For best results, please exclude the word "labels".

Basics of a Barcode Label


What is a Bar Code?

Think of a bar code as Morse Code in light. They are really just dots (narrow bars) and dashes (wide bars) and that's how the scanner sees them, not as bars. A laser scanner has one beam of light reflected off of a vibrating mirror. It "rasters" so fast that it looks like a solid bar. The light reflected back to the scanner enters in the form of a dot or dash, just like the old ship-to-ship messages in old war movies.

Compared to Morse Code, however, there are numerous ways to arrange the dots and dashes. The different arrangements are called symbologies. Each has a different strong point and weak point. The name may tell you something about the key feature of the particular code.

What is CPI?

Characters Per Inch represents how much information you need to fit onto the label. By varying the width of the narrow element in any symbology you can make the code bigger (easier to decode) or smaller (more of a challenge). You probably will not need to get too technical about this, just find out the number of characters to be encoded and measure the space available for the code.

Two things to remember about CPI: First there is always a start and stop character so add two characters to your calculation. Start and stop characters are unique to each symbology and tell the scanner's software which symbology (code) is about to come up and that the data has ended (like a period to end the sentence).

Second, Quiet Zone! There must be approximately a 3/16" on either side of the code. Do not add this 6/16" (front and back 3/16") to the CPI calculation; rather, subtract it from the space available.

What Environment Will Your Label Be Exposed To?

WLP produces labels on four different materials; paper, polypropylene, polyester (with numerous subgroups) and polyimide. In addition, WLP's process protects the bar code with various clear films or a clear UV coat. It helps to know what you will be labeling so WLP can recommend the right construction.

  • How long does this label have to survive and where?
  • Will it get wet?
  • Will it be outdoors?
  • Will chemicals be present?
  • Which ones?
  • Will it be hot?
  • How hot?
  • How long?
  • Will things be scraping against it?
  • Will it be cleaned?
  • With what?

These are all important to the ultimate success of the system. Tell us as much about the environment as you can.

What will the Label be Applied to?

It is important for us to know what the label will be applied to. A sample is helpful, especially if the surface the label is being applied to is unusual. WLP recommends different adhesives for different surfaces (for example: plastic vs. metal). Our process lets us put the adhesive on after the facestock is imaged, so we can supply an adhesive that will best adhere to the substrate. More barcode labels fail due to poor choice of adhesive than due to bad barcodes. We want to provide a label construction that will make your project a success!

What Will My Label Cost?

Watson Label Products produces the finest barcodes and the best labels in the business. WLP's prices are comparable to the competition, but the products and services we provide are superior. Let us work up a custom quotation specific to your requirements.


We wanted to thank you for an amazing job on our 12oz mockup pouches! We received them this morning and we are extremely impressed by how fast you were able to turn around the job to us.

Watson Label Products' effort, attention and hard work has been noticed and greatly appreciated. Vicor will remember this and take it into account moving forward.

Watson has been producing barcodes for Columbia University Libraries for almost a decade. Some of the special labels we have requested required several discussions, but Watson always came up with a perfectly workable solution.

I just wanted to say THANK YOU!!! I really appreciate you and the Watson Label associates for your great work and awesome customer service. It seems you do it so effortlessly. Thank you again.

I wanted to thank you and your team for all the work you have done on the Sun Care cans. I know we have been pushing some tough timelines and your team has come thru. Thanks for all your hard work and help!!

Watson Label Products is the best at what they do. I prefer Watson over anyone else.

I just wanted to thank you for all of your help, we received the barcodes and they were perfect. We look forward to our future business with Watson Label Products in the near future!

You guys are the greatest!!!!!!!

HP Printers

Receive a Free Consultation for Your Project

Give Watson a chance to become the supplier and partner you need to provide solutions for your most demanding bar code, labeling, flexible packaging, and specialty printing needs. Call (800) 678-6715 or fill out the form and one of our label specialists will get in touch with you within 24 hours.

Free Consultation

ISO Badge

3M Preferred Badge