When is a bar code not a barcode? When it doesn’t scan, is the answer!
Do you remember the “olden days” when we went from impact printers to laser printers, thinking we’d found some kind of digital paradise, only to face a seemingly unending stream of font issues? Many times I remember hearing, “The font doesn’t look good,” “the spacing is wrong.” Or “the reflectivity of the bar code is different from one press manufacturer to another, so they don’t always read correctly.”
Font issues don’t seem destined to ever go away completely, and now the issue of reflectivity seems to be back. As new inkjet technologies and an expanded set of machine readable codes take hold of the transactional, direct mail and other markets, the specter of the “ugly barcode” is reappearing in printshops throughout the land. Maybe even in yours! Regardless of what technology you may be using or considering, I want to provide some helpful tips and what to ask for from your chosen vendor. There are five key areas to understand:
• The reflectivity of the new vs. old technology
• Sensor or camera types
• Meeting post office expectations
• Black vs. process back
• Paper issues
• Font sizes
First, don’t underestimate the differences between one technology’s black and another. While a barcode itself may look the same to the casual observer, the reflectivity of Inkjet and electrophotography is totally different—and can effectively baffle the sensors and cameras used to ensure data integrity. Look at any toner sample and you’ll notice a shine or a raised look to the output, possibly both, because toner sits on top of the paper. By comparison, because inkjet ink is absorbed into the paper it tends to be flat and when a light is shone on characters or a code to be scanned, the light is reflected differently than it is on toner. When shifting a job from a toner-based machine to an inkjet device, be sure to do basic and advanced tests so that any necessary adjustments can be made.
Sensors and Cameras
When discussions take place about reading codes (no matter what type) it’s very important to verify the entire line of sensors and cameras you have installed, including the (often forgotten) return route for the document to ensure the same or lower reject rates you have now. Don’t underestimate the amount of work that may be needed to verify and ensure compliance all the way through the paper flow. Cameras, sensors or software may need to be adjusted, updated or changed to deliver the results you require, especially if you are running a new types of codes.
And remember: it doesn’t stop with the print engine. Be sure to involve your inserting equipment vendor in the implementation to ensure a smoother transition and maintain data-to-mail integrity. Be aware that verification technologies from the same equipment vendor can give different results because not all systems are updated on the same schedule. This is especially true if you are an early adopter who is the first to discover some issues. Make a concerted effort to increase your quality control during the testing, evaluation and installation process.
Call in the USPS
Never hesitate to ask the post office for assistance. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge and information on their website of which you can take advantage and it’s all free.
But go further and get some practical insights. For instance, consider joining a trade association such as the Imaging Network Group (http://www.imagingnetworkgroup.org) where numerous subject matter experts provide a tremendous amount of expertise and are willing to share their insights. INg, for example, has two annual meetings, topical conference call discussions, and members routinely call on each other for help and support with all types of technical issues. In times like these, being able to call on peers for assistance and advice can save valuable time and offers an excellent return on investment.
Believe it or not there is a significant difference between ordinary black toner or ink and process black that’s made up of all four CMYK process colors. Using four colors creates a “rich black” that is darker than ordinary black ink or toner. This might seem to be a good thing for a barcode reader, camera or other sensor, but not all automated readers are designed to “see” in color and can have trouble interpreting barcodes and other characters comprised of process colors. Whether you use toner, inkjet or a mix of both, make sure your sensors can see in color if you are using a rich black and want to avoid making a simple (but frustrating) mistake in that area!
We all know paper has a big influence on readability. Regardless of what claims are made, make sure the paper you use for inkjet and the paper used for toner-based printing contains properties that are as close to each other as possible. Pay particular attention to its behavior on press as well as opacity and brightness—all have direct effects on the rejects that you may see. Be prepared to try other variants— it’s not always the printer or the font or the sensor—sometimes the paper itself may affect your operations and result in read errors.
Which brings us back to fonts
Last but not least is the font size. There are some who say, “I will use this print provider and they will do all the conversions,” but be cautious— not all fonts are equal in this area either. And based on some of the experiences we’ve all had in the past, we know the trouble fonts can cause. Test relentlessly before running a big job because at the speeds the latest toner and inkjet systems run, errors can be very costly in time, labor, postage and much more.
All in all, it’s a matter of being better prepared and positioned to understand the varying components of your operation and how they can affect your results. By proactively working from a foundation of knowing what to look you can anticipate any difficulties that may be lurking in your pressroom.