Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Barcodes
We’ve put together a list of questions based on our customer’s inquiries. If you don’t see your question answered here or would rather talk to someone, please feel free to give us a call at 303.991.3145.
What is a GTIN? A UPC? An EAN?
Excerpted from Wikipedia:
“Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) is an identifier for trade items developed by GS1 (comprising the former EAN International and Uniform Code Council). Such identifiers are used to look up product information in a database (often by inputting the number through a bar code scanner pointed at an actual product) which may belong to a retailer, manufacturer, collector, researcher, or other entity. The uniqueness and universality of the identifier is useful in establishing which product in one database corresponds to which product in another database, especially across organizational boundaries.
GTIN is an “umbrella” term used to describe the entire family of GS1 data structures for trade items (products and services) identification. GTINs may be 8, 12, 13 or 14 digits long, and can be constructed using any of four numbering structures, depending upon the exact application. GTIN-8s will be encoded in an EAN-8 bar code. GTIN-12s may be shown in UPC-A, ITF-14, or GS1-128 bar codes. GTIN-13s may be encoded in EAN-13, ITF-14 or GS1-128 bar codes, and GTIN-14s may be encoded in ITF-14 or GS1-128 bar codes. The choice of bar code will depend on the application; for example, items to be sold at a retail should be marked with EAN-8, EAN-13, UPC-A or UPC-E bar codes.”
UPC stands for for Universal Product Code and references a unique 11-digit GTIN assigned to an individual product. The UPC was invented in 1973 by George Laurer under contract by IBM as a solution for the grocery store industry to track and control inventory and distribution. An actual number in barcode format ends up with 12 digits because the 12th digit is called the “check digit” and is calculated based on the 11 assigned numbers as a redundancy check in case of data entry error. The check digit validates the reliability of the UPC by adding together the 11 numbers and reducing them to a single value. A GTIN-12 and a UPC-12 are the same thing and it will take many, many years for the world marketplace to accept the use of the new term “GTIN-12” in place of “UPC”. The UPC will probably never go away, only the name will eventually be commonly known as “GTIN-12”. Just as musicians still refer to their recordings as “records” instead of “CDs” even though vinyl records aren’t used anymore, there will likely be a huge percentage of the world population that will always refer to a GTIN-12 as a UPC.
An EAN stands for European Article Number and is simply a 13-digit barcode version of a GTIN, also known as a GTIN-13. The extra digit that allows for country identification. The country flag merely indicates from which country the range of numbers was assigned. It does not indicate the location or ownership or origin of the product using the number. According to George Laurer, many countries are using the same symbol with their identifying country flag, but chose to call the symbol by other names. An example is JAN (Japanese Article Number), the Japanese version. The UPC symbol has truly become worldwide and all barcoding software is programmed to read UPC barcodes, however not all companies have updated their software in North America, and therefore not all North American retailers are able to read 13-digit EAN codes. Retailers were requested to implement the upgrade in 2005, however there are still some who have not done it.
Who needs and uses GTINs/UPCs and Bar codes?
A product information form is where you will put your company info, product details, and enter the 12-digit UPC (GTIN 12) that is assigned to each of your products. If you are selling t-shirts, a blue large t-shirt needs to have a separate UPC from a pink large t-shirt. If you are selling jam, strawberry 16 oz. needs to have a separate UPC from 4 oz. strawberry. Based on the information you fill out on your form, and the corresponding bar code you put on your product(s), when the retailer scans your product bar code at the register it will call up the information in their system that was provided on your form and therefore gives you credit for the sale. So to simplify things, a bar code is just the numeric/graphical code that keeps track of your product. It’s an inventory tracking tool.
What is the difference between a UPC, EAN, GTIN and a Barcode?
A UPC (GTIN-12)/EAN is the number assigned to a product sold in a retail store as explained above. A bar code is simply a graphical translation of a UPC (GTIN-12)/EAN number into bars and spaces of varying widths. A bar code is designed to be scanned by an optical reader that interprets the bar and space widths and translates that into the number represented by the bars because reading straight lines is easier than numerical digits.
You can have a UPC (GTIN-12)/EAN but not have a bar code. You cannot have a bar code that is not based on a UPC (GTIN-12)/EAN. You need a bar code in order to have your UPC (GTIN-12)/EAN be scannable by bar code readers in retail stores. You do not need a scannable bar code for online sales—your UPC (GTIN-12)/EAN is sufficient.
The bar code generated by a GTIN-13 (EAN) is exactly the same as its GTIN-12 (UPC) counterpart. The only difference is in the numbers along the bottom of the bars and spaces. There is NO difference in the actual bar code of a UPC and an EAN and bar code scanners do not know the difference between a GTIN-13/EAN and a GTIN-12/UPC. If you have a UPC you do not need an EAN. If you live outside the US you may use an EAN or a UPC. Ask your retailer if they want a 12-digit or 13-digit bar code. We can provide you with both.
This is a sample UPC (GTIN 12).
And this is a sample EAN (GTIN 13) of the same number.
You can see that the bars are exactly the same.
What is the GS1?
“GS1 is a leading global organisation dedicated to the design and implementation of global standards and solutions to improve the efficiency and visibility of supply and demand chains globally and across sectors. The GS1 system of standards is the most widely used supply chain standards system in the world.”
“GS1’s main activity is the development of the GS1 System , a series of standards designed to improve supply chain management. Much of the development is initiated by its Member Organisations (MOs). Companies wishing to use the GS1 System should apply for membership to a Member Organisation. Companies in countries where there is no MO can obtain their membership directly from GS1 Global Office. “
“The GS1 System is an integrated system of global standards that provides for accurate identification and communication of information regarding products, assets, services and locations. It is the most implemented supply chain standards system in the world.”
The GS1 used to be the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council, originally established in the 1970s to help standardize product tracking for the grocery store industry. The UGPCC became the UCC in September 1974. The European Article Numbering (EAN) Association launched in Belgium 1974 to work with the UCC on global numbering solutions. In June 2003 the EAN became the GS1. You can read the entire evolution timeline on the GS1 site here: http://www.gs1.org/about/media_centre/
Do I need more than one UPC?
Let’s use Jam as an example. Let’s say you create jam in 3 flavors and two sizes: Guava, Strawberry and Strawberry-Guava. You also offer it in two sizes: 8 oz and 16 oz. Therefore you need a UPC for each variety and each size, thus you need 6 separate UPC (GTIN-12)s for your Jam products.
Does every product need a UPC and bar code?
Do UPC Barcodes work outside the United States?
Is a UPC or EAN the same as an ISBN?
If you are publishing a magazine, you may need a Bipad number, not an ISBN (it depends on your distributor—a Bipad is just a UPC but under a certain prefix and it is antiquated but some still use it). If necessary, obtain your Bipad number from bipad.com and then pay us to create your actual bar code for only $2.99. They refer you to a company called Pips that will lead you on a wild goose chase of technical garb that actually doesn’t say or mean anything in an attempt to confuse you into thinking they are more legitimate than other companies.
What kind of data is stored in my barcode?
Can I make my own barcodes?
If you use our low-priced barcode service you will be getting a guaranteed barcode in multiple professional file formats that will definitely work on your product labeling when printed within GS1 specs (no less than 80% size, no more than 200%, and dark lines on light background, printed at 600 dpi or more). Another thing to watch out for is barcode fonts. While you can obtain the Code 39A font to translate numbers into barcode lines and spaces, you need to make sure you understand the output requirements in terms of size and resolution so you barcodes are scannable. You also need to make sure you have calculated your check digit correctly.
Also beware of costly barcode services such as Bowker Barcodes, as referred on the ISBN.org website. They charge $25 for the exact same service that we charge $2.99 at our sister site My Barcode Graphics and we actually give you more file formats and better quality. If you need a lot of barcodes (more than 20) we offer bulk pricing.
What if my UPC is the same as someone else’s?
Does my UPC have an expiration date?
What if my UPC doesn’t work or a retailer won’t accept it?
What we have found is that if you are working with Walmart and Kroger stores at a local level, they don’t get involved in the GS1 politics. It’s only when you get a national distribution contract that requires you to work with their Corporate Headquarters or on a National level and submit your product data to a certified Data Pool, that they are strict about enforcing the political rule that you must provide an ownership certificate directly from the GS1.
Other stores that have been reported to require a GS1 Certificate as well as an owned company prefix in recent years include: Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Lowes, Walgreens, Target, however we also have many customers who have used our numbers in those stores over the years. It’s a bit hit or miss these days as the GS1 and the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) effort becomes more widely used.
Remember, if you get a sizeable contract at a big box retailer, you will likely have to pay the price to go through the GS1 and at that point you can justify the cost depending on the price of the contract. For everyone else, EZ UPC is a cost-effective and hassle-free alternative or a great stepping stone while you are scaling your small business.
We are not responsible for retailers that refuse to accept numbers from a legal reseller or require a GS1 certificate and prefix.
Am I required to have UPCs for my products?
How do I register my UPC?
They have recently added “Trade Item Info” to their database but we, the manufacturers are responsible for providing that information to them and we are not required to. Certified Data Pools have to publish the trade item data to the GDSN in order for Trade Item Info to appear in the GEPIR. If you look up a UPC from a common food product in your refrigerator you’ll see the company but probably no info about the product because nobody wants to take the extra time to enter all that info for the GS1’s benefit. This should never have an impact on the functionality of your UPC (GTIN 12) in the marketplace. If you get a UPC (GTIN 12) for a music CD, we recommend you register your CD with Nielsen’s Soundscan.com, the database that tracks and reports music sales in North America.
What does George Laurer have to do with anything?
Unfortunately several resellers who made plenty of money off of unsuspecting and trusting customers threatened him with legal action in late 2016 and at 91 years old, he threw in the towel and removed the information on his site that had been there for 15 years. The sad thing is he was only trying to help by giving information so people wouldn’t be victims of fraud.
Are your numbers recycled? How can you offer a return policy and buy-back and keep the numbers unique?
The reality is that we have sold hundreds of thousands of numbers in tens of thousands of transactions to date and have had fewer than 10 returns since we started in 2007. If/when someone returns, we have never reissued those numbers and we have a legal agreement with the returner that will allow us to bring legal action against them if we find that they are continuing to use numbers they may have bought.
What we’ve found is that you, the consumer and entrepeneur, are typically far more concerned about the legitimacy of your business and product and don’t want to risk messing things up for yourselves out there in the marketplace, so UPC customers overall seem to have a high level of integrity and business savvy, thus eliminating the scammers and shmucks who would attempt to illegally use numbers.
Also, it is perfectly acceptable to reassign a UPC to another product when one is discontinued. The GS1 suggests a waiting period of 4 years to ensure the product is no longer in warehouses or on shelves anywhere, but if you know that your product isn’t out there, you can safely reassign your numbers any time by simply updating your retailers with the new product info associated with that number.