“There are specific requirements for a bar code to be of a particular size, placed in a position that the scanner can easily read, and of a quality that the scanner can recognise.
“The Pride In Print entries largely passed these requirements, but there were some which did not, and this raises the issue of where designers and printers need to know more of the detailed requirements.”
Mr Dance said some of the areas of failure might not be obvious to an untrained observer at first sight. A surface with a glossy, silver finish for example would read as “black” to a scanner, so would be unworkable as a background and would make the bar code unreadable. Yet to the naked eye the bar code would look clear and well-printed.
Many printers believe that a shortened (truncated) bar code works as well as a full height one, but this belief is mistaken. Small bar codes may scan erratically or not at all once they are below a certain size.
This raises a potential issue of legal liability, which industry in general needs to address, says Mr Dance.
“Say a printer prints a beautiful job, complete with bar code. The designer is happy, the customer is happy … until they find out the bar code doesn’t work – it won’t scan properly because the scanner sees silver as black.
“Should the printer be held to account for this? If the job does not fulfil its role, is it the printer’s responsibility?
“However, the printer may have faithfully and accurately represented the artwork that was given him or her by the designer, and essentially the fault is in the design work. Therefore does the responsibility lie with the designer?”
He says that the customer versus printer/designer argument has been tested once in the New Zealand courts, when a manufacturer disregarded warnings from a prepress house and from GS1 New Zealand that the bar codes he wanted printed were too small and might work poorly.
When a major Australian company rejected the products because of poor scan rates the manufacturer refused to pay his printer and the prepress house, arguing that they were print experts and should have made a bar code within his specifications that would work. The court held that he was liable if he chose to disregard warnings from the experts.
“The point is that there were warnings given in this case,” says Mr Dance. “We still don’t know what a court would say if the printer didn’t have the knowledge to recognise a bad bar code so that no warning was given to the customer. Education, and a policy of always advising customers if there’s a bar code quality issue, is a printer’s only insurance that the decision would always be in his favour.
“Designers and printers need to be ready to educate the customer with the message ‘Sorry, but your barcode design will not work because of this or that reason’. And they need to understand that an ordinary scanner is not a legitimate testing device. Scanners perform differently, so the fact that one reads a bar code is not evidence that another one will. The only thing you can test with an ordinary scanner is whether the right number is in the bar code.”