Barcode Printing and Marking Methods

Every code application begins with collecting information from a central database, which often includes the origin and other manufacturing data, and then applying that data to an object. The application of the code is usually accomplished in one of two ways: by applying the code to a package or label, usually using inkjet or thermal printing methods, or by permanently marking the code directly on a part via direct part marking (DPM) methods such as dot peen, chemical etching, or laser marking.

Thermal transfer or inkjet printing

examples of barcode uses in medical applications, pills, bottles, vials

Inkjet printers are most commonly used for printing the code on a package, label or other material. Inkjet printers create the barcode by propelling droplets of ink onto a substrate such as paper or plastic. Thermal transfer technology is typically used for printing labels. This process heats up the print head and applies ink directly to the label. Inkjet and thermal printing are often used to print 1D barcodes.

Direct part marking

For many applications, such as medical devices, automotive parts, and other durable goods where traceability and liability protection at the component level are important, DPM methods offer a longer-lasting alternative compared to printing methods. DPM codes will typically include more data than just a part index number; therefore, they often use 2D codes instead of lower-bandwidth 1D barcodes.


laser marked small 2d barcode

Laser marking systems typically use fiber lasers to engrave Data Matrix codes or other 2D code symbologies on the part.

Dot peen

2d dotpeen barcode on metal example

Dot peen marking systems, generally considered the most cost-effective option, use an oscillating stylus to press into the metal, creating a divot.

Chemical etching

chemically etched 2d DPM direct part marked barcode

Electrical chemical etching uses a sodium-based solution combined with a pulsing low-voltage electrical current. The charged solution dissolves the metal, which is then extracted through a special stencil.

Depending on the material being marked, each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. For metal parts, laser-marking systems offer high-throughput permanent marks but are costly to install. Dot peen marking heads are less expensive but they wear down, which can compromise the mark.

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