Diversified Labeling Solutions

barcode v rfid blog cover






Auto-ID labels like barcodes and RFID are both used to track and capture information about products, assets and inventory. Both are used in applications such as tracking goods through the supply chain and managing inventory in retail stores. So what is the difference? And which one is right for your customers?

Similarities Between Barcodes and RFID

Used in data collection and tracking, barcodes and RFID are similar in a number of ways. Both of them:

  • Utilize a specialized tag or label to identify and provide information on products or assets.
  • Require the use of either a fixed or handheld scanning device to read the tags and access the data.
  • Can be attached to individual products, boxes or pallets.

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 Differences Between Barcodes and RFID


Despite their similarities, there are also significant differences between these methods of data collection. These include:


A barcode is a visual representation of data that is scanned and interpreted for information. A sequence of lines or other shapes is read using a visual scanner. RFID involves a tag affixed to a product which identifies and tracks the product using radio waves. The information stored on the RFID tag is read when it passes through the radio wave field of a specialized scanning antenna.


Depending on volume, barcode labels can be incredibly economical. While the cost for both tags and readers for RFID have fallen significantly, they are still generally the more costly option upfront. However, where RFID can add operational value compared to barcodes, it’s possible to achieve a relatively fast return on investment.


Barcode scanners require a direct line of site in order to detect the light and dark spaces that make up the barcode. Because RFID uses radio waves to transmit data, they can be read without pointing directly at the tag. RFID labels can also usually be read from farther away than barcodes.


Generally a barcode scanner needs to be relatively close to the label (within a few feet). RFID tags can be read from much greater distances, with read ranges up to 30 feet or more.


Barcodes are designed to be scanned one at a time, while RFID scanners can simultaneously read many tags. This makes it possible for an RFID scanner to scan entire pallets at once.


The data provided by a barcode is generally more limited than what can be stored on an RFID label. One of the great benefits of RFID is that it easily allows item-level identification by using a unique serial number on each and every item.

Which is Better - Barcodes or RFID?

When determining which type of auto-ID data capture system is better, the answer is a resounding… IT DEPENDS. There are a number of considerations that will determine which system is most appropriate for your customers. The following are just a few of the variables that can affect the choice between RFID or barcode.

Value of the Items to Be Scanned

Generally speaking, the higher the value of the asset, the more useful an RFID label becomes. If the cost of the item being tracked is less than the cost of an RFID tag, then barcodes would most likely be the best choice. As the cost of the item goes up, so does the value of RFID.

Size, Shape and Location of Items Being Scanned

Is it easy to access the tag for scanning with either a handheld or mounted reader? For example, are all of the tags or labels facing roughly the same direction? Are the items to be scanned inside crates where they would need to be removed to access the tag? Can items be scanned individually, or is there a benefit to scanning entire pallets? Due to the way that barcode and RFID labels are read, the answers to these questions can play a large part in determining which tracking method will work best.

Information Being Tracked

Barcodes work very well for providing basic information such as an SKU, price and whether an item is in stock. RFID tags can encode considerably more information, on a per unit basis. For example, when a barcode label on a retail nutraceutical product is scanned it can provide the item name and number and price, and add or remove the item from inventory. An RFID label could provide additional specifics to the individual item such as when and where the product was manufactured, where it’s been since then and any possible recalls.

Supply Chain Considerations

There can be significant benefit to utilizing an information process that utilizes the same label format and tracking system throughout the supply chain. RFID has grown in popularity and use, but it is still not as widely used as barcodes. If a company is working with a vendor or supplier who does not yet have RFID capabilities, this may limit the group of supplies and vendors they can work with.

Combining Barcodes and RFID

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RFID is often touted as a replacement to barcoding, but the reality is that many companies choose to use both technologies together. When used together, as with a “smart label” that is printed and encoded using a thermal printer, the combined solution can provide several benefits including:


  • Increased Availability Through the Supply Chain  Using both technologies allows all the players in a supply chain, regardless of whether they have implemented RFID readers or not, to benefit from the data on the label. Manufacturers and distributors with RFID can leverage the time saving and increased information provided with the RFID, while the eventual retail store that may only use barcode readers will be able to scan the product without having to relabel it.
  • Backup Information  What happens if an RFID chip is damaged? A barcode can serve as a back-up for accessing the data on the RFID chip, much like the human readable UPC number on a damaged barcode allows someone to access the information by manually entering the number.


When combining barcodes and RFID, it is beneficial to consider printers and label suppliers that can support both traditional barcodes and RFID encoding.

Expert Assistance for All Your
Barcode and RFID Needs

DLS has the industry expertise and production capabilities to provide the Auto-ID RFID labels your customers need. We are experts in the production of stock, custom and pre-printed thermal and pressure sensitive barcode labels. And, as a wholly-owned subsidiary and official OEM supplier of TSC Auto ID Technology Co., Ltd., we work closely with experts in RFID printers and encoders. This combined expertise allows us to provide a wide variety of stock or custom printed RFID and barcode labels guaranteed for optimal performance.


Contact orders@teamdls.com and we'll help you find the best Auto-ID solution for your customers.