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Working in the Automatic Identification and Data Collection industry, there is one question I get over and over regarding barcodes. It comes from people using a Code 3 of 9 barcode font for Microsoft Office applications. That question is “I’ve built my Code 3 of 9 barcode using a font in Microsoft Word, but my barcode scanner will not read it. Why?”.

Before I answer, you need to understand a couple things.

  1. Code 3 of 9 is most commonly called Code 39. The “of” in between the 3 and 9 is dropped. From this point on I will refer to Code 3 of 9 as Code 39.
  2. Code 39 always starts and ends with an asterisk (*). No ifs ands or buts about it, Code 39 must begin and end with an asterisk.

I’m not going to go into the history or the encodation algorithm of Code 39 because that’s not what this article is about. If you want to know more about those topics you can search the web and find hundreds or thousands of articles.

When you build a Code 39 barcode in a Microsoft Office application you need to install a Code 39 font. A Code 39 font is just like any other font you can get for Office. There are many free Code 39 fonts available for download. Just search for them. Once you’ve found one just install it on your computer like any other font. After the font has been installed, it will be available to you in the font selector of Office applications. Just select the Code 39 font and you’re ready to start building your barcode.

You can now type your desired barcode numbers and you’ll see the actual barcode being built instead of the human readable numbers. But here’s where you need to be careful. As I mentioned above, a Code 39 always starts and ends with an asterisk. The asterisk is known as the Code 39 start and stop characters. I cannot stress this enough. This means the first thing you type on your keyboard when you start building your barcode is an asterisk. The last thing you type after you’ve entered all your data is an asterisk. If you do not put the asterisk at the beginning and end of the barcode, the barcode scanner will not read it. There will be no way you can get the scanner to read it, no matter how hard you try or how many times you call the technical support group for your barcode scanner manufacturer. The asterisks must be in the barcode. The scanner will not output the asterisks when it reads the barcodes, it simply uses them to understand that this is a Code 39 barcode.

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The technical support group that I work in gets this exact question on a daily basis. No matter what we tell the customer they don’t believe us until we make them a sample and prove it to them. If you plan to build Code 39 barcodes using a barcode font, do not forget to add the start and stop asterisk characters! You will save yourself a lot of time, hassle and paper.

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