RFID Vs Barcodes


RFID Vs Barcodes

Heard of RFID and are wondering how this might help you in your organisation?  Read this article to find out what RFID is and when you would use RFID instead of standard barcode labels.

RFID – a few words of introduction

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It uses radio waves to read information stored on a tiny chip.  RFID chips are small (or flat) enough they can be built into credit cards, travel cards, tags and labels.

RFID tags do not need batteries, the tag reader ‘charges’ the tag so it’s able to ‘beam back’ the data that’s stored on it. 

Using RFID you are able to fully automate data capture.  You no longer need to orientate labels so they can be scanned – simply move (carry or drive) the item past the reader and the data is collected.

RFID labels – barcodes and text combined with RFID

As with the picture beside, RFID can be combined with barcodes and labels to provide a human readable message as well as machine readable data.

RFID can be used in so many areas, for example: –

  • Keeping track of animals, eg microchipping
  • Tracking inventory, supplies and products
  • Preventing theft. Attach one to an item and they will set off an alarm when it reaches a certain point
  • Tracking of company vehicles or other valuables
  • Much faster and easier checkout in stores.

Advantages of RFID

RFID Label Printing
RFID Label Printing

Store lots of data on the chip

RFID allows you to store lots of data on the tag.  Because you’re storing data in electronic memory of the tag, you can store much more information than you can with a label.  This might include text, web addresses or even images.  

Update data on a chip

With electronic data you can change it.  That’s something you can’t do with a printed label unless you reprint and apply a new one. 

Read tags from a distance

Standard RFID tags can be read from a meter away and don’t need to be positioned to be scanned unlike barcodes

Using battery powered RFID chips (known as active RFID) the range can be boosted – with certain tags readable a staggering 2KM away! 

No need for ‘line of sight’ with RFID

Reading RFID Tags
Reading RFID Tags

RFID works using a tag reader and antenna.  The reader beams out a radio wave and receives information ‘bounced back’ from the tag.  As long as the reader is near a RFID chip, it can be read.  Unlike the barcode there’s no need to see the barcode. 

For example, Airbus uses RFID to keep track of aircraft seats and life jackets.  RFID chips tell them the expiry date and maintenance history in seconds, using a lightweight hand held reader.  No need to crawl under aircraft seats to scan codes.

Fully automate operations

With RFID, data can be collected without any human involvement.  Just moving tagged objects past a properly configured reader will collect data.

Secure data on the RFID Tag

Unlike labels that can be read by anyone, RFID data can be stored in encrypted format and decrypted when it’s collected.


If you embed tags into an item then they can be much more durable than an exposed (and therefore easy to use) barcode label.

Interested in RFID?  Contact us at info@expertlabels.co.uk.

Disadvantages of RFID

Signal Blockage

Sometimes a signal is blocked by certain liquids, metals, and other materials. This can prove to be a real issue.  In an automatic reading situation the RFID readers need to be positioned carefully to avoid blind spots.

RFID tags are more expensive than Barcodes

RFID tags cost more than barcode labels.  They are available off the shelf and cost around 16 pence per tag/label. 

However, the comparison of cost disappears if you are re-using tags. 

Imagine you are recording details about the contents of a plastic crate (batch code, item code and quantity, for example) and recycling the crate after use, the return on investment is paid back over time. 

Where assets are retained and RFID tags can be reassigned when assets are disposed of, then the benefits of RFID can quickly pay for the initial investment.

Deluged with data

With a mass of automatically collected data from RFID tags – you need to have robust IT infrastructure to collect, process and store the data.


Barcodes are comprised of a series of parallel black bars representing identification information. This is then read with a barcode scanner. However, today many smartphones are able to scan different types of barcodes. 

Barcode Types

Barcodes are practically free

Barcodes are printed directly onto plastic or paper materials, there’s a tiny marginal increase in ink use, but this is negligible. 

Barcodes are a universal technology.

They’re tried and tested and well understood.  Barcodes are in widespread use and barcode scanners are cheap and easy to buy and use.  Your supply chain partners are almost always going to be using barcodes.

Want to know more about RFID?

If you’re considering RFID in your organisation – email us at info@expertlabels.co.uk  and tell us what you have in mind.  We will discuss your project with you and help you decide if RFID will save you money and increase productivity. 

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Dated: 6 Apr 2019


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