The Difference Between Barcodes and RFID Tags

February 21, 2017 by Socket Mobile | PRODUCT TECH UPDATES

Barcodes and RFIDs can essentially stand for the same principles in conception. In fact, they can look the same, even carry and share the same forms of information. However, while barcodes can go no further than a 2D image, the RFID tag has an element that allows it to save much more information electronically, which means its potential is much greater, leaving the barcode to remain stationary while RFID tags evolve to bigger possibilities.

Barcodes – a form of data collection and itemization that individualizes items with a sequence of visual lines or shapes that represent information. It is a basic form of tracking and collecting data.


RFID (radio frequency identification) – another form of data collection with embedded code, honed in with unseen radio waves. Working with a scanning antenna to send signals, a transceiver to read the data, and a transponder (RFID tag), the RFID tag waits for a reader’s antennae to come within range and read the available information.


Although barcodes are arguably irreplaceable by RFIDs, the question that’s lurking in the back of everyone’s mind is whether an RFID can evolve into a barcode replacement… or even be combined?

RFIDs cannot do everything that a barcode can. A barcode image can be emailed as an attached image and printed, whereas an RFID tag cannot. In such case, RFIDs are considered more secure than a barcode, however limiting.

Not only do RFID tags carry much more data, they are also capable of doing much more with that data (utilized in transit cards, department stores, pet tracking, etc.). While barcodes merely store the data to be read by scanners, the data on RFID tags have potential read and write capabilities – information is stored on the RFID tag and information can be updated/changed on specific RFID tags. In addition, information can be locked on the RFID.
 RFID Tags  Barcodes 
 Costs $100s (expensive) Cost Efficient (cheap to free)
 Immutable, data can read only after authentication 
 Inlays need to be incorporated into the card or product packaging 
 Limited NFC (Near Field Communication) reader support Readily accessible/available
 Carry up to 2 kilobytes of data  Carries up to 2,000 characters of text, voice, images, etc.
Carries editable information: read, write, locked, etc. Cannot be changed
 Payment and identification grade security is possible Can be emailed/duplicated with image
 Versions of RFID tags: active, semi-passive, passive Versions of barcodes: 1 dimensional, 2 dimensional,

While a lot more can be said about RFIDs, the good old fashioned barcode is not left without its own merit. For one thing, the price between barcodes and RFIDs is incomparable as barcodes can be obtained for free. The more sophisticated technology required to create and use RFIDs obviously cost much more. However, the price tag may not be an issue in the future if RFID tags continually become cheaper.

Where barcodes provide individuality, RFID tags take a step further in providing personalization. With the ability to read and write on some tags, shopping, gaming and hotels can be more personalized for each person. Everyone wants to feel special and have their individual needs met. RFID technology is a contactless communication that allows people to have more of that individuality.

Read More:
Learn more in How Are RFID Tags and NFC Used?

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