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We offer variable-data-printing applications that can produce DataMatrix symbols that represent information in a data file. Click here to learn about them.
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MYTHS and facts about
variable-data printing
& publishing

In addition to the
Datamatrix format, there
are other 2-D bar-code
formats. Four of them are
PDF417, DataGlyph, QR, and MaxiCode.

The area of information
technology that deals with
such symbols is known
as "2-D symbology."


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QUESTION: What is a Datamatrix symbol?

ANSWER: A Datamatrix symbol is a two-dimensional matrix that is a bar code consisting of black and white squares arranged in either a square or rectangular pattern. The pattern of black and white squares represents text and/or other kinds of data.

Data Matrix

A Datamatrix symbol

Datamatrix is sometimes spelled as two words: "Data Matrix."

Other terms for a Datamatrix symbol are
  • Datamatrix bar code
  • Datamatrix 2D bar code or Datamatrix 2-D bar code
  • Datamatrix 2D symbol or Datamatrix 2-D symbol.
2D and 2-D stand for "two-dimensional." Datamatrix symbols are, of course, two-dimensional; that is, the black and white squares are arranged in both horizontal rows and vertical rows (horizontal being one dimension and vertical being the second dimension).

Contrast this with other kinds of bar codes that we see in our daily lives — most of them are "one-dimensional" bar codes. That is: the marks that make up the bar code are arranged in one row (one dimension), usually the horizontal dimension.

A UPC bar code

UPC bar codes are one-dimensional bar codes.
They are found on product packaging in supermarkets
and other retail environments.
A Code 128 bar code.

Code 128 bar codes are one-dimensional bar codes.
They are widely used in many industries, particularly those
related to shipping and packaging.

What kind of information can be represented by a Datamatrix symbol?

A Datamatrix symbol can represent more than 2,000 bytes of data. This is much more information than what can be represented by a one-dimensional bar code. For example, a POSTNET bar code represents a maximum of 12 digits (9 digits for the Zip code, plus some extra information that's used by the U.S. Postal Service).

You can use a Datamatrix symbol to represent pretty much anything you want — a name and address, an account number, a product name, a Web-site address, whatever.

How do you get the information out of a Datamatrix symbol?

2D bar code   To understand the information a Datamatrix symbol represents, you need a scanning wand or camera that is programmed to understand and interpret Datamatrix symbols.

Error-correction codes

A Datamatrix symbol contains information called "error-correction codes." The error-correction codes are not part of the data that is represented; rather, the error-correction codes help scanning wands and cameras to interpret the Datamatrix symbol accurately. You can think of the error-correction codes as "checksums."

The error-correction codes are cleverly arranged within the Datamatrix pattern in a way that makes it possible for a camera or scanning wand to interpret the data correctly (in most cases) even if part of the Datamatrix symbol is torn or smudged.

What are Datamatrix symbols used for?

Because you can store so much information in a Datamatrix symbol, Datamatrix symbols are idea for situations where one-dimensional bar codes wouldn't do. Here are a couple of common applications for Datamatrix symbols:
  • Datamatrix symbols are used to put identifying information on very small items (electronic components, for example). The Datamatrix symbols work well for this because even a tiny Datamatrix symbol can represent a lot of information.

  • Datamatrix symbols are often used on printed materials such as letters, labels, and envelopes. This allows them to be tracked by cameras and electronic scanners. For example, courier services use Datamatrix symbols to capture information about delivery, and envelope-inserting equipment used by the printing industry makes use of Datamatrix symbols to match printed envelopes with the documents to be inserted into the envelopes (to make sure that the right documents get inserted into the right envelopes).

How can you put Datamatrix symbols on your documents?

The process of putting Datamatrix symbols on your documents isn't as straightforward as putting one-dimensional bar codes on your documents.

Let's compare the two processes.

In most situations, to put a one-dimensional bar code on a document, you just need to type the information to be represented (or somehow generate that information automatically), and you need to format that information with the proper bar-code font.

The procedure for putting a Datamatrix symbol on a document is different and more complicated than what we've just described, for two reasons:
  • Since a Datamatrix symbol is two-dimensional, you can't represent the information in it with just one line of characters in your document.

  • The relationship between the marks that make up the Datamatrix symbol and the information that those marks represent is more complex than the relationship between the marks that make up a one-dimensional bar code and the information that the bar code represents.
We offer variable-data-printing applications that can produce DataMatrix symbols that represent information in a data file. Click here to learn about them.

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