How to set up a barcode system

Posted by Thomas
A picture of a barcode scanner and label printer, essential hardware in a barcode system

We’ve had a lot of small businesses write in to ask about barcoding, so we put together a three-minute tutorial on how to set up a barcode system.

Our full barcode tutorial video is right here:

How to set up a barcode system | inFlow Inventory software

But since you’re here, this post provides some extra detail to the steps from our video.

Step 1: How to generate barcodes

The first thing to do is prepare a product list spreadsheet so that you can tie barcodes to specific products.

In our video we showed a spreadsheet with columns for Item Name and Barcode, but if you don’t have a full product spreadsheet ready, we’ve got an article on inventory management basics that can help!

When it comes to generating barcodes, you can use a free online barcode generator to generate codes one at a time, or inventory software that can automatically generate codes for each of your products.

As a quick final example, here’s what a product list spreadsheet could look like:

A screenshot of a product spreadsheet, part of the first step in building a barcode system

Step 2: Label your inventory

Now that you’ve got a spreadsheet of your products and corresponding barcodes, you’re one step closer to a barcode inventory system.

Now it’s time to physically label your current inventory, so you’ll need a specialized printer and software to create the labels. We’ve had good experiences with DYMO printers, specifically the LabelWriter 450. DYMO also sell their own labels on their website, but you don’t have to use their branded labels — generic ones will work as long as they’re the right size.

The great thing about DYMO is that they offer free label software that works with their printers. It’s quick and easy to install on Windows or Mac, and you can drag and drop the fields you’d like to appear on your labels. Our tip is not to get too ambitious with adding fields at first: stick to the basics like Item Name and Barcode and see how that fits with a few test prints. Remember that you’ll still want to be able to read some of the information on the labels, so having fewer fields on each label means they’ll be easier to skim. 

This step is probably the most labor-heavy, because you’ll have to print one label for each of the items that you’d like to barcode. Expect this to take at least a few hours, if not days. The labelling process can go a bit faster if you have software that can filter to your current stock and automatically print labels for just those products (more on this later).

Once you’re done labelling everything you currently have, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and remember that you should keep the process going for any incoming products.

Step 3: Find inventory software to tie your barcode system together

Finally, you’ll need great inventory software to tie your whole barcode system together. Finding barcode scanners and label printers is pretty easy, but you’ll want an inventory management system that was designed to take advantage of a fully barcoded business. This is where inFlow Cloud comes in.

 inFlow can help you build your product list from scratch or import your existing spreadsheet (kudos if you’re already this organized!). After that you can generate unique barcodes for every single product with just a few clicks.

When it’s time to physically label your product, inFlow can kickstart the process by showing just your current stock and printing your labels straight to a DYMO printer. We also make it easy to print labels straight from purchase orders, so you can add incoming stock to your barcode system as it arrives.

An image of two Cassandras showing how a barcode system is faster than typing

Your business will start to reap the benefits the moment your next sale comes in. Instead of having to type items onto a sales order, you can scan barcodes right onto it instead. The same goes for other tasks at your business that are heavy on data entry, like stock transfers or work orders.

We hope this post has helped you learn all the major components of setting up a barcoding system — and if you’d like to get started, inFlow Cloud can help!

Try inFlow Cloud free

No credit card required. Sign up now!

About Thomas

Thomas is a 100% human being who divides his time between writing medium-sized articles with his keyboard and taking large photographs with his camera.

Have a question or comment? Let us know below!

  1. Hi, I’ve been trialing the system with my own personal business but I’d like to propose to my employer that we use this in my day job – the one feature I can’t seem to find though is location barcodes. Is it possible to do this with inflow or is the only way to put stock into a location to manually add it there?

    1. Hi Jason, sorry, inFlow doesn’t have a feature specifically for location barcodes right now.
      If your locations are barcoded, you can scan them into the Windows or web apps. Just not our mobile apps—you’ll have to pick from a location list).
      But I’ve passed your feedback along to our team for consideration.

  2. How does one use this software to set up a barcoding system both for their retail division, wholesaler division, and warehouse?

    1. Hi KVH, good question.

      The quick answer is that you’d usually tie a single barcode to each product, and that barcode would bring that product up each time you scan it into our software. inFlow also provides different pricing schemes so that you can have a separate retail and wholesale price for the same product, depending on who the customer is. If you’d like to learn more, I’d encourage you to start a free trial and our team will let you know if inFlow is the right fit for your business.

  3. How do I generate a book publishing bar code for an ISBN 13 code. What information do I place onto the generator?

    1. Hi Tony,

      Here’s a free barcode generator that can generate ISBN 13:

      From some quick Googling, it *does* look like there is meaning to the numbers in the ISBN, though, so I recommend doing further research to make sure it’s valid for usage. It looks like there are country, publisher, and title identifiers built into the numbers—as well as a check digit.

  4. Which sales app uses barcode and can also show inventory level notifications..
    I am writing from Nigeria. I intend to start a grocery store.

    Please your answer would go a long way in helping me. Thanks.

    1. Hi Echina, our software, inFlow Cloud, does offer barcode generation and scanning. We also track inventory.
      We don’t have in-app notifications right now for inventory levels, but we do offer email notifications that you can get on a daily basis for low stock items.

      If you’d like to try inFlow, we offer free trials and we have a team dedicated to help you get set up and learn how inFlow could best fit your business.
      You can sign up for our trial here:

  5. Good day

    What barcode scanner and software would you recommened that can link with a free online barcode generator? (Which free barcode generator would you recommened?

    We are based in Cape Town, South Africa.
    Thank you.

    Kind regards
    Megan Joy