Unpacking the Mystery Behind MaxiCode Barcodes

What is a MaxiCode Barcode

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Courier services around the world use different types of barcodes to quickly identify, track, manage and process packages and mail. One of the most common barcodes used by such services is called the MaxiCode barcode.

MaxiCode is a two-dimensional (2D) barcode which consists of hexagonal modules or offset rows arranged in an array with a finder pattern at the centre. Developed and patented by UPS, MaxiCode is designed to encode large amounts of information that can be quickly read with an optical scanner.

In this blog post, we’ll take a deeper dive into MaxiCode barcodes – what they are, how they work, and why to use them over traditional linear barcodes.

Let’s get started!

What are MaxiCode Barcodes?- A Detailed Explanation

What is MaxiCode Barcode

MaxiCode barcodes are two-dimensional, circular barcodes developed by United Parcel Service (UPS) in 1992. It was developed to assist parcel services in tracking and organising package deliveries.

MaxiCode is also referred to as “Bird’s Eye,” “Target,” “Dense code,” or “UPS code.” It has a fixed size of one-inch square. Maxicode consists of hexagonal modules arranged around a bullseye-like circular symbol.

MaxiCode encodes all 256 ASCII characters but has less data capacity compared to other 2D matrix barcodes like QR codes and Data Matrix. It was made mainly for encoding addresses, with each symbol holding up to 93 alphanumeric characters or 138 numeric characters.

MaxiCode has a feature called “Structured Append” that connects up to eight MaxiCode barcodes. This feature helps to store and transfer larger amounts of data. The original data can be accurately reconstructed regardless of the scanning order of the symbols.

Maxi code symbols consist of primary and secondary messages.

The primary message encodes a postal code, a 3-digit country code, and a 3-digit service code. The secondary message, on the other hand, encodes address data and any additional necessary information.

MaxiCode also includes various modes that define the data structure and error correction within a symbol.

MaxiCode barcode symbology uses Reed-Solomon error correction, allowing it to be readable even if the code is partially destroyed. The barcode can handle up to 12.5% of code corruption.

MaxiCode has achieved widespread adoption in the postal and shipping industries in the United States since its creation. It finds extensive application in the logistics and postal industries, facilitating accurate tracking, timely delivery, and streamlined package management.

MaxiCode adheres to the ISO/IEC 16023:2000 standard, ensuring its compatibility across different systems and devices.

What is the Purpose of MaxiCode Barcodes?

MaxiCode barcodes offer a unified solution to facilitate precise tracking and management of package shipments. They capture and store necessary shipment details such as destination address, tracking number, service class, invoice data, and other relevant information.

Two benefits of MaxiCode Barcodes
Five points to consider for identifying maxicode barcodes

How to Recognise MaxiCode Barcodes?

MaxiCode barcodes have a unique appearance that sets them apart from other types of barcodes.

MaxiCode barcodes use dots arranged in a hexagonal grid, which differs from the square grid used in other 2D symbologies like Aztec and QR codes. The modules in MaxiCode are arranged in a specific order and density.

At the centre of a MaxiCode is a bull’s eye pattern. Surrounding the bull’s eye pattern is a combination of concentric black circles and hexagons arranged in a specific pattern. The barcode comprises 33 alternating rows of circular or hexagonal modules, each containing either 29 or 30 hexagonal modules. These rows follow one of six predetermined orientation patterns.

Structure of MaxiCode Barcodes

Data Encoding

Five code sets of MaxiCode data encoding

The Data encoded in a MaxiCode comes from various code sets. Code sets are sets of characters that can be changed by control or flag characters.

Please note that switching between code sets will impact the maximum amount of data you can use.

Here is the list of what each code set can encode.

  • Code Set A: Uppercase alphabets, numeric digits, and 15 common punctuation symbols.
  • Code Set B: Lowercase alphabets and several other punctuation symbols.
  • Code Set C: Multilingual uppercase and other graphic characters.
  • Code Set D: Multilingual lowercase and other graphic characters.
  • Code Set E: ASCII 0-31, 149-160, 162-167, 169, 173-174, 182

MaxiCode Barcode Anatomy

Detailed anatomy of a MaxiCode barcode

MaxiCode barcodes comprise of the following elements.

  • Data regions that contain hexagonal modules in a square array
  • Orientation patterns
  • Central finder pattern
  • Quiet zone border

Data Regions

Data regions are the area that contains all the data encoded in a MaxiCode barcode.

Data regions consist of 33 alternating rows, each consisting of 29 or 30 hexagonal modules. These hexagonal modules contain the actual encoded data of the barcode.

Barcode scanners extract the encoded data by analyzing these data regions.

Orientation Patterns

MaxiCode uses six fixed orientation patterns that are placed around the bull’s-eye finder pattern. These patterns act as a guide for scanners to understand the symbol’s orientation.

Central Finder Pattern

MaxiCode features a unique finder pattern. It is composed of three concentric black circles arranged in a bullseye configuration.

The central finder pattern acts as a visual reference point for scanners, allowing them to recognise and align the MaxiCode symbol.

Quiet Zone Border

MaxiCode symbols require a “quiet zone”, an area surrounding the symbol that must be kept free of any markings, blemishes, or other distractions.

Quite zone helps the scanners to locate and decipher the symbol accurately.


Details about two types of MaxiCode messages

The data in MaxiCode is split into two messages: the Primary message and the Secondary message. 

The Primary message contains a postal code, a 3-digit country code, and a 3-digit class of service number. Meanwhile, the Secondary message stores address data and any other relevant information.

Let us look at primary message components in detail.

Postal Code

Postal codes refer to the postal code or zip code used to determine the delivery route of a package.

In international shipping, the postal code can be up to 6 characters and must include only capital letters and digits.

In domestic shipping, the postal code can be up to 9 digits.

Service Class

Service class refers to a 3-digit number assigned by the carrier and shipper of a shipment. It is a number in the range of 000 to 999.

The service class is used to identify the class of the service opted for by the mailer.

Country Code

Country Code is a 3-digit number that helps identify the destination country. It is a number between 000 to 999.

To obtain a comprehensive list of country codes, please refer to the ISO standard 3166.

Data Modes

List of five data modes of MaxiCode barcodes

Data modes refer to sets of data items organised randomly or serially. Each data mode provides a specific organisation for storing and accessing data, catering to different requirements and use cases.

MaxiCode barcode supports five different data modes, namely.

  • Mode 2: Structured carrier message
  • Mode 3: Structured carrier message
  • Mode 4: Standard symbol
  • Mode 5: Full enhanced error correction
  • Mode 6: Reader programming

Modes 2 and 3 require specific formatting to ensure proper functionality, while modes 4, 5, and 6 offer flexibility and can accommodate various types of information.

Here is a brief summary of each of these data modes.

Mode 2: Structured Carrier Message

Mode 2 is designed for UPS domestic shipping. It requires formatted data that includes a numeric postal code.

In this mode, the primary message fields are mandatory for proper functionality, while the secondary message fields are optional.

Mode 3: Structured Carrier Message

Mode 3 is designed for global shipping. This mode requires data that includes an alphanumeric postal code.

The primary message fields are mandatory for Mode 3 to function correctly, while the secondary message fields are optional.

Mode 4: Standard Symbol

Mode 4 allows for the creation of barcodes that are free-form and can be used for various purposes. It does not need any particular primary or secondary message fields.

Mode 4 uses standard error correction.

Mode 5: Full Enhanced Error Connection

Mode 5 indicates that the symbol employs enhanced error correction for both the primary and secondary messages.

Mode 6: Reader Programming

Mode 6 is used to program scanners that can scan MaxiCode barcodes. This mode includes instructions and commands in the barcode to set up or update the reader’s settings.

How to Get a MaxiCode Barcode?

MaxiCode barcodes are free for public use and do not require a license or permission. You can generate them using online tools like MaxiCode Code Generator or software like Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software.

To obtain a MaxiCode barcode, you can follow these steps.

  1. Choose a MaxiCode Generator: There are various software applications, online tools, and barcode generator libraries available that can generate MaxiCode barcodes. Look for a reliable and trusted generator that supports MaxiCode symbology.
  2. Enter the Data: Determine the information you want to encode in the MaxiCode barcode. This can include data such as tracking numbers, addresses, shipment details, or any other relevant information.
  3. Generate the MaxiCode Barcode: Click on the “Generate” or “Create Barcode” button to generate the MaxiCode barcode based on the provided data and settings.
  4. Save or Print the Barcode: Once the MaxiCode barcode is generated, you can save it to your computer or directly print it.
  5. Test the Barcode: Before implementing the MaxiCode barcode in your business operations, it is advisable to test its readability using barcode scanning devices or software. Ensure that the barcode can be scanned accurately and the encoded data is correctly retrieved.

While free online barcode generators may offer a quick and convenient solution for generating MaxiCode barcodes, it’s crucial to consider their limitations. Here are some common limitations associated with free barcode generators.

  • Limited customisation: Free barcode generators often provide limited options for customising the appearance of the barcode.
  • Absence of technical support: Free barcode generators typically lack dedicated technical support. If you encounter any issues or need assistance with barcode generation, you may not have access to timely support or guidance.
  • Security and privacy concerns: When using free online barcode generators, you need to upload your sensitive information to their servers. This can cause security and privacy concerns. 

To overcome these limitations and ensure high-quality barcode generation, you should invest in paid barcode generators. They offer advanced features, customisation options, comprehensive technical support, and enhanced data handling capabilities.

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 is the ultimate solution for all your label design, management, and printing needs. With its comprehensive features and user-friendly interface, BarTender empowers users to create visually stunning labels that effectively communicate your brand image.

BarTender software offers a wide range of design tools, allowing you to incorporate graphics, logos, and text elements with ease. What’s more, the software supports RFID tags, enabling you to leverage the power of advanced label management. Experience the revolution in label design with Seagull Scientific’s BarTender Software.

At Triton, we understand that every business has unique label printing requirements. 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 enabling you to access and manage your label designs from anywhere, anytime. With Triton, you can be confident that you’ll receive top-quality software at the best prices.

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 MaxiCode Barcodes?

To produce a scannable barcode, you need to understand the appropriate techniques for creating barcode and label designs. 

When it comes to designing MaxiCode barcodes, there are some guidelines that must be followed for proper scanning.

MaxiCode Sizing

MaxiCode is a fixed-sized barcode symbology. It has a size of 1 inch by 1 inch.

Each hexagon in the barcode has a size of 0.035 inches by 0.041 inches.

Two points on design rules for barcode size of MaxiCode barcode
Designing rule on quiet zones of MaxiCode Barcodes

Quiet Zones

Quiet zone refers to the clear area surrounding a MaxiCode barcode. This space helps barcode scanners recognise the barcode symbol.

MaxiCode barcodes must have a quiet zone at least one module wide on all four sides.

How to Print MaxiCode Barcodes?

List of four printing guidelines for MaxiCode Barcode

When it comes to printing MaxiCode barcodes, following best practices ensures optimal readability and accurate scanning.

Here are some printing guidelines to consider.

  • High-Quality Printing: Use high-resolution printers. These printers are capable of producing sharp and clear images.
  • Adequate Contrast: Ensure sufficient contrast between the barcode and the background. The barcode should be printed in solid black, while the background should be white.
  • Verify barcode readability: Always test the printed MaxiCode barcode using a barcode scanner to ensure readability.
  • Proper Placement: Position the MaxiCode barcode appropriately on the label or packaging. It is recommended to leave quiet zones around the barcode.

Thermal printers are a must-have for printing high-quality MaxiCode barcodes.

Thermal printing is a process that involves using heat to print digital images onto different types of printing materials. This is done using a thermal printhead that generates heat to activate the dye or ribbon and transfer the image onto the printing medium.

Thermal printers can print with great accuracy and precision and are cost-effective as they don’t need ink or toner. Furthermore, they require little maintenance and are easy to use.

At Triton, we offer a wide range of thermal printers that can help you produce high-quality MaxiCode barcodes quickly and cost-effectively. We offer a wide selection of thermal printers from top brands such as Zebra, Honeywell, and TSC and coloured label printers from OKI. Our range of precise, efficient, and durable printers includes desktop label printers, industrial label printers, direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers and barcode label printers.

We also have a range of print consumables, including thermal labels, thermal carton labels, thermal carcase tags, thermal inserts, and thermal transfer ribbons, so you can easily replenish your printer supplies in no time.

Contact us today via the live chat widget, and discover why Triton is the right choice for all your thermal printing needs.


MaxiCode barcodes offers a great solution for shipping identification. This two-dimensional barcode has made organising packages easier than ever before.

As technology advances, it will be exciting to see how MaxiCode can be implemented in other industries. With its versatility and cost-effectiveness, there is no doubt that this two-dimensional barcode will be used for years to come.

Thank you for reading!

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