How to Get Barcodes for Your Products

Barcodes can be found on the packaging of many products these days, and they serve a number of important purposes. If you are selling packaged products, you should consider getting barcodes for them. Before you do so, it is important to know what barcodes are and how you should go about purchasing and using them.

What Is a Barcode?

A barcode is a machine-readable code made up of numbers and parallel lines of different widths. It is mainly used to identify a specific product. This code can be quickly scanned and identified with a barcode-reading machine that is connected to a database.

What Are the Functions of Barcodes?

Inventory Control

When you are starting out with just a few products, it is not hard to manually keep track of them. However, you will start to encounter difficulties as your business grows. Managing a large inventory manually can be tedious, and it increases the chances of errors. This is where barcodes come in. They can help wholesalers, retailers and distributors track inventory accurately and efficiently as well as eliminate human error. They also make real-time tracking possible. With barcodes, you are able to know the available quantities of different products at any time.


Barcodes also make inventory management much less expensive because you do not need as many workers to manage a barcode system. In addition, they can help prevent employee theft and fraud. With some systems, items with barcodes that are not scanned will trigger alarms when they are taken out of the store. Since a barcode system enables you to check inventory quickly and accurately, it can also help you detect theft or fraud more easily.

Checkout Efficiency

A barcode allows a cashier to record the price of a product simply by scanning it, which takes just a few seconds. This makes checking out much easier and faster. Having barcodes is especially important in a busy store, as it reduces wait times at checkout lanes and reduces errors.

Customer Relationship Management

Another important function of barcodes is that they can help you collect valuable information about your customers. They provide a convenient way for you to understand the buying habits of your customers, such as what they purchased, their shopping times and other information. With this data, you can stock up on popular products and use the right sales and promotional strategies to provide the best possible shopping experience for your customers.

Choosing the Right Barcodes

There are several different types of barcodes. They come in one-dimensional and two-dimensional versions and may serve different purposes. In order to make the most of your barcodes, you need to know which type is most suitable for your products. Here are the most commonly-used ones.

Universal Product Codes (UPC)

These codes are found on nearly every type of consumer product around the world. They are mainly used for products that will be scanned at the point of sale. They come in two variations: UPC-A and UPC-E. UPC-A codes feature 12 digits, while UPC-E codes have only six digits. UPC-E codes are usually used on small products that do not have enough room on their packages for the longer UPC-A codes.

International Article Number (EAN CODE)

EAN codes are similar to UPC codes. The main difference is that they are mostly used in Europe and other continents. There are five different types of EAN codes:

  • EAN-13 codes – Long codes with 13 digits
  • EAN-8 codes – Shorter codes with eight digits
  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number) codes – Unique 13-digit codes used to identify different types of books
  • ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) codes – Codes used primarily on serial publications such as journals and magazines
  • JAN-13 (Japanese Serial Number) codes – Codes used specifically on products that are produced in Japan

ITF (Interleaved 2 of 5) Codes

An ITF code is a 14-digit code that is mainly used for packaging items such as cases or boxes.

GS1-128 Code

The GS1-128 code is a high-density code that can hold a great deal of information. It is primarily used for tracking distribution in logistics, manufacturing, transportation and other industries. Its extra-long digit count enables it to incorporate data such as batch numbers, best before dates, quantities, weight and more.

QR Code

A QR code is a unique two-dimensional code for tracking different types of digital products. It can also track marketing tools such as magazines, advertisements and business cards. This code is different from the others in that it is free to use and cannot be read using a laser scanner. It is read using a special QR code scanner, which is also free to download.

Data Matrix Codes

A Data Matrix code is a square-shaped two-dimensional code that can contain huge amounts of data. For this reason, it is mostly used on different products in the manufacturing, electronics and healthcare industries.

Purchasing Your Barcodes from GS1

Register with GS1

After determining which type of barcodes you should obtain, you have to purchase them from a registered barcode vendor. The safest way to go is to register your company with GS1, which is the global regulator of barcodes. By doing so, you can rest assured that the barcodes you get are authentic. However, you must first sign up for a GS1 membership and pay an annual membership fee. You can either contact GS1 directly or contact one of GS1’s many member organizations stationed all around the world. Information about these member organizations is available on the GS1 website.

Get a Barcode Prefix

After you register with GS1, you have to acquire a GS1 company prefix that can range between six and 12 digits. The lower the prefix digit count, the more barcodes you can create under that company prefix. As such, it is a good idea to keep the prefix digit count as low as possible.

Choose a Barcode Package

Then, proceed to buy a barcodes package that suits your business. The more barcodes you buy, the lower the cost per code, so you are better off getting a larger quantity. After choosing an appropriate barcode package, you can make a payment for them either online or directly to a GS1 member organization. Upon payment, you will receive a GSI barcode ownership certificate that you can use if you want to resell your unused barcodes in the future.

Assigning Digits to Your Products

The next thing to do is to assign digits to the products or services you wish to sell. You can assign digits to your products, business, company assets, locations, logistic units and service relationships. It is also important to note that you must assign barcode digits to every specific version of your products. For example, if you are selling t-shirts of different colors and sizes, you have to assign a barcode digit to every color-size combination. Your local GSI member organization can give more guidance on how to assign digits to your products.

Creating the Barcodes Using the GS1 Interface

GS1 offers a Data Driver interface that you can use to create your own barcodes from scratch. First of all, you need to select the type of barcode that is appropriate for your products, such as UPC, EAN or QR codes. Then, pick a barcode size that suits your products. Format the readable digits in your barcodes to ensure that they are visible. This is important because the digits have to be manually entered into the computer if a barcode reader or scanner fails to read the code.

After that, you have to pick a barcode color. The best thing to do is to choose black barcodes and a white background, but you can also use other colors as long as the bars are dark and the background is light. GS1 also insists that you should use only one imaging or printing tool for the barcode to ensure that it is evenly printed.

Purchasing Your Barcodes From Barcode Resellers

You can also purchase barcodes from businesses or companies that have some leftover GS1 barcodes. This option is ideal if you are selling only a few products. You can avoid the expense of acquiring a GS1 membership and paying the annual fee. Most barcode resellers charge a one-time fee for their barcodes, so it can be much cheaper to buy from them.

The main disadvantage of this option is that you may get unauthentic barcodes from the resellers. There are some unscrupulous resellers out there who sell used barcodes. Used barcodes can wreak havoc on your business. They can affect the accuracy of your records and force you to rely on manual data entry in certain situations, increasing the likelihood of errors.

However, there are a number of websites that are considered legitimate resellers of UPC and EAN barcodes. Such websites are permitted to resell their barcodes online owing to a legal settlement that was made between them and GS1. In that settlement, it was concluded that companies that bought barcode packages from GS1 before August 2002 are allowed to resell those barcodes as they see fit. Companies that came on board after that date had to commit to a licensing agreement that prevented them from reselling their barcodes publicly.

Applying Barcodes on Packaging

The next thing you need to consider is the placement of barcodes on your products. You need to consult with the company that is packaging your products to ensure that it will place the barcodes correctly. GSI has barcode placement principles and guidelines to provide guidance on how barcodes should be placed on products.

It is important to note that the barcode placement guidelines for products that are scanned at the point of sale are slightly different from those for products that are scanned elsewhere in the general distribution scanning environment. Therefore, you need to make sure that you use the appropriate guidelines for your products.

Types of Codes to Place

For products that will be scanned at the point of sale, you should use UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN-13 or EAN-8 codes. On the other hand, products that will be scanned elsewhere can have EAN-13, GS1-128, UPC-A or ITF-14 barcodes. It is essential that you make the correct barcode choices for your products.

Number of Barcodes per Product

Another thing you need to know is that you should not have more than one barcode on a specific product. However, that one barcode can appear more than once on the product. For example, a UPC-A barcode can be printed on the front and rear surfaces of a bulky item like a chair.


In addition, GS1 advocates picket-fence orientation, not ladder orientation. Picket-fence orientation means that the barcode is perpendicular to the side on which the product stands. You should be able to read the readable digits in the barcode from left to right in this orientation. In ladder orientation, the readable digits in the barcode can only be read from top to bottom or vice versa when the product is in a standing position.

Scanning Environment

Finally, you should not choose a packaging method that will negatively affect the way the barcode will appear. The barcode has to be easily accessible and not hidden. It should be placed away from the area that features the product’s branding. In addition, it is best that it is located in an area that does not require additional handling of the product at the point of sale. You should avoid placing barcodes on surfaces that will affect the readability of the barcode, such as bulges, perforations, seams, ridges, folds, overlaps and rough surfaces.

Barcodes are becoming an integral part of the retail industry as more and more businesses are realizing their great benefits. They can help you save time, cut costs, minimize errors and improve the efficiency of your operations. If you want to stay competitive in the retailing world, it is essential that you start using barcodes. Choosing, buying and using barcodes require some knowledge and effort, but the rewards are well worth it.

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