When it comes to printing barcodes, the colour of the barcode plays an important role in ensuring its readability and functionality. While there are a variety of colours available for printing barcodes, not all colours are suitable for this purpose. In fact, using certain colours can actually hinder the barcode’s effectiveness.
It is important to avoid using colours that do not provide enough contrast with the background on which they are printed. This can make it difficult for scanners to read the barcode accurately, leading to errors and possible rejection of the product by a retailer or distributor.
In this section, we will explore what barcode colours you should use and avoid when printing barcodes so that you can ensure your barcodes are readable and effective.
Contrast is Key
Scanners see the contrast between the bars and the spaces. Black bars on a white background are optimal as it gives the most contrast. The further from black and white you go, the less easy it is for the scanner to see the bars. The reflection difference between light and dark elements is called Print Contrast Signal (PCS). It is not recommended for the PCS to be lower than 80 %.
Bars should be dark colours (e.g. black, navy blue, dark brown or dark green).
Most barcode scanners use red light. Consequently, colours that contain red may not be detected accurately as they reflect red light back to the scanner, making it difficult to discern the bars from the spaces. This includes colours like red, orange, and certain shades of pink or purple.
Infrared scanners, though less common, can have trouble with certain shades of blue and green. Therefore, it’s important to understand the capabilities of the scanners that will be reading your barcodes before making your final colour selection.
Reversing Black for White
Barcode colours should not be reversed. A couple of our clients kindly let us show how they reversed their barcodes, and the barcode didn’t scan. This is because there is white space on the left and right of a barcode (sometimes called ‘quiet zones’). These white spaces are part of the barcode. If you print on a dark colour, the scanner cannot see the white space.
If the background is dark and you cannot change or cover it, you can print white spaces instead of black bars.
Shiny metallic colours and shimmering effects are problematic because they can reflect too much light. As a result, the barcode scanner can no longer distinguish between bars and white spaces.
The background should also be uniform, without patterns or gradients, as these can confuse the scanner, leading to misreads or no-read situations. Transparent backgrounds can cause problems as the scanner may detect the product/packaging colour.
Acceptable barcode colour combinations
Unacceptable barcode colour combinations
Embracing colour in your barcodes can add a layer of vibrancy and distinctiveness to your products. However, as you ride this wave of creativity, remember the core purpose of a barcode is readability. Prioritize high contrast, avoid colours that may impede scanning, and ensure your background supports accurate reading. A barcode is only as good as its readability, irrespective of its colour palette.
Test Your Barcodes
Remember, experimenting with barcode colour can be an exciting journey, but it’s essential to test your barcodes in real-world scenarios.
We always recommend testing your barcodes before going to print. This is essential if you decide to use colours other than white background/black bars. We suggest you test the barcode label with several types of scanners to ensure readability. Scanners can have different colour calibrations, so testing your barcode labels is a good idea.
How To Test Your Barcodes
A quick scan with your phone can tell you if your barcode is scanning. This is a good start. Your phone should be able to read the barcode number. If it’s not reading the number, then you have a problem.
We offer two types of tests;