The evolution of Barcode Printers



Barcode printing technology has come a long way since the invention of barcodes in the 1950s. From simple fixed-head dot matrix printers to complex industrial printing systems, barcode printers have revolutionized how businesses process and track inventory. Let’s take a look at the evolution of barcode printers over the decades.

Early Barcode Printers
The first commercial barcode printers emerged in the 1970s as barcodes started gaining popularity among retailers and manufacturers for automated scanning. These early printers used direct thermal printing technology which utilized heated printheads to transfer heat-sensitive chemicals onto thermal paper, creating barcodes. Direct thermal printing was a cheap and simple process but the printed barcodes couldn’t withstand heat, moisture or scratching.

Another popular early printing method was impact dot matrix printing. Dot matrix printers worked by striking an ink-soaked ribbon against the print media using a print head with nine pins to form characters and barcodes. While dot matrix printed durable barcodes, they were slow, noisy and lacked image quality. Both direct thermal and dot matrix printers had fixed print heads restricting them to printing barcodes only on labels and tags of specific sizes.

Inkjet Printing Arrives
The 1990s saw the introduction of inkjet printing technology for commercial use. The first desktop inkjet barcode printers provided several advantages over dot matrix and direct thermal printers. Inkjet printed barcodes were of higher quality and resolution while using plain paper. Inkjet printers were also compact with movable print heads allowing barcodes to be printed on various surfaces. Other notable technologies introduced were slide on thermal transfer printers using heat transfer ribbons and film for producing barcodes on plain or treated paper.

Modern Heavy-Duty Industrial Printers
Today’s advanced barcode printers are specifically designed for high-volume, heavy-duty applications in manufacturing and warehousing. Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) printers use a constant stream of ink that is broken into individual droplets and printed onto media at high speeds. Thermal transfer overprinter (TTO) systems print barcodes onto pre-printed labels using a heat transfer process. These industrial printers can print hundreds of barcodes per minute with excellent quality suitable for the toughest factory environments.

New Printing Technologies
Newer barcode printing innovations include direct-to-object printing which allows coding onto irregular or 3D surfaces using technologies like inkjet, laser and thermal transfer. Smart barcode labels printed with RFID or NFC tags enable interactive and dynamic labels for improved logistics and asset tracking. 3D printed barcodes add a new dimension for anti-counterfeiting, authentication and specialized applications. Cloud and wireless connectivity in printers enable remote monitoring and central code management.

The Future of Barcode Printers
As IoT and automation take over warehousing and manufacturing, future barcode printers will have advanced features for integration into automated data capture networks. Technologies like print and apply for seamless label application, built-in vision systems for inspection are some upgrades expected. New materials like edible, biodegradable or electronic barcodes printed on flexible substrates will enable diverse applications. Cloud-based software, mobile printing apps and integration with ERP systems will deliver smarter printing solutions. Certainly, barcode printing technology will keep evolving to offer higher quality, versatility and overall productivity.

Centralized Printing Systems for Large Operations

Businesses with extensive supply chains and numerous distribution centers rely on robust, networked barcode printing systems. Centralized industrial printers installed at a head office or manufacturing plant can be programmed to produce barcode labels for different sites simultaneously. Labels printed are then shipped directly to each destination for labeling tasks.

Central label bureaus are barcode printing facilities that enterprises outsource their labeling needs to. Using a highly automated, centralized system, a label bureau can churn out millions of customized labels per day for multiple clients. Label specifications and print jobs are transmitted electronically and orders delivered on schedule. This allows companies to focus on their core operations while leveraging an expert third party for labeling logistics and support.


Over the past few decades, barcode printers have become vastly more powerful and versatile thanks to rapid technological progress. From simple thermal printers to connected industrial systems, today’s barcode coding solutions are precisely engineered to meet the demanding workflows of even the largest global enterprises. The future promises ever more intelligent printers integrating with IoT networks and offering new levels of flexibility, efficiency and security for supply chain management. Barcode printing technology will continue its evolution in supporting industries across their automation and digitization goals.



  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it