Design rules on size of Data Matrix Code

The size of a Data Matrix symbol varies according to the amount of data entered.

If ECC 000-140 is used, the symbol size can be anywhere from 9 x 9 modules to 49 x 49 modules. However, the number of rows and columns should always be an odd number. 

On the other hand, if ECC 200 is used, the symbol size can be anywhere from 10 x 10 modules to 144 x 144 modules. However, the number of rows and columns should always be an even number. 

There are two types of ECC 200 Data Matrix code sizing configurations: square type and rectangular type. 

Square Type ECC 200 Data Matrix Barcode

There are 24 module sizes available for a square-type Data Matrix code ranging from 10 x 10 modules to 144 x 144 modules. When there are more than 24 × 24 modules, the code is divided into blocks that do not exceed 24 modules on a side.

The square-type Data Matrix code has a maximum data capacity of 3116 numeric characters, 2335 alphanumeric characters or 1556 characters of binary data.

Rectangular Type ECC 200 Data Matrix Barcode

The rectangular-type Data Matrix code has a minimum size of 8 x 16 modules and a maximum size of 16 x 48 modules. There are 6 module sizes available for a rectangular-type Data Matrix code. These include:

  • 8 modules × 18 modules (1 block)
  • 8 modules × 32 modules (2 blocks)
  • 12 modules × 26 modules (1 block)
  • 12 modules × 36 modules (2 blocks)
  • 16 modules × 36 modules (1 block)
  • 16 modules × 48 modules (2 blocks)

The rectangular-type Data Matrix code has a maximum data capacity of 98 numeric characters, 72 alphanumeric characters or 47 characters of binary data.

How to Determine the Data Matrix Code Size?

To determine the size of a Data Matrix code, you need to multiply the number of modules by the module size.

For example, if the module size is 0.25 mm and there are 10 modules x 10 modules, the size of the Data Matrix code should be 2.5 mm x 2.5 mm.


Design rule about X-dimension of Data Matrix code

The size requirements of a Data Matrix symbol are based on its X-dimension, which is the measurement of the smallest element of the barcode. In the case of a Data Matrix symbol, this refers to the size of the black and white squares that make up the symbol.

The minimum acceptable X-dimension for a Data Matrix symbol is 0.50 mm (0.0195 inches).

Quiet Zone

Design rule on quiet zone of Data Matrix code

To ensure proper scanning, the Data Matrix symbol requires a minimum quiet zone equal to its X dimension.

For example, in a 0.0195-inch Data Matrix symbol, a quiet zone of at least 0.195 inches must be maintained on all four sides of the Data Matrix symbol.

How to Print Data Matrix Codes?

Five printing rules of Data matrix code

It’s essential to consider the printing quality in order to guarantee proper scanning of Data Matrix codes. Here are the best practices for printing Data Matrix codes.

  • Ensure high print quality: Should be printed with at least 203 DPI print resolution on a clean, clear surface to achieve the best print quality.
  • Use high contrast: Should contrast well with the background, making it easier to read.
  • Avoid distortion: Must not be stretched or distorted, as this may cause scanning errors.
  • Check for encoding errors: Should be checked for any encoding errors, such as incorrect data or invalid characters.
  • Accurate sizing: Should be printed with the exact size as specified in the standard.
  • Adequate quiet zone: Should have a quiet zone as specified in the standard.

Data Matrix codes can be printed using various methods, including laser printing, thermal printing and inkjet printing. However, thermal printing is the most recommended option since it produces high-quality results and ensures a longer shelf life for the Data Matrix code.

Thermal printers are a type of non-impact printer that uses heat to print on a variety of print media. These printers have a thermal printhead which generates the required amount of heat. This heat then activates the dye or transfers the ribbon onto print media.

Thermal printing technology is way better than inkjet and laser printing technology for printing Data Matrix codes. Here are some reasons why.

  • High-quality printing
  • Faster print speeds
  • Cost-effective
  • Durable and smudge-resistant printing
  • Low maintenance costs

When it comes to thermal printing, Triton has set the standard for excellence. Our selection of thermal printers from major brands like Zebra, Honeywell, TSC and coloured printers from OKI are unmatched in terms of their accuracy, efficiency, and durability.

We offer a wide variety of printers, including desktop label printers, industrial label printers, direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers and barcode label printers, ensuring that there’s something for every printing task.

At Triton, we believe that our clients deserve the very best in terms of quality and service, which is why we take a formal approach to service that is both reliable and professional. We strive to provide a personalised experience with every contact and are committed to delivering results that will exceed your expectations.

So why wait? Contact us today via the live chat widget below, and let us show you why Triton is the right choice for all your thermal printing needs. We look forward to serving you!

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, data matrix codes have become a popular 2D code type due to their ability to store more information in less space. As such, they are used in diverse industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and shipping.

Unlike other barcodes, data matrix codes are omnidirectional and can be read even when partially damaged, making them a reliable solution for barcode scanning. If you’re looking for a barcode that offers a higher level of data security, a smaller size, and more information storage, then data matrix codes can be a great solution for your business.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of data matrix codes and their various features.

Thanks for reading! ​​ ​

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