RFID vs. Barcode

RFID vs Barcode


The question of RFID vs. barcode has often been described in terms of the past vs. the future, with partisans of both technologies keen to prove that theirs is the best option.

Generally speaking, there is a lot of overlap between RFID and barcode, as they both try to solve similar problems in asset-heavy industries. As much as we often talk about one of these technologies as the only possible solution, it is quite common to see both in use at the same time.

But what are the main differences and similarities? What makes RFID and barcode different? Let’s look at their main features.

Both barcode and RFID help companies track their assets and store item information. This information is commonly printed on tags and can be stored, accessed, and shared in an online platform.


The differences between Barcode and RFID


RFID barcode benefits



  • You need to scan each tag individually, which results in slow reading
  • Barcode tags are printed on paper or adhesive and they tend to suffer more from wear and tear. Dirty or damaged tags cannot be read
  • You need to keep the scanner in line of sight with the tag, which results in short reading range
  • Barcode tags can only store a limited amount of data, usually generic information like name, SKU, and manufacturer
  • Lighter and usually cheaper
  • Read-only functionality


RFID benefts vs. barcode



  • You can scan multiple tags at once, which results in fast reading. Because RFID allows you to identify each individual item, you will avoid scanning twice the same item, which is a recurring issue with barcode
  • RFID tags are sturdier and more reusable. They can be read also in harsher environments. Advanced RFID tags can even embed sensors for temperature, humidity or moisture
  • You don’t need line of sight for tag reading. If you are within range, you can read RFID tags even at a distance (reading range up to 15 meters)
  • RFID tags can store more data and with a higher degree of complexity, like product maintenance information and expiry dates. Moreover, that data can be encrypted. This also means you can identify specific items (for example, RFID does not only identify a product or SKU, but enables you to track and trace individual units with the same SKU)
  • More secure, accurate, and less labor-intensive
  • Metal and liquids can interfere with the functioning of RFID tags (but the technology is rapidly evolving)
  • Tag information can be encoded (read and write functionality)


Barcode readers work by using a beam of light to read the black and white pattern printed on the adhesive tag. On the other hand, RFID (or Radio-Frequency Identification) leverages radio waves to transmit data from RFID chips to the readers. Barcode encoding (e.g. GTIN) and RFID encoding (EPC) both follow the same standard by GS1, so the transition is smooth and compatibility is guaranteed.

From this short summary, it seems clear that there are occasions in which RFID is preferable, and others were barcode still seems like the easiest option. Most grocery stores and shops dealing with perishable goods tend to use barcode, while industries with more high-value items, bigger inventories, and the need for real-time information, tend to prefer RFID.


the advantages of RFID over barcode


RADEA RFID Solution PaaS platform Internet of Things industrial IoT asset management inventory tracking



Beyond any doubt, there is a huge performance gap between barcode and RFID when it comes to speed. This is a direct consequence of individual scanning (barcode) vs. scanning of multiple items at once (RFID).

The video below highlights how much faster inventory management can be done with RFID.


end-to-end asset management solution cloud platform as a service radea service as solution data inventory management



Accuracy is harder to assess, because barcode requires manual reading, and is, therefore, more subject to human error. However, RFID might not be as accurate if the tags are placed on metals and liquids. In most circumstances, RFID can guarantee up to 100% inventory accuracy. A study comparing the use of RFID and barcode in the same environment confirmed that RFID guarantees more consistent results. (1)


multi-channel real time inventory management



When you use RFID, you can automate inventory management and item tracking. As RFID tags can store and share more information than barcode tags, an RFID-powered system allows you to leverage the data better. Better access to higher quality data allows you to use automation to optimize not only inventory management, but also your sales cycle.


However, there are still environments where using only barcode or a mix of barcode and RFID is preferable. In fact, barcode still dominates many industries. When we ask if barcode is better than RFID or the other way round, we are often asking the wrong question.

Whether RFID or barcode is better for your needs should be determined by looking at the specific circumstances of your business.


rfid or barcode? choose a FUTURE-PROOF READER


If you are working with barcode but are still open to the possibility of investing in RFID in the future, how do you choose the right reader? 

We have addressed exactly this problem by creating a future-proof solution.

Nordic ID HH83 is a modular reader than can be used both for barcode and UHF RFID reading.

Choose Nordic ID HH83 if you want to be ready for what’s to come without sacrificing convenience. No more costly substitutions of your whole reader fleet, just a timeless design to which you can add RFID modules as the industry changes.

Moreover, you will also be able to reduce waste and support sustainability and circular economy by choosing a reader that can be easily upgraded, instead of replaced.

Avoid costly surprises and invest in the future of your business and of the planet. 

Discover Nordic ID HH83 and get in touch to learn more.




(1) White, Gareth & Gardiner, Georgina & Prabhakar, Guru & Abd Razak, Azley. (2007). A Comparison of Barcoding and RFID Technologies in Practice. Journal of Information, Information Technology and Organizations. 2. 10.28945/142.