7 Things to Consider When Labeling Products with Barcodes

Whether you’re considering implementing a warehouse management system or already using one, barcoding is a key feature to consider. Barcoding your products, along with rack and bin locations, is an important step in providing the data that your employees need to perform their job functions efficiently. However, simply labeling your products without making proper consideration first can create additional challenges. Here, we describe the seven main things you should consider before starting to label your products.


1. Should I label at the piece, carton, or pallet level?

In general, you should label the entity that will be pulled during the fulfillment process. For example, if you receive at the pallet level and ship at the carton level, consider labeling individual cartons. If you only ship individual pieces from a carton, then you should barcode label those pieces individually. If the process of labeling individual pieces would be cost or time prohibitive, consider labeling the outer carton as an option.

2. Where should I attach the label?

Consistent label application is key for warehouse efficiency. In most situations, the front right corner is optimal for product labeling. Labeling the bottom of a product may prevent operators from seeing the barcode if the products are stacked vertically. Additionally, be sure to avoid a situation where an operator may need to walk entirely around a product to find the label, which can add significant time. By labeling products in the same location consistently, you enable your operators to predict where the label will be, quickly identify the product, and save significant time.

3. What barcode symbology should I use?

Code 128 barcode symbology is a secure, robust, and compact symbology that is very good for general warehouse use. Be sure to test this and any other symbology you may want to consider during your scanning analysis.

4. What mil size barcode should I use?

Assuming that the physical size of your product does not restrict the label size, start with an analysis of the scan distance that the warehouse operators will typically be positioned at when scanning the product labels. If the operators in your warehouse are typically six to eight feet away from the products, then begin your analysis at that distance. Your analysis should include testing with the scanning hardware you are considering in the actual environment.

Generate various product codes in varying mil sizes in order to test and determine the optimal decode rate. To ensure that your analysis is accurate, include actual product codes in your testing and use your product codes that are the longest in the length. As more characters are represented in a barcode, the mil size must be reduced to fit on a given label size.

5. What label size should I use?

Once you have determined the optimal mil size, consider the smallest standard label size that will accommodate your product codes in your chosen mil size and symbology. It is important to note that if your analysis yields a required label of a non-standard size, such as 1.5” x 2.5”, it may be significantly less expensive to move up to a more standard label size, such as 2” x 3”.

6. Should I use thermal transfer or direct thermal?

The main differences between thermal transfer and direct thermal are cost and longevity. Direct thermal labels are typically less expensive on a label by label basis compared to thermal transfer, which requires purchasing both labels and some sort of ribbon media. The longevity of a direct thermal label is significantly less than that of a thermal transfer label. The difference in longevity is important if your warehouse environment is subject to direct sunlight or high temperatures.

When deciding which type of label to use, you should consider the turnover rates of your slowest moving inventory. If inventory remains in your warehouse for one year or more, you should consider thermal transfer over direct thermal labels.

7. Can I utilize existing barcodes such as the UPC code that may already be on the product?

The vast majority of end consumer products contain UPC codes. UPC codes include information about the manufacturer of the product and the carton size. For this reason, they are good candidates for scanning products in a warehouse as well, but there are some things to consider.

First, if you purchase a particular product from more than one supplier, those products will have different UPC codes. This doesn’t mean they can’t be used for product identification in your warehouse, but you will need to cross-reference to a single code. Similarly, a case of a product from a supplier and an individual item will also have different UPC codes on them. To use these varying UPC codes, you would simply need to implement a warehouse management system that supports cross-referencing those codes to an internal SKU or item number.


Now that you have considered these key elements, you should be ready to begin labeling your incoming inventory with barcodes, putting you on the path to a more efficient warehouse! By consistently labeling your products, you will enable your warehouse operators to rapidly scan and identify products, allowing them to perform their activities more efficiently. If you’re looking to implement a new warehouse management system, be sure to take a look at IntelliTrack® WMS.

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