RFID Vs. Barcode

From scanning food at a grocery store, tickets at an event, or even inventory in a warehouse, barcodes are used to collect different types of data every day.

Like barcode, RFID is also used for data collection. The two can be used interchangeably, so how do you choose which technology to use?

When scanning an item’s RFID tag or barcode label, the information for that item is pulled-up from a database. The information can range from collecting the price for an item to finding its exact location.

Both RFID and barcode have advantages and limitations. Here’s a breakdown of some major similarities and differences and how they can be beneficial:

Read Capabilities
RFID has the ability to read single or multiple tags at a time. Reading multiple tags at once allows for quicker data capture compared to scanning only one at a time.

Barcode is only capable of reading one label at a time. However, the benefit of scanning a single label allows for positive identification of that specific item.

RFID’s flexibility of being able to read both multiple and/or single tags is beneficial over barcode because it can speed up the process by reading multiple tags at once, or identify single items when needed.

Read Range
The read range (or distance) varies greatly. RFID tags have both a long and short read range. They can be read out of site and up to 100+ feet away depending on the type of tag.

Tags being read out of sight save time from having to physically see and scan each tag while the long read range speeds up the process of collecting the data.

Barcodes on the other hand can only be read from up to 20-30 feet away and need to have clear site from the reader. RFID is the better selection here because of its versatility in read ranges and ability to be read without line of site.

Both RFID and barcode readers come in various forms including: handheld, fixed mounted, and some mobile devices.

It’s possible that an RFID reader can also read barcode and vice versa, so when searching for a reader it’s important to know the reader’s capabilities before selecting the one that will work best.

When it comes to technology adoption, companies are more likely to have access to a barcode reader. If an item will be traveling from one location to another and there is uncertainty of either having an RFID reader, the safe bet is to use barcode or directly print barcode onto the RFID tags.

Time SavingYesYes
Read Capabilities (at once)Single & MultipleSingle
Read RangeUp to 100+ Feet20 – 30 feet
Read out of site tags/labelsYesNo

RFID tags and labels allow for data to be encrypted and/or password protected. They are also very difficult to replicate.

Barcodes however, are easy to reproduce or counterfeit by simply making a copy of the label. RFID is the more secure choice to protect asset data.

Event Triggering
A unique security benefit of RFID is that it can trigger events, meaning when an RFID tag is read it can cause an action to occur. Examples include permitting entry into a secured location, opening a door, or signaling an alarm.

Barcodes can also trigger access by opening doors/gates, but are limited in security since the labels can be easily copied – making RFID the sole option for event based applications.


RFID tags have the option to be molded within hard plastics in order to cover and protect the antennas from ripping or breaking as well as more flexible materials to easily conform to curved surfaces.

On the other hand, most barcode labels are more susceptible to rips, tears or getting smudged. In any of these cases the label cannot be read.

Because of this, RFID would be beneficial in a wider range of applications; being able to choose the material based on the given application.

RFID tags can be completely wiped free of their memory after usage, allowing them to be reused.

However, barcodes are only single use labels. Once the barcode is associated with an item, it can no longer be reused or associated with a different item.

Having reusable tags is important for some applications in order to save money from purchasing numerous tags or having items with fast turn-overs, making RFID the best choice.

Event TriggeringYesYes

Both RFID and barcode have been around for several years. The two have very similar capabilities and can be used interchangeably for many of the same applications. Although barcode has become the more well-known choice, RFID is rising in popularity.

RFID can do all that barcode can and more. Its versatility of read ranges, reading capabilities, and durability make it great for a wide range of applications. While its security, event triggering and reusability features really set it apart from barcode. RFID can’t only make data collection faster, but also more secure.

Interested in learning more about how RFID works. Reach out to our RFID experts who are here to help you with any questions you may have.

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