Introduction To Barcodes

Barcodes for Retail Products

  • Barcodes are used on retail products to help retailers. 1
  • There are no legal requirements for retail barcodes. 2
  • There are 3 types of retail barcodes.
    • EAN13 – 13 digit barcodes used in most countries outside the USA and Canada – can be used on products worldwide.
    • EAN8 – a smaller barcode intended for VERY SMALL products – difficult to obtain and only available from GS1. 3
    • UPC (also called UPC-A) – 12 digit barcodes commonly used in the USA and Canada can be used on products worldwide.
  • All legal retail barcodes (including ours) originate from GS1.
    – You can obtain your barcodes directly from GS1. This is a licensing arrangement, and you will typically be required to complete multi-page membership forms, pay to join fees and annual renewal fees and then wait for the approval.
  • Barcode numbers are globally unique numbers and protected
    • You can’t just make up barcode numbers to use. 4
    • Barcode numbers need to be purchased or obtained through a license arrangement 5
  • There is NO product information encoded in retail barcodes. 6
  • The bars of the barcode ONLY encode the number shown under the bars. Scanning the bars is just a quick way to enter the barcode number into a retailers computer system so that the product information, pricing etc., show up at the checkout.
  • When a retailer first receives your product, they will scan the barcode or type it into their computer system. They will also enter other product information, e.g. product name, description, retail price, supplier etc. After this, when the barcode is scanned at the checkout, the correct information will be displayed. 7
  • You need a different barcode number for each unique product – and then you can sell thousands or millions of the same product with the same barcode number on it.
  • Colour and size variations or products each need a different barcode number. 8
  • The best way to get a barcode onto your product is to incorporate the barcode image into your product packaging design. 9
  • Barcode numbers say NOTHING about the country of origin of the product or the company. 10
  • Our barcodes can be scanned by ALL retailers WORLDWIDE. However, a tiny group of retailers have extra requirements that restrict barcodes. 11
  • Our barcodes can be used in ALL countries, except possibly China. 12


Barcodes for Cartons

  • Barcodes can be used for cartons containing retail products. These cartons are used for shipping and storage.
  • ITF-14 barcodes are the common barcodes for cartons.
    • These are 14 digit numbers based on the barcode number of the retail product inside the carton.
    • These are ONLY for cartons for shipping and storage. If the carton is being sold at a retail level, it should have a retail barcode on it (EAN13 or UPC) rather than an ITF-14 barcode, e.g. a case of wine can be bought as a single unit by a customer, so would need a retail barcode (EAN13 or UPC).
    • These barcodes are larger than retail barcodes and should have a heavy horizontal line on top and bottom. You can also print the bearer bars vertically at the ends if you wish. 13


QR Codes

  • QR codes are square barcodes that look a bit like a maze.
  • QR codes can be used to link to a website URL or to contain information. 14
  • QR codes can be used on retail products, BUT the product will ALSO need a retail barcode on it. 15


Barcodes Images

  • Barcodes can be created with many different encoding formats.
    • Some of these formats are suitable for retail products (EAN13, UPC-A, EAN8)
    • Some of these formats are useful for cartons (ITF14)
    • Some of these formats are useful for tracking pallets or shipping containers
    • Some of these formats are used for stock tracking and inventory purposes (e.g. for library books or asset labelling)
    • Some are 2 dimensional, e.g. QR codes and contain information or links to website URLs
  • We can create barcodes in all of these formats


Please look here for more information about ordering barcodes.

Or here if you are ready to buy a retail barcode.




  1. Barcodes are used for scanning at the checkout, stock tracking etc.
  2. The barcodes used for retail products are based on accepted industry standards
  3. GS1 is a membership organisation. – EAN8 barcodes are only 8 digits long – this means that there is a limited number of them, and hence GS1 guard them carefully. So to obtain these, you need to submit proof that your product is very small and wait to see if GS1 approve this.
  4. Unless you are ONLY selling your products within your own store
  5. . Obtaining a barcode number from a licensee organisation is usually VERY expensive
  6. Barcode numbers are purely unique numbers, effectively drawn from a large international database and allocated to you
  7. Larger retailer chains will require you to enter all this information onto a form, which is then entered into their computer system automatically
  8. , e.g. if you have 3 different products and each has 5 different colours, you will need 3 x 5 = 15 barcodes
  9. We supply the barcode images for printing on your product. If you have already printed your product packaging, then you can add a barcode using a separate sticky label. See our labels page for label pricing
  10. The first few digits of a barcode number ONLY show the country of origin of the BARCODE NUMBER. Our numbers start with 07, which shows the NUMBER comes from the USA. We have thousands of customers using tens of thousands of our barcodes in 100+ countries without any problems
  11. For details of barcode acceptance worldwide, see
  12. Some Chinese distributors insist that the products they distribute have a barcode number originating from GS1 in your country. This is because they incorrectly believe that the first few digits of a barcode number show the product’s country of origin. This is untrue. Yes, this unfortunate mistaken view can be very costly for some manufacturers who want to sell their products in China, as these Chinese distributors pressure the manufacturer to get GS1 barcodes – joining GS1 is time-consuming and expensive, with joining fees and annual fees, plus lawyers and debt collectors if you don’t pay your renewal fees
  13. The heavy lines are called bearer bars
  14. QR codes can contain company information or product information or information about a person etc. They can be used as V-cards – virtual business cards
  15. The retail barcode is scanned by the retailer for pricing etc. at the checkout