What is a UPC / EAN Code?

Universal Product Codes (UPC) are a type of barcode used extensively in the retail industry.  Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Walmart, and virtually every retailer you can think of uses them on all of their products.  They are 12 digits long, and were developed in the early 1970s to provide a standardized way of identifying products and automating the checkout process. Since their inception, UPC codes have become an essential part of modern commerce, enabling retailers to manage inventory, track sales, and improve the customer experience. UPC codes are used to generate barcodes, which are comprised of a series of black and white bars and can be found on virtually every consumer product sold in the United States and many other countries. In this way, they serve as a universal language for product identification and play a critical role in the global supply chain.

EAN stands for “European Article Number,” which is a standardized barcode system used to identify products in Europe, Asia, and some other parts of the world. EAN codes are used to encode 13 digits and can be read by barcode scanners to identify products and track inventory.  UPCs are EANs are very similar and are both used to generate barcodes.

The EAN system was developed as a superset of the UPC (Universal Product Code) system used in North America, with the main difference being the additional country code at the beginning of the EAN code to indicate the country of origin for the product. EAN codes are assigned by the GS1 (which all of the codes at UPCs.com come from).

EAN codes are widely used in retail and supply chain industries in Europe, and many businesses around the world use both EAN and UPC codes to identify their products.

The codes are converted to a barcode, which is read by a barcode scanner and can quickly and accurately retrieve information about the product, such as its price, manufacturer, and other relevant details. UPC codes are used extensively in retail environments to manage inventory, track sales, and improve the efficiency of the checkout process. They are also used in supply chain management to track products as they move through the distribution network. UPC codes are found on virtually every consumer product sold in the United States and many other countries, and they have become an essential part of modern commerce.

What is a GTIN?

GTIN stands for Global Trade Item Number, which is a unique identification number used to identify trade items or products in a global supply chain. GTIN is a term used by the GS1, which is responsible for the development and management of barcode standards worldwide. GTINs can take several forms, including a 12-digit UPC code, a 13-digit European Article Number (EAN), or a 14-digit Global Trade Item Number. The GTIN is encoded in a barcode that is applied to the product, allowing it to be easily identified and tracked throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing to retail. GTINs are used to help ensure product authenticity, traceability, and accuracy in data exchange between trading partners.

A UPC is a GTIN, by definition.

The set of GTINs are:

  • GTIN-12 (UPC-A): this is a 12-digit number used primarily in North America
  • GTIN-8 (EAN/UCC-8): this is an 8-digit number used predominately outside of North America
  • GTIN-13 (EAN/UCC-13): this is a 13-digit number used predominately outside of North America
  • GTIN-14 (EAN/UCC-14): this is a 14-digit number used to identify trade items at various packaging levels

What is a barcode?

A barcode is a machine-readable representation of information in the form of a series of lines and spaces of varying widths and distances between them. Barcodes are used to identify products, inventory, and other items, and they are read using optical scanning devices such as barcode scanners. The information contained in a barcode is typically a unique identifier for the item, such as a GTIN or UPC code, which can be used to track inventory, manage supply chains, and automate the checkout process in retail environments. Barcodes come in various types, including linear or one-dimensional (1D) codes, which consist of a series of bars and spaces of varying widths, and two-dimensional (2D) codes, which encode information using patterns of dots, squares, and other shapes. Barcodes are widely used in a variety of industries, including retail, manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics, and have become an essential tool for streamlining operations and increasing efficiency.

What is a UPC prefix?

A UPC prefix is the first six digits of a UPC code that identify the organization that issued the code. The prefix is assigned by the GS1, which is responsible for the development and management of barcode standards worldwide. All of the codes we sell at UPCs.com are from the GS1, yet at a fraction of the cost. The first digit of the prefix indicates the type of product being identified, with numbers ranging from 0-8 representing different product categories, while the remaining five digits identify the manufacturer or supplier of the product. The manufacturer or supplier is responsible for obtaining a unique prefix and assigning the remaining digits to individual products. The prefix is an important part of the UPC code, as it allows for easy identification of the product and provides valuable information about its origin and manufacturer.

How many UPC codes do I need for my products?

The number of UPC codes you need for your products depends on the number of unique products you plan to sell. Each product that you plan to sell will need its own unique UPC code to identify it. If you have several variations of a product, such as different colors or sizes, each variation will require its own unique UPC code. For example, if you sell five different types of t-shirts in three different sizes, you will need at least 15 unique UPC codes.

It’s important to note that UPC codes are not reusable or transferable, so once a code has been assigned to a product, it cannot be used for any other product. If you plan to sell your products through multiple retailers, each retailer may require you to use a different set of UPC codes to ensure that their inventory and sales data can be accurately tracked. In general, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and purchase enough UPC codes to cover all of your current and future products to avoid any potential issues down the line.

What is the difference between EAN and UPC barcodes?

The main difference between EAN and UPC barcodes is in their structure and the regions where they are predominantly used. EAN (European Article Number) barcodes are used worldwide and consist of 13 digits, while UPC (Universal Product Code) barcodes are primarily used in the United States and Canada and consist of 12 digits.

Another difference between EAN and UPC codes is in their numbering system. The first digit of an EAN code indicates the numbering system used, with 0-2 representing the EAN system, while the first digit of a UPC code represents the category of the product being identified. Additionally, the EAN code is preceded by a country code, indicating the country where the code was issued, while the UPC code is preceded by a company prefix, identifying the manufacturer of the product.

In terms of usage, EAN codes are commonly used for identifying products in Europe and other parts of the world, while UPC codes are primarily used in North America. However, with the increasing globalization of commerce, many retailers now accept both EAN and UPC codes for their products.

How can I buy a UPC Code?

You can buy UPCs and EANs in seconds at UPCs.com.  We’ve been the industry leader for a decade and are here to help your business with all your UPC barcoding needs.

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