Picket Fence Vs Ladder Barcode

Choosing the right barcode for your product is an essential packaging step. It can be the difference between being sold on the shelves and being rejected by major retailers. There are two orientations to choose from – should you use a picket fence or a ladder barcode?

What are the basics of barcode printing?

In this fact sheet, we discuss thermal transfer printing which is the standard technology used in most warehouse label printers. This is where barcodes are printed by using a series of tiny heated elements within the print head, causing sections of the label to turn black when heated.

  • These printers heat and cool quickly, but not consistently
  • As a result, irregularities in the lines or images can occur
  • Picket fence barcodes (vertical stripes) and ladder barcodes (horizontal stripes) are the two most common options

What are Picket Fence Barcodes?

This term refers to barcodes that are parallel to the movement of the label as it moves through the warehouse printer.


  • Higher quality barcode
  • Crisper and straighter edges because the print-head is steadily heated for a length of time
  • The code is easier to scan and read


  • It isn’t easy to spot errors with the human eye
  • If a heater within the print-head burns out, it can result in a line not being properly printed
  • Errors can result in an inability to scan the barcode
Barcode Factsheets

To combat the drawbacks of picket fence barcodes, we suggest printing a verification line before or after the barcode. The operator can then easily see if there is a problem, prior to printing too many codes. Alternatively, print varification technology will scan and check the barcodes for you.

What are Ladder Barcodes?

This refers to barcodes that are perpendicular to the direction of the label as it travels through the printer. They are typically used for small, cylindrical products, such as cans, where the code will be positioned vertically.

Resin Thermal Transfer Ribbon


  • The orientation of the ladder makes it easy to see if you have a bad print head
  • If there is a fault with the printer, a white space will be visible across the entire code
  • Even when errors occur, the barcode is often still scannable


  • These barcodes tend to be blurred and irregular at the edges
  • They can be difficult to read, especially when a small font is used
  • Poor quality is caused by quickly turning on and off the heated elements of the print-head – which can also cause excessive wear to the print-head
  • This orientation can’t be used for high print speeds

Breaking it down – which option is right for you?

The Picket Fence barcode is our most highly recommended orientation – unless you are working with a small cylindrical product such as a canned fruits or bottled sauces. We’ve partnered with GS1 Australasia, so we can advise on the best option for your business.