To better enable the digital consumer and unlock business use cases, Canadian industries are embarking on one of the biggest changes since the original introduction of the linear barcode (1D) - the transition to 2D barcodes. 2D barcodes enabled by GS1 standards, such as GS1 DataMatrix, QR Code with GS1 Digital Link, and Data Matrix with GS1 Digital Link, have the capacity to encode more data than the current linear barcode. Examples of additional information that can be encoded are expiration date, batch / lot number, or URLs to product information (ingredients and allergen, etc.).

This transition journey will enhance the experience for consumers, brands, pharmacies, retailers, and everyone in between. GS1 is supporting the global industry to harness the power of 2D barcodes enabled by GS1 Standards to support new business solutions for today and in the future.

For additional information on Global Transition to 2D

2D barcodes use patterns of squares, hexagons, dots, and other shapes to encode data. Because the data is encoded in a two-dimensional pattern, 2D barcodes can hold more data than 1D barcodes while still appearing physically smaller.

For linear (1D) technical information

2D Barcode Symbologies

GS1 DataMatrix

QR Code

With GS1 Digital Link URI

Data Matrix

With GS1 Digital Link URI

For a PDF copy of the 2D Barcode Chart

GS1 DataMatrix is a standalone, two-dimensional matrix symbology that is made up of square modules arranged within a perimeter finder pattern. The GS1 DataMatrix uses Reed-Solomon error correction (four selectable levels of error correction are specified) and this feature helps correct for partially damaged symbols.


GS1 DataMatrix

An example image of GS1 DataMatrix.

Symbology Identifier


Capacity Maximum

  • 3116 numeric
  • 2335 alphanumeric

GS1 Keys

ALL approved applications.

Application Identifiers

ALL, some popular AIs:

  • GTIN (AI01)
  • Batch/Lot# (AI10)
  • Production Date (AI11)
  • Packaging Date (AI13)
  • Best Before Date (AI15)
  • Expiration Date (AI17)
  • Serial Number (AI21)

Information Source

Symbology with HRI (Human Readable Interpretation)


  • GTIN (01)
  • Expiration Date (17)
  • Batch or Lot Number (10)
An example image of Symbology with HRI.

GS1 Application Identifiers (AI) are used to share additional product information such as the item’s expiry date, and serial number and batch/lot number. There are 100+ GS1 application identifiers to select from.

As per Section 5.6.1 in GS1 General Specifications some of the production processes that are used to produce GS1 DataMatrix symbols are:

  • Direct part marking, such as is done by dot peening* on items, such as automotive, aircraft metal parts, medical instruments and surgical implants.
  • Laser or chemically etched parts with low contrast or light marked elements on a dark background (e.g., circuit boards and electronic components, medical instruments, surgical implants).
  • High-speed ink jet printing parts and components where the marked dots cannot form a scannable linear symbol.
  • Small items that require a symbology with a square aspect ratio and/or cannot be marked within the allocated packaging space by existing GS1 DataBar and Composite symbols.
  • Use with B2C Extended Packaging applications.

* Dot Peen marking is a method of permanent marking, usually used on metal. It uses a stylus, or pin, which is fired into the marking surface to make an indented dot. By rapidly repeating this and moving the stylus between each dot, writing and images can be applied. Source:

GS1 DataMatrix Symbology

GS1 DataMatrix symbols are read by camera-ready or optical scanners.

Example image of a GS1 DataMatrix
  • The top-right corner is always a white square, for ECC 200.
  • There is an "L" shaped finder pattern along the bottom and left sides.

Encodable character set:

  • numeric data: digits 0 - 9
  • alphabetic data: upper case letters A – Z and lower case a - z
  • twenty special characters: ! “ % & ‘ ( ) * + , - . / : ; < = > ? _

Source: GS1 General Specifications Figure 7.11.1 GS1 AI encodable character set 82


  • Globally and in Canada regulated healthcare trade items use the GS1 DataMatrix barcode.
  • Canadian Cannabis industry also is implementing GS1 DataMatrix to identify their trade items.

How to Construct a GS1 DataMatrix Barcode

Pre-read material

GS1 DataMatrixAn example image of a GS1 DataMatrix

GS1 Application Identifiers (AI) Chart
Lists all the available GS1 Application Identifiers with description.

GS1 DataMatrix Guideline
Overview and technical introduction to the use of GS1 DataMatrix.

GS1 General Specifications
Defines how identification keys, data attributes and barcodes must be used.

To construct a GS1 DataMatrix barcode you must first create the GTIN. To create the GTIN complete the steps 1 to 4 below:

  1. 1
    Your organization must be licensed for:
    • • Single / Individual GTIN (Global Trade Item Number).
    • • Groups of GTINs determined by the number of products and packaging levels are to be identified.
    • • Large volume of GTINs, be assigned a variable length GS1 Company Prefix.
  2. 2
    Assign a unique item reference number for each product. Record the number in an automated system.
  3. 3
    Ensure you have the correct Check Digit.
  4. 4
    Put together the 3 parts: GS1 Company Prefix + Item Reference Number + Check Digit = GTIN
  5. 5
    Identify which GS1 Application Identifiers are needed in the supply chain. Some popular ones are:
    • • GTIN (AI01)
    • • Batch/Lot # (AI10)
    • • Packaging Date (AI13)
    • • Best Before Date (AI15)
    • • Expiration Date (AI17)
    • • Serial Number (AI21)
    Note: GS1 strongly recommends that the application identifiers (AI) be ordered with the fixed length AIs first, followed by the variable length AIs.
  6. 6
    Ensure you have identified all relevant information outlined above and input the information into your barcoding system to create your 2D Barcode.
  7. 7
    Identify where on the trade item the 2D barcode will appear. See GS1 Symbol Placement Guidelines.
  8. 8
    Have your barcode verified to ensure it scans properly, first time, every time.

QR Code is an International Standard ISO/IEC 18004. QR Code is only used by the GS1 system to encode the GS1 Digital Link URI syntax. Full technical aspects of QR Code, see ISO/IEC 18004.

QR Code
(GS1 Digital Link)

An example image of a QR Code.

Data Matrix is an International Standard ISO/IEC 16022. It is only used by the GS1 system to encode the GS1 Digital Link URI syntax. Full technical aspects of Data Matrix, see ISO/IEC 16022 Ouvre une nouvelle fenêtre.

Data Matrix
(GS1 Digital Link)

An example image of Data Matrix.

GS1 Digital Link (GS1 DL) provides the bridge needed to connect GS1-based identification schemes with the syntax used on the World Wide Web. In simple terms, GS1 DL provides a standard way of expressing GS1 keys and attribute data in a format that can be used on the Web.

A simple example: the GTIN 9506000134369 can, of course, be encoded in a 1D barcode thus: Using software, turn that GTIN into a Web address thus: Opens in a new window or Opens in a new window.

This example is three requirements in one:

  1. An identifier, specifically a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI)
  2. A GS1 identifier (a GTIN in this case)
  3. An API call to where more information can be found (a Uniform Resource Location, URL)

The GS1 DL standard defines how to structure Web URIs to include further information (e.g., batch/lot, expiration date, serial number etc.) as well as other GS1 keys such as GLN (Global Location Number), SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code) etc.

The GS1 Digital Link standard helps reinforce the One-barcode initiative and, the opportunity of using a single barcode to access digital information about the product is ensured.

The GS1 Digital Link standard extends the GS1 identifiers, such as the GTIN, to improved supply chain traceability information, business partner APIs, patient safety information and more.

Where a URL typically points to a single, specific website, GS1 Digital Link enables connections to all types of business-to-business and business-to-consumer information. This means the brand owner remains in complete control but can still link to any number of information sources and details, such as allergens, all from one symbol, saving space and improving efficiency.

Learn more

  • Single barcode:
    Consumers are less confused with a single barcode carrying more information.
  • Scan capabilities:
    Reduced scanning failures due to one barcode interfering with another.
  • Safety:
    For healthcare, a single barcode ensures clinical decisions are not taken based on the ‘wrong’ barcode being scanned.
  • Promotions:
    GS1 Digital Link allows real time updates to promotion information.
  • Specific apps:
    Application may be developed to read the same barcode but deliver specific types of content to their users, such as recalls.

A barcode or other data carriers can be made multi-functional by using GS1 Digital Link. It is important to arrange for links to be established from the identified trade item (product) to:

  • Product information
  • Instructions
  • Accessories
  • Usage information (recipes, designs)
  • Warranty / Guarantee registration
  • Product authentication
  • Sustainability / Traceability information
  • Online purchasing

Smaller footprint

The smaller size of a 2D barcode reduces the amount of space required on product packaging, allowing more space for branding and product information. This smaller footprint also enables direct on-product marking of items where labels are not practical, such as surgical instruments, small cosmetics, cannabis products and medication e-leaflets.

Increasing the speed, efficiency, and safety of operations

2D barcodes are omnidirectional, meaning they can be scanned in any direction, saving time at checkout, dispensing and point of patient care.

Enabling automation, accuracy, and interoperability

Built-in Error Correction means 2D barcodes have a higher fault tolerance. This means that data can still be scanned if the barcode is partially damaged or torn, reducing transaction delays and disruptions at checkout, and increasing operational efficiencies and reliability.

Reducing waste and costly errors

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 or promote soon-to-expire products first, reducing the volume of expired products being wasted. In addition to reducing waste and supporting effective inventory management and stock rotation, this helps reduce economic loss.

Protecting consumers and patients

Increased patient and consumer safety: If a recalled product reaches the checkout or the patient care level, scanning the 2D barcode and using the data encoded within it can alert the person scanning that the item must not be sold or used. This prevents the use or sale of potentially harmful products. 2D barcodes can also support patient safety best practices, such as confirming right patient and right product at point of care.

Effective inventory management

2D barcodes facilitate smoother supply chain operations by maintaining first in first out (FIFO) to strengthen inventory accuracy, inventory availability, location insight and avoid waste by ensuring freshness through the usage of supplemental data, such as expiry date and lot number that is encoded in the barcode.

Product traceability

2D barcodes help ensure product authentication, enhance visibility of ingredient sourcing information, and build internal supply chain visibility. Having visibility to a product’s full chain of custody can give regulators and consumers added confidence that a product is authentic.


2D barcodes increase visibility to information required for sustainability initiatives, including sustainable sourcing, recycling information and more.

Customer engagement (GS1 Digital Link)

Encoding GS1 Digital Link in a 2D barcode, such as QR Code, provides an opportunity for brand owners to engage customers with additional product information that can influence purchase decisions and extend engagement post-purchase.

Brand trust

Providing visibility and access to more robust, accurate product information supports customer demands and increases trust between brands and their consumer.

Suppliers/Brand Owners/Licensed Producers

  • More on-pack space
  • Reduced food and product waste
  • Increased traceability
  • More targeted product recalls and withdrawals
  • Increased data for internal POS and product traceability

Grocery Retailers and Foodservice Distributors/Operators

  • Increased food safety
  • Reduced food waste
  • Expiry date management
  • Improved inventory management
  • Simpler, more efficient processes
  • Reduced food and product waste


  • Enhanced traceability and recall process
  • Increased patient safety
  • Expiry date management for reduced product waste
  • Improved inventory management
  • Direct on-product barcode marking, e.g., surgical instruments. 
  • Immediate access to more product information, batch number, lot number and expiry date


  • Enhanced traceability and recall process
  • Efficient counterfeiting process
  • Increased patient safety
  • Improved inventory management
  • Immediate access to more product information, batch number, lot number and expiry date, encompassing all categories of pharmaceuticals:
    • prescription drug
    • behind the counter (BTC)
    • over the counter (OTC)
    • natural products (NHP/NPN)
  • Reduced product waste

Visit Pharmacy GS1 DataMatrix Implementation Roadmap


  • Increase supply chain efficiency
  • Improved inventory management
  • Increased consumer safety
  • Enhanced traceability and recall process
  • Immediate access to more product information, batch number, lot number and expiry date

Visit Cannabis Supply Chain – Best Practices