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Product Marking or Coding, What’s the Difference?

You may have encountered the terms marking and coding but do they mean the same thing? In a broad sense they both represent the application of printing ink or etching the material substrate to produce something that is visible and legible so it can be read by humans or machines.

A mark can be described as a line, symbol or graphical logo that represents a trademark or compliance approval stamp. Printing these marks typically requires high-resolution methods like that of a Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) printer. Thermal inkjet printers have a high dots-per-inch (DPI) count and they can deliver an accurate reproduction of trademark logos or compliance association stamps.

A code is a human readable string of alphanumeric characters that has meaning to the product manufacturer for tracking purposes. An example of a product code “6L523006B” is a deliberate attempt to make it difficult for a consumer to decipher.

To a manufacturer, this code once decoded would represent:

6 = 2016

L52 = Lot # 52

30 = 30th day of the month

06 = June

B = B shift or afternoon shift (A = morning and C = night)

Another type of code used is a date code. A date code should clearly communicate to the consumer the freshness of a product or when it will expire. This type of code must be calendar based, convey meaning and not be misleading. Federal register document 9 CFR 381.129(c) provides guidelines on the proper use of a date coding system for food product manufacturers.

A good rule to follow for product coding is to keep it meaningless to the consumer for when the code needs to be used for internal tracking. As for date coding, you should make it as intuitive to the consumer as possible. If the print window allows for it, have a “Best Before” or “Use By” prefix printed before the date code so this information is perfectly clear.


About Dean Hornsby

As Redimark’s Brand Evangelist, Dean is a passionate guy. Passionate about sharing his deep knowledge about packaging and automation, passionate about exceptional customer satisfaction, and a bit nutty about perfectly printed date codes. Nothing makes him happier than matching Redimark’s solutions with your business’s coding and marking needs (well, that and a good craft beer). In his more than 25 years in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry, Dean has done and seen it all; from engineering to plant automation to vision and coding systems. Have a question for Dean? He’d love to chat.

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