One scan. Infinite possibilities.

Since the introduction of the first barcode 50 years ago, business needs, as well as consumer and patient demand for more product information, have evolved significantly. The traditional one-dimensional or linear barcode has a limited capacity to hold product information.

Fortunately, advancements in technology have enabled a new generation of two-dimensional (2D) barcodes to meet these existing and emerging business requirements with faster access to more product information.

A Global Movement

Supported by GS1 Member Organizations around the world, the industry-driven transition to 2D barcodes is underway and varies by country, sector and industry, with different regions moving at different paces. As a Trusted Strategic Partner, GS1 Canada is working with our industry partners to identify the implementation realities of 2D barcodes in Canada.

Whether linear or 2D, GS1 remains the trusted source for barcodes and the global leader in supply chain standards.

The Benefits of Next Generation Barcodes

2D barcodes can enhance the experiences of patients, consumers, brands, retailers, and everyone in between.

Next-level business efficiencies
  • Improved scanning capabilities
  • 2D barcodes can be scanned in any direction, saving time at the checkout, in a hospital or at the point of patient care.
  • With built-in error correction, 2D barcodes and can still be scanned if partially damaged or torn, reducing transaction delays and disruptions.
  • The smaller 2D format enables direct on-product branding where labels are not practical, such as surgical instruments, small cosmetics, cannabis products and medication e-leaflets.
  • Reduction in food, medical supply and product waste
  • Visibility to expiration, best-before and sell-by dates enables retailers, healthcare providers and other supply chain stakeholders to sell, dispense or promote soon-to-expire products first.
  • More effective inventory management and stock rotation helps reduce financial loss, with fewer expired products needing to be disposed of.
  • Access to valuable insights and business analytics
  • In addition to holding the GS1 GTIN®, 2D barcodes can hold significantly more product information, including the batch or lot number, serial number, expiry date and more.
  • Access to more data that can be analysed and turned into valuable business and clinical insights enables business partners up and down the supply chain to improve inventory management, streamline logistics, provide more accurate forecasting, support traceability and sustainability initiatives, reduce waste, understand clinical outcomes and more.
Next-level visibility
  • Support for sustainability and product traceability
  • 2D barcodes increase visibility to information required for sustainability initiatives, including sustainable sourcing details, packaging details, recycling information and more.
  • They help ensure product authentication, enhance visibility to sourcing details for product ingredients and materials and build internal supply chain visibility.
  • Increased patient and consumer safety
  • If a recalled product reaches the checkout or the patient care level, scanning the 2D barcode could alert the person scanning the item that it mustn't be sold or used. This prevents the use or sale of potentially harmful products.
  • Lot numbers within a barcode can support the precision of a recall, when only certain lots need to be recalled versus the entire brand line.
Next-level consumer engagement
  • Increased branding space
  • Less barcode space required on product packaging means more space for brand marketing, and product and safety information.
  • Extended consumer engagement
  • Real time access to brand owner driven content enables businesses to engage customers with additional product information to influence purchase decisions and extend engagement post-purchase.

About 2D Barcodes and GS1 Digital Link

In addition to holding the GS1 GTIN®, a single 2D barcode can hold a significant amount of information, including a product's batch or lot number, serial number, expiry date, URLs and more.
They can be scanned when damaged, printed at a small size or etched onto a product.

Types of 2D Barcodes

The GS1 DataMatrix and QR Code are the most common 2D barcodes.

1D Compared to 2D

1D barcode example
2D barcode example

GS1 DataMatrix

A GS1 DataMatrix is a 2D barcode that can carry a large amount of data within a very small space.

It is ideal for supply chain traceability because it can contain critical application identifiers (AIs) such as the GS1 GTIN®, lot, expiry and serialization. It's important to note that the GS1 DataMatrix is a specific type of Data Matrix barcode that can contain GS1 application identifiers.

QR Code

A QR code is a type of 2D barcode that can help extend consumer engagement during and post-purchase by linking to additional product details, promotions and other types of consumer-focused content.

Today, brand owners using a QR code also include a 1D linear barcode to support POS scanning for supply chain data. The GS1 Digital Link standard can be embedded into a QR code for access to the GS1 GTIN® and other application identifiers.

GS1 Digital Link

GS1 Digital Link

GS1 Digital Link is a GS1 standard that extends the power and flexibility of barcodes, like QR Codes, by connecting a product's unique identifier, the GS1 GTIN®, to online resources and real-time information controlled by brand owners.

Where a URL typically points to a single, brand-owner controlled website, but with GS1 Digital Link embedded in a 2D barcode, the GS1 GTIN® and application identifiers are put into a web- compatible format that allows the information to be used for traditional supply chain applications, such as price lookup, while also enabling consumers to connect to online resources.

2D Barcode FAQs

  • 2D barcodes look like squares or rectangles that contain many small, individual squares in contrast to 1D linear barcodes which are made up of vertical lines. 2D examples are shown below.
  • In addition to holding the GS1 GTIN®, 2D barcodes have the capacity to hold significantly more product data than 1D barcodes, including a product's batch or lot number, serial number, expiry date, URLs, etc.
  • The GS1 DataMatrix and QR Code are the most common 2D barcodes.
  • The transition to 2D barcodes is a need that has emerged from global industry. The Consumer Goods Forum is one driver of the global transition.
  • The transition is underway, although the pace of transition and state of readiness for 2D adoption varies by country, sector and industry. Different regions of the world are moving at different paces towards the goal of transitioning from 1D to 2D barcodes, and GS1 is working with global communities to support these activities.

We are working with our industry partners to identify the implementation realities of 2D barcodes in Canada. Current best practice is to incorporate the GTIN into the 2D barcode. The evolution to 2D is an exciting opportunity driven by the Consumer Goods Forum and has a global impact.

GS1 has a proven 50-year history of delivering value in managing supply chain standards and will remain your trusted partner for product identification.

We will have more information to share as we progress.

  • It's important to note that one-dimensional barcodes will not necessarily go away. If there is no need to add data beyond the GTIN to the barcode (e.g., batch/lot number or expiry date) or enhance consumer engagement by connecting to online resources, a 1D barcode may still be used.
  • During the transition, both a 2D and linear barcode (each containing the same GS1 GTIN) can be placed side by side on a package, ensuring the needs of trading partners, patients and consumers are met until scanning equipment is ready to read 2D barcodes.
  • As a best practice, a product's unique GS1 GTIN should be embedded in every 2D barcode that is intended for scanning, whether at retail point-of-sale, by consumers, in a hospital or pharmacy setting or elsewhere along the supply chain.
  • 2D barcodes can only be read by camera-ready, or optical, scanners.
  • Camera-ready scanners can read both 2D barcodes and linear (1D) barcodes.