In our most recent blog post, we explore the DotCode, a less familiar 2D barcode symbology that has emerged as a relatively recent addition to the 2D code landscape. Developed for application in highly specific, high-throughput scenarios, we delve into its features and applications.

What is a DotCode?

The DotCode is a type of 2D barcode that represents data using dots arranged in a rectangular pattern. Initially designed to provide a machine-readable code suitable for reliable reading when produced with high-speed inkjet or laser technologies, DotCodes serve as an option in industries with rapid production processes. They can function as an alternative to other 2D codes, supporting item-level serialisation and enabling product tracking across global supply chains.

The DotCode was developed by Dr Andrew Longacre, with official specifications published by global industry standards organisation AIM in 2009.

DotCodes are public domain codes – this means that they are not restricted by copyright and are royalty-free, so organisations do not require a license in order to print or use the code. Up to date specifications are available from AIM under ISS DotCode Symbology Specification 4.0.

Like other 2D codes, DotCodes are equipped with error correction capabilities using the Reed-Solomon correction algorithm, which works to detect and restore missing data in 2D codes. This means that DotCodes can still be read if part of the code is missing or damaged.

What does a DotCode code look like?

DotCode explained

DotCodes typically have a rectangular shape, unlike many other 2D codes. The data in DotCodes is encoded in ‘data dots,’ which can be square or circular and are arranged on a grid diagonal to the rectangle.

The sizing and orientation of DotCodes are flexible, but the dot height and width must be odd. For instance, if there is an odd number of dots in the height, then there must be an even number in the width, and vice versa.

DotCodes can be printed in dark colors on a light-colored background or in light colors on a dark-colored background, as long as there is sufficient contrast for readability.

The minimum size for a DotCode is 7 dots high, and theoretically, there is no maximum size, although most printing technology has a practical limit of 124 dots in either direction.

Similar to other 2D codes, DotCodes feature a ‘finder pattern,’ visible in the two corners containing data dots. These dots guide a data reader or scanner on where to start reading the data.

A DotCode must be surrounded by a ‘quiet zone,’ three dots wide on all four sides of the printed code. This empty space ensures effective scanning and reading without interference from additional printed content.

What data can a DotCode contain?

DotCodes can encode data using all 7-bit ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) characters and extended 8-bit ASCII characters, covering numerals 0 to 9, lowercase letters a to z, uppercase letters A to Z, punctuation symbols, and various special characters.

Unlike other 2D codes, DotCodes are not technically constrained in terms of data capacity. There is no inherent maximum limit to the amount of data that can be stored in a DotCode. However, practical considerations may limit the size, with printers typically restricted to a maximum of 124 dots in either direction, as previously mentioned.


What’s the best technology for printing DotCodes?

DotCodes, in contrast to other 2D codes, do not necessitate the use of continuous lines or exact spacing. Consequently, they can be consistently applied using high-speed coders such as industrial inkjet printers and laser coding systems, including CO2 and fibre lasers. This adaptability makes DotCodes particularly suitable for industries with high-speed production lines.

How do you scan a DotCode?

Similar to Data Matrix codes and QR codes, DotCodes can be scanned from any orientation with a specialized 2D code scanner or camera scanner. Additionally, DotCodes can be scanned using a smartphone or tablet camera, as long as there is an appropriate barcode reader app installed—though it’s worth noting that DotCodes are generally not recommended for consumer-facing applications.

What industries are DotCodes used for?

DotCodes have demonstrated significant success in providing on-pack serialization for the European tobacco industry, particularly in fast-paced production environments that often reach speeds of up to 1,000 packs per minute. The global standards organization, GS1, oversees the global standards for DotCodes in tobacco applications, aligning with the EU tobacco traceability regulation EU 2018/574.

While the primary application of DotCodes is in the tobacco sector, their appropriateness for high-speed printing requirements could be advantageous for other industries with similar demands, such as the alcoholic beverages sector, especially if serialization becomes a future requirement.

How can I find out more about using DotCodes?

If you’re contemplating the incorporation of a DotCode or any other 2D code into your product packaging and seek further guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out. We provide a variety of printing and labeling solutions tailored to meet the needs of diverse industries and packaging formats. Additionally, our specialized code verification systems ensure that codes adhere to print quality standards and verify data accuracy for serialized codes. If you operate in an industry with high-speed serialization needs and are considering the adoption of DotCodes, our experts are available to discuss your specific requirements and determine the most suitable solution for your business.

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