How to Use Barcode Stickers in 3 Simple Steps

Barcode stickers are a tool that we encounter nearly every day, but most people don’t know how they work. The reason you see barcodes in stores, on books, and on business assets is because they provide a simple way to identify objects, helping businesses keep track of them and ultimately getting more value out of them.

The good news is you don’t need a lot of special equipment or expertise to start using them.

In this article, we’ll explain how barcodes work and why businesses use them. Then, we’ll cover how to start using barcode stickers to track your assets through three simple steps.

How do barcode stickers work? 

Barcode stickers are a simple and inexpensive technology. The black lines on a white background create a unique signature, like a serial code or fingerprint. Scanners project a beam of light on the barcode and read the way the light reflects off them.

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Usually, a barcode tracking system needs three parts: the barcode labels themselves, the scanner to read the label, and a database of records linked to the barcodes. 

Why do businesses need barcode stickers?

You’ve probably encountered barcodes in retail and grocery stores. In this use case, the barcode is linked to the price of the item, allowing the cashier to ring up products much faster than if they had to type in each price. But barcode labels are also useful for inventory management and asset tracking. 

Inventory often refers to the stock of sellable goods your business has on hand, whereas asset tracking lets businesses keep a handle on their fixed assets. Fixed assets are property the business uses to create value for more than one year. They represent investments made by a business, and implementing asset tracking is a smart way to get more out of those investments.

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When a piece of equipment has a unique asset label, employees can scan it and gain access to all the information they need. For example, let’s say an item is left behind at a construction project with multiple teams. Scanning the equipment asset tag reveals which team the tool belongs to.

Along with lost or misplaced assets, a tracking system helps prevent theft by making an item uniquely identifiable. And when you keep your asset records up to date, you have the accountability that comes with documenting who last used the asset. 

Finally, asset tracking comes with several financial benefits for businesses. Asset records can provide proof of ownership to insurers, which helps you get appropriately compensated. You can even write off asset depreciation on your business’s taxes.

Barcode stickers or QR codes? 

Barcode stickers have been around since the 1950s, and have been used on railroads, in books, on event tickets, and more. They’re still in use today because they are simple, functional, and inexpensive. But there are other options for labeling assets, such as QR codes.

As we covered above, barcode labels are a series of lines of different thicknesses, and are read by measuring how light reflects off them. QR codes are very similar, except they appear as a square pixelated design. Like barcodes, the QR code creates a unique signature that you can link to data. 

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QR codes can store more information, however, because they are two dimensional. Whereas barcodes only need to be read horizontally, QR codes need to be read both horizontally and vertically.

Because scanners require a direct line of sight to read both barcodes and QR codes, these types of asset tags need to be easy to find and reach. need a direct line of sight to read. Both can be printed at home. If you need to store more data or need the label to be easily scannable with a smartphone, QR codes can be better. 

Along with barcodes and QR codes, some asset tracking systems use RFID tags, which use radio frequencies to identify an object. RFID tags can store more data than barcodes or QR codes, but are also more expensive to produce. Because RFID tags can be read without a direct line of sight, they make it easier to quickly scan large quantities.

3 steps for using barcode stickers for asset tracking

If you’re ready to start using barcode tags to track your fixed assets, we’ve broken it down to a simple three-step process.

1. Choose the barcode stickers that work best for you 

Although barcodes themselves are simple, it’s worth taking the time to consider what you really need out of your barcode stickers. 

A few details to consider are:

  • Label size: How big or small do your barcode labels need to be? Do you want to include other information on the tag?
  • Label color: Using different label colors can simplify asset tracking by allowing you to tell at a glance what category an item falls into. For example, you could use different color tags for the year the asset was acquired, or assets from different business locations.
  • Label material: You can print barcodes on basic envelope labels, but if your assets are kept outdoors or experience a lot of wear and tear, you need something more sturdy. For example, some businesses use metal tags with permanent adhesive. 

Many businesses find that printing their own labels is the best and most cost-effective solution. With the hardware provided to RedBeam users, most print their own asset tags. 

You can, however, purchase custom barcode stickers online in any color, size, and material. If you need especially durable barcode labels or custom designs, ordering is the way to go. 

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If you need a large number of labels , it also might be simpler and more cost-effective to order them. It’s not a bad idea to keep some extras on hand, too. This will make it easy to consistently label new assets.

2. Apply barcode labels and link them to records 

Once you have your barcode stickers, you need to apply them to your assets and link the barcodes to records in your database.

Where to place barcode stickers

Barcodes can only be read with a direct line of sight, so your labels need to be placed somewhere you (and your employees) can reach. For instance, if you own a large restaurant, an industrial-sized refrigerator might be one of your assets. If you place the asset barcode sticker on the back (that’s against the wall) someone would have to move the entire fridge to scan the label. When in doubt, place barcodes somewhere obvious and easily accessible.

If you’re labeling several assets of the same type, it’s a good idea to standardize label placement (e.g., barcode tags always go on the top-right corner). This small step can save a lot of time and frustration for your team.

You also want to think about any potential wear and tear. If your barcode sticker is on a surface that's likely to rub against other objects or be exposed to sunlight, that could make the label deteriorate faster. For example, if you were labeling a power drill, you wouldn’t place the label in the same place that users grip the tool.

How to link barcodes to asset records 

For each barcode, you want to create a record and link it to the label. To return to the retail example, each barcode is linked to the item’s price. But your asset records can hold a lot of other valuable information. Some common details in asset records are date of purchase, purchase value, and current value.

The exact process of linking barcodes to asset records will depend on your asset management software. With RedBeam, for example, you can create an asset record and then generate and print a barcode sticker. But RedBeam users can also generate barcodes and then scan them to create new asset records. 

The initial process of labeling your assets and linking them to digital records is often the most time-consuming part of adopting an asset tracking system. After that, however, it’s easy to update records, check items in or out, or add new assets.

3. Scan barcode labels consistently 

Once you have your barcode stickers applied and linked to the right data, it’s important to make consistent scanning and asset audits part of your operations. Asset tracking is more precise and helpful when you keep asset records up to date.

To ensure consistency, it’s a good idea to establish standard operating procedures for when your team will scan asset barcodes and when data needs to be updated. For equipment that's used periodically by different team members, for example, you might scan the asset to check it out and scan it again when it’s returned. 

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An asset audit is when you do a full review of your assets. Many businesses perform annual asset audits, but the right cadence for your organization might be different. During an audit, you confirm that all assets are accounted for and have asset tags linked to the appropriate record. If something is missing, you can use the asset record to find out where it might be.

This is also the time to inspect your assets and evaluate their condition. Is the equipment still in good working order? Does it need repairs or preventative maintenance? Asset audits allow you to document and address those needs. Inspecting the condition of your assets can also help you budget for future replacement costs. 

Frequently asked questions 

Here we answer some of the most common questions people have about barcode stickers.

How do I create a barcode for an item?

Most businesses will create barcodes within their asset tracking system and then print them for application. There are also many free online barcode generators. Typically, you can choose whether your barcode stickers also have a serial number or other content (like your business logo).

How do I make my own barcode label?

The first step to creating your own barcode label is to generate the barcode. Asset tracking software can create barcodes, but there are also free online barcode generators. Once you have a digital image of the barcode, you can print it on the appropriate label. In a pinch, you could even print a barcode on regular paper and use tape to affix it to the item.

Can you use a regular printer to print barcode labels?

Yes. Home or office printers can print barcodes on regular printer paper or on sheets of stickers. For example, most home printers produce a sheet of barcode labels on the stickers used for address labels.

How do you read barcode stickers?

The varying black lines and white space on barcodes create a unique signature. A traditional barcode scanner projects a beam of light at the barcode and measures how the light bounces back. Many businesses use handheld barcode scanners, which range from $20 to hundreds of dollars. There are also barcode scanner apps you can add to a smartphone so you can use your mobile device as the scanner. 

Protect your company’s investments

Barcode stickers are a simple technology, but they can also be a powerful tool for tracking assets and inventory. Even small businesses can benefit from implementing and maintaining an asset management system.

With the three steps we covered, you can start using barcode stickers to prevent loss and give your business peace of mind.

To see how you can use barcode stickers with RedBeam to bring order to your assets, schedule a demo today.