Barcode vs Serial Number: Which Is Best For Your Business? | InkJet, Inc.




Product tracking is a vital aspect of any supply chain. Whether your firm produces consumer products or parts that will eventually be assembled into a usable product, it is important to have a system for tracking everything that leaves your facility. Several coding options help with product traceability, each serving a different use case. Two of the most popular are barcodes and serial numbers.

When comparing a barcode vs serial number, it is important to cover:

  • What a serial number is
  • What a barcode is
  • Key differences
  • Common applications
  • Best way to print

Let’s dive into each and figure out the best option for your operation.

What is a Serial Number?

A serial number is an identification number that is unique to each product it is placed upon. This means that every individual item will have its own identifier in a serial number inventory tracking system. Serial numbers are displayed as numerical characters and do not require scanning to read. This makes them readable on the consumer side for use cases like product registration and warranties.

What is a Bar Code?

A bar code is a scannable code that represents a numerical one and typically includes a readable numerical code underneath it. These are more commonly used to mark an entire category or model of product uniformly, assigning the same code to every individual unit of inventory in the group. This means that scanning an item’s barcode will not track or display information for the individual unit, but rather the model, category, or SKU that unit belongs to.

Barcode vs Serial Number Key Differences

The following are the key differences between barcodes and serial numbers:



Serial number


By model/category




Naked eye

Character Types

Numerical only

Numerical or Alphanumerical

These distinct differences lend each better to different applications. Let’s review a few common examples to better understand what would work better for your use case.

Common Applications

The primary practical difference in the application of these two code types is whether you are looking to track by model or individual unit. So, if you’re making mass consumer goods like food products or clothing, there is no need to identify each individual unit. So, you would utilize barcodes to allow simple and fast scanning of every unit in a particular category throughout the entire supply chain.

Serial numbers are more applicable for goods requiring individual maintenance, warranty coverage, or registration. This is why tech products have serial numbers because they often need all three. A serial number provides a unique identifier for a product to make it easier for consumers to register their purchase and manufacturers to look up warranty, maintenance, and repair history. They are also commonly used for pharma products, as individual serialization is required for regulatory compliance.

So, in short, the barcode vs serial number dilemma can usually be figured out by determining how you need to identify the goods you produce. For some applications, other coding types (like QR codes and data matrix codes) may be better than either of these.

The Best Printing Systems for Barcodes and Serial Numbers

Printing barcodes or serial numbers introduces unique needs regarding equipment. Getting the right automatic printing system in place is key to ensuring the readability, consistency, and efficiency of the coding process. For most barcode and serial number coding use cases, continuous inkjet (CIJ) and thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are the best options. Both can print high-resolution bar codes and serial numbers to a high volume of products and support continuous and automatic operation once set up.

TIJ printers are best for small-to-medium-sized operations, as they are the more compact option. CIJ printers are much larger and heavier but can print much faster, making them work better for large operations with a very high volume of products that need marking.

InkJet, Inc.’s Barcode and Serial Number Coding Systems

Coding Technology

Operating Method

System Options

Maximum Resolution and Print Height

Maximum Marking Speed

Cost Factors

Compatible Materials

Continuous Inkjet Printer

Propels pressurized ink droplets toward the substrate

DuraCode Touchscreen, Keyboard, & Pigment

70 DPI at 15 mm height

320 m/min.

Low to moderate unit cost, low consumable cost

Cardboard, paper, wood, metal, plastic, rubber, flexible packaging

Thermal Inkjet Printer

Uses heat to pressurize and eject ink droplets toward the substrate

Anser U2 Models

400 x 300 DPI (height varies by model)

76.2 m/min

Low unit cost, moderate consumable cost

Varies by model

Anser A1

600 x 600 DPI at 1” height (2” height with stitched print heights)

300 m/min with HP cartridges, 150 m/min with IUT cartridges

Moderate unit cost, moderate consumable cost

Cardboard, paper, wood, metal, plastic, rubber, flexible packaging

Anser X1

600 x 600 DPI at 1” height (2” height with stitched print heights)

300 m/min

Moderate unit cost, moderate consumable cost

Cardboard, paper, wood, metal, plastic, rubber, flexible packaging

Get the Best Printing Systems and Support with Inkjet

The best way to get started with a new printing system is to work with a reputable vendor focusing on customer success and advocacy. At Inkjet Inc., we pride ourselves on providing prompt, comprehensive, and effective customer service to ensure rapid deployment, smooth operation, and efficient incident resolution to all our clients. We can provide all of the hardware, consumables, and assistance a business needs to get the most out of its new inventory tracking system, regardless of the choice they make between barcode vs serial number.

To decide between barcode vs serial number for your operation, or to purchase the right printing system for your needs, contact InkJet, Inc. online today or call 1(800) 280-3245.