Since the introduction of the barcode scanner to the UK in 1979, the uses of the humble laser scanner have grown more and more ambitious.

Once just an efficient and precise way to charge customers at the checkouts, laser scanners are now being used in unexpected fields such as archeology.

Here are 3 cool ways that laser scanners have been adapted and changed the world as we know it…

laser barcode scanner

The barcode scanner

It seems totally normal to us now to see barcode scanners at every till point in every store, but when they arrived in the stores, they caused big waves.

Not only did people fear for their lives when faced with flickering red light they associated with Star Wars, they didn’t understand how they worked.

Here’s a quick run down, just so we’re clear:

– Every barcode uses the numbers 0-9 to assign a unique number to a product.

– Each number is represented by a pair of black lines that can be identified by the laser scanner. This is the stripey pattern we are all familiar with.

– When the barcode is placed underneath the scanner, the light is reflected back to a photoelectric cell which then creates a pattern of on-off pulses, a bit like morse code.

– This code tells the computer what the product is and how much to charge – much easier than manually putting in every price!


The advent of barcode scanners made buying and selling stuff faster, easier more efficient. The effect it has had on our way of life has been significant with some people holding it up as a symbol of capitalism.

Laser induced fluorescence

(Image via Inverse)

Laser Induced Fluorescence

Put simply, laser induced fluorescence is what happens when you shine a laser at an object and a spontaneous emission of light follows the absorption of the laser light.

Essentially, the laser makes the object glow so that you can take a picture of it even if you can’t see it with the naked eye.

This property of lasers has been known for a long time – even before the advent of barcode scanners! – but has only recently been used in the field of archeology.

Archeologist Tom Kaye found an eye inside a fossil he was examining. In the photo he produced from his study, you can even see the iris.

He said, “because the laser is so intense, it brings out details that you can’t see by other methods.”

The laser scanner is attached to a long-exposure camera that is fitted with a filter to block the colour of the laser. This method makes any chemical differences visible that you would not be able to see with the naked eye.

Because the laser is not invasive, details inside fossils such as soft tissues can be identified without having any lasting effect on the fossil. This method also means that fossils can be examined where they were found, allowing for further discoveries of their surroundings at an atomic level.

The precision of laser scanners can create a vivid picture filled with details that would otherwise be hidden from view. Even without all the scientific discoveries being made, the images are fascinating to look at.

3D Scanners

A more recent use of laser scanners is to create 3D images of objects that can then be used in computer aided design (CAD) and 3D printing.

Laser scanning is particularly useful when the object being scanned is fragile as the scanner creates an accurate impression of the object without touching it.

The way this works is actually really simple. The laser is shone at the object or area being scanned and, like the barcode scanner, the light is reflected back. This time, instead of looking for black or white lines, the time taken to get back to the lense is measured to calculate the distance from the lens to the object down to the millimetre.

The method also means that the resulting image can be viewed from a variety of angles, so if you happen to be laser scanning a large area like Colluden Field, then you don’t have to dig it up to see what’s underneath the surface.

Once you’ve got your image, the really cool bit is that using a CAD laser scanner you can then either use a 3D printer or a laser cutter to create a physical copy.


3D laser scanner

(Image via Herald Scotland)

How can Subcon Laser help?

At Subcon Laser we use precision laser cutting to bring your designs to life.

However complicated your design is, or however detailed, we are confident that our comprehensive range of laser cutting services and facilities can cater to your needs.

We work with a range of materials suitable for all sorts of projects and our friendly and capable staff will be more than happy to get stuck in and help your realise your dream.

If you have a project we can help with then get in touch and see what we can do for you!