Barcode Reading Technology: Laser vs. Imager

Warehouse Environment with SR61 in use

Two technologies dominate in barcode scanning: laser and imaging. Each has specific strengths that make it more suitable in some applications than in others. Whether it’s an effort to make inventory management more manageable, tracking assets more streamlined, or giving your forklift operators greater flexibility on the go, the content below will help you decide which type of technology might be best for your application.

Ability to Read Multiple Symbols

In general, a laser handheld scanner can only scan 1D codes, making them unsuitable if you need to do any 2D barcode scanning. As 2D symbologies become more popular because of the increased amount of information they can hold, laser scanners may become less viable.

Scanning Distance

In inventory management or warehouse management use cases, a laser handheld scanner is ideal for hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way items stacked on high racks and shelving. An image scanner might struggle with long-distance scanning; although there are options designated for ‘extended range’ scanning that can be quite competitive. In general, however, laser is relied upon as the scanner of choice for long-range scanning tasks.

Motion Tolerance

Laser technology is highly tolerant to motion. Historically, laser scanning was superior to image scanning, but the latest imaging technology has narrowed the gap considerably. 2D imagers have superior capabilities for omni-directional scanning, making these devices better for odd-angle scanning (think retail, warehouse operations and picking/packing operations). Because the technology has become so advanced in terms of tolerance to motion, wearable image scanners (ring scanners and wearable computers) have been a successful way to improve worker productivity without compromising accuracy.

Ability to Read Poor-Quality Barcodes

Image scanners can often compensate for hard-to-read or damaged bar codes, producing a useable read even in conditions where lasers can’t. If you’re dealing with aged labels, labels exposed sunlight or harsh conditions that can cause deterioration of the label, an image scanner will be a better choice because of its superior reading capability.

Discrimination

If you are scanning frequently used bar codes from a list of grouped codes, it can be difficult for some image scanners to segregate and focus on just one code, although for close-range scanning either technology will perform satisfactorily. For long-range scanning, laser scanning is a likely choice for scanning selected barcodes.

Laser Scanner Use Cases

  • A laser scanner works well in applications that use only 1D bar codes
  • They are ideal for use in indoor locations where users may be scanning from a distance, such as vehicle-mount scanning
  • They also work well when selecting barcodes from a pre-printed sheet that holds an array of frequently used codes such as inventory transaction codes or locations

Image Scanner Use Cases

  • Image scanners work for either 1D or 2D bar code scanning
  • They do well in activities that occur outdoors, especially in sunlight
  • They work best when the barcodes are close to the scanner
  • Imaging technology is popular for wearables and cordless scanning to improve user mobility

Selecting the right handheld scanner can be complex, so it often pays to speak with an expert who can provide insight and guidance before you invest in a new solution. Contact us to learn more.

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