Should you choose a picket fence or ladder barcode?

picket fence or ladder barcode

Trying to work out how to print your barcode?

Getting your barcode right is an essential step in packaging your product. It can be the difference between your product making it onto the shelves or being rejected by retailers.

There are two orientations to choose from: picket fence or ladder barcode. 

So, which one is right for your product? 

In this article, you’ll learn the pros and cons of each, so you can make an informed decision. 

First, some basics:

In this article, we’re talking about using thermal transfer printers. This is where barcodes are printed using a series of tiny heating elements in the print-head that cause the label to turn black when heated. 

These printers heat up and cool down quickly, but not consistently. This can cause irregularities in the way the lines and images on the label are printed. You can learn more about direct thermal vs thermal transfer labels for barcodes here.

Somewhere it’s not always easy to spot irregularities is in a counterfeit. Check out how Australia’s third-largest rural industry mitigates risk & builds brand trust. Download Now

Picket fence barcode

When the lines of barcodes are parallel to the movement of the label through the printer, this is referred to as a “picket fence” barcode.  

picket fence barcode
  • Pros: The picket fence gives a higher quality barcode. The bar edges tend to be crisper and straighter because the individual elements in the print head are steadily heated for a length of time, dependent on the barcode’s height. This makes the code easier to scan and read, which is what you should be aiming for with your barcodes.  
  • Cons: A drawback of the picket-fence orientation is that it’s not as easy to see errors. Each line in the barcode requires the heaters of a print head to turn on and off once.But if a heater burns out, it can result in a line not being printed, which results in a barcode you cannot scan. The problem is that the human eye may not be able to detect the error. 

There is a solution though – print a verification line before or after the barcode. This allows your operator to easily see if there’s a problem before you print too many. 

Another solution is to use barcode validation technology, which scans and checks the barcodes on the line.

Does your product barcode check out? The rise and rise of product barcode verification.

Ladder barcode 

When the lines of the barcode are perpendicular to the direction of the label through the printer, this is a ladder barcode. 

ladder barcode

Ladder barcodes are typically used for small cylindrical products, such as cans, where the barcode is positioned vertically. 

  • Pros:Ladder orientations make it easy to see if you have a bad print-head, because it creates a white space across the entire barcode. Often, the barcode is still scannable so you can continue printing labels and change out the print-head when it’s convenient. 
  • Cons: The edges of the barcode lines tend to be blurred and irregular, making it more difficult to read, especially for small-font barcodes. This is because a number of elements in the print-head row are turned on and off quickly, which compromised the barcode’s quality. Over time, it can also cause excessive print-head wear. Ladder barcodes are not recommended for high-print speeds, as print quality tends to suffer. 

Summary

The picket-fence orientation is highly recommended for barcodes, unless you have a small cylindrical product. For the best results, get advice from the experts before you invest in any barcode printing technology. 

Got questions about your picket fence or ladder barcodeor barcodes in general? Talk to Matthews Australasia. As a Strategic Alliance Partner of GS1 Australia, we know the best technologies and processes to ensure your barcodes meet retailer’s quality standards every time. 

Did you know that when packaging is designed & constructed properly, it enables products to move smoothly through the supply chain? Learn more here. Download Now

Image credit: iStock/ jax10289 

Mark Dingley
Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile
Mark Dingley

by Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile

4 thoughts on “Should you choose a picket fence or ladder barcode?

    • Mark Dingley says:

      Hi, having the wrong orientation (e.g.: picket fence when it should be ladder) can make a barcode unreadable. Retailers are highly likely to reject product with unreadable barcodes.

  1. Dylan Smith says:

    Printing barcodes may sound like an easy job. It is important to choose the best orientation to avoid situations like it can’t be read by a barcode scanner. Thank you for sharing this helpful guide. It’s great that you have provided as well the advantages and disadvantages of each.

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