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Introduction To Barcodes

Barcodes for Retail Products

  • Barcodes are used on retail products to help retailers. Barcodes are used for scanning at the checkout, stock tracking etc.
  • There are no legal requirements for retail barcodes. The barcodes used for retail products are based on accepted industry standards.
  • There are three 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.GS1 is a membership organisation. – EAN8 barcodes are only eight digits long, meaning 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.
    • 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. Unless you are ONLY selling your products within your own store
    • Barcode numbers need to be purchased or obtained through a license arrangement. Getting a barcode number from a licensee organisation is usually VERY expensive
  • There is NO product information encoded in retail barcodes. Barcode numbers are purely unique numbers, effectively drawn from an extensive international database and allocated to you
  • 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 retailer’s 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, the correct information will be displayed when the barcode is scanned at the checkout. Larger retailer chains will require you to enter all this information onto a form, which is automatically entered into their computer system.
  • 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; e.g. if you have three other products and each has five different colours, you will need 3 x 5 = 15 barcodes.
  • The best way to get a barcode onto your product is to incorporate the barcode image into your product packaging design. We supply the barcode images for printing on your product. Add a barcode using a separate sticky label if you have already printed your product packaging. See our labels page for label pricing.
  • Barcode numbers say NOTHING about the product’s country of origin or the company. The first few digits of a barcode number ONLY show the country of origin of the BARCODE NUMBER. Our numbers start with 07, which indicates the NUMBER comes from the USA. We have thousands of customers using tens of thousands of our barcodes in 120+ countries without problems.
  • Our barcodes can be scanned by ALL retailers WORLDWIDE. However, a tiny group of retailers have different requirements that restrict barcodes. For details of barcode acceptance worldwide, see
  • Our barcodes can be used in ALL countries, except possibly China. 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.


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 that it 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. The heavy lines are called bearer bars.


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. 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.
  • QR codes can be used on retail products, BUT the product will ALSO need a retail barcode on it. The retailer scans the retail barcode for pricing, etc., at the checkout.

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 two-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.

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