3 Types of Barcodes

The 3 Most Important Types of Barcodes for Tracking and Selling Inventory

by Jake Wengroff

A barcode is essentially printed, machine-readable data. Optical scanners, or barcode readers, can scan the printed patterns, which often include parallel lines, rectangles, dots and other small geometric shapes, and process the data in an application.

As labels affixed to physical products, barcodes have changed the way that products are tracked and sold. While the most obvious consumer benefit has been shorter checkout lines at grocery stores and other retailers, the barcode has dramatically changed the way manufacturers, distributors and warehouses track inventory. The barcode has simultaneously reduced waste and theft while increasing efficiency.

Let’s have a look at the three primary types of barcodes that are used to track and sell merchandise.

1. UPC Barcodes

Appearing on nearly every retail product in the United States, the UPC (Universal Product Code) is the most versatile and recognizable type of product code in North America.

The UPC symbol, known as a barcode, is the series of black vertical lines normally seen on the packaging for a product or the product itself with a GTIN-12 number beneath. This symbol is unique to each product and represents the twelve numbers that identify an individual product for sale. The barcode is the part of the UPC code that is scanned when the product is moved between the manufacturer and distributor and at the point of sale. 

Each individual product that is intended for sale to a consumer needs its own unique UPC.

2. EAN Barcodes

EAN stands for European Article Number (also known as GTIN-13 / EAN-13) and is the type of barcode that is used internationally to identify unique products at the point of sale. 

Similar to a UPC, the EAN includes a series of numbers set against a bar line graphic. Indeed, the two types of barcodes might seem identical, but they are not.

Unlike UPC codes, which have 12 digits, EAN codes have 13 digits. The first 7 numbers are considered the prefix digits, with the first 3 digits being the country code. The country code indicates the GS1 Member Organization where the manufacturer registered the bar codes. This is somewhat related to the region in which the manufacturer operates. 

The digits after the country code prefix are the unique number that is issued to each company. The EAN code’s last digit is known as the Check Digit and is used to determine the integrity of the barcode number being entered.

3. GTIN Barcodes

You may have also heard of something called a GTIN, or a Global Trade Item Number. A GTIN is a broad term describing the family of data structures or barcode formats that are most commonly used internationally. If you’re in need of barcodes for your products, whether UPC or EAN, you will, by default, purchase a GTIN number.

EAN or UPC: Which Is Right for You?

When UPC codes were first introduced in the early 1970s, they were only intended for use within North America. However, as manufacturers and retailers expanded overseas, a new format was necessary to facilitate sales in Europe. 

In 2005, a global initiative began, allowing North American retailers to scan both UPC and EAN codes. Because of this, nearly all North American retailers now accept EAN codes. This is why the EAN Code is now formally referred to as the “International Article Number.”

One of the best ways to determine whether you need to use EAN codes or UPC codes is to ask your intended retailers which formats they accept. This way, you’ll be certain that the barcode purchase you make is the right one for your sales strategy.

For All of Your Barcode Needs

Developing a product takes time and effort, but distributing it and selling it can be made easier with barcodes. Bar Codes Talk has helped over 150,000 companies streamline their operations and deliver their products to both offline and online retailers. 

Unsure which barcode is right for your product? Confused about which bar code is accepted by a particular retailer? We can answer your questions. Contact us today!

Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, Jake covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce and IoT.


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