Information about UPC and EAN Barcodes

What is a UPC?

If you have ever sold an item, you may have been told that you need to have a UPC for each of your unique products. Like many people, you may have asked the glaring question, just what is a UPC? Let us take a moment and discuss the basics.

A UPC is a format of a barcode. It was originally designed to be used to sell products within the United States and Canada.

UPC stands for Universal Product Code. UPCs are used by manufacturers to quickly specify different products. Comprised of two elements, UPCs are made up of numbers, and a corresponding image. This image is the UPC barcode. The barcode is comprised of a series of vertical lines, all of differing widths. These line widths are carefully structured to represent numbers, and therefore the barcode is a graphical representation of the number sequence associated with it.

The UPC in its most common form is the UPC-A, made up of 12 digits. Each number is unique, and created by GS1. While it seems that it would be simple to just create a series of numbers to be used, there is actually encoded information in each UPC, including verification checksums. These checksums are used by the computers which read the codes to ensure that the codes are read correctly with no errors.

What is a UPC Symbol?

Have you ever wondered what a UPC symbol is, and how is it comprised? The UPC symbol has become known to most consumers as a barcode. This coded image is made up of a series of stripes located above a numeric code consisting of 12 digits. These stripes form numbers by using differing line widths grouped together. Each of the 12 numbers is represented by one block of 7 segments. Each segment can be either black or white. By creating a pattern, the numbers zero to nine can be represented. The blocks are then put together from left to right, along with blocks to represent the beginning, middle and end of the UPC. This helps the scanner to properly read the code.

GS1 is the originator of all UPC codes.

Closely related to UPC numbers are EAN numbers, or International Article Numbers. EANs are the European equivalent of UPC barcodes and, depending on geographical location, a product should have a UPC or EAN code. While the standards differ, they are all based on the same basic system, and have become more integrated over the years. This is especially true in the fast growing global marketplace.

So what is a UPC? A UPC is a highly developed, graphical representation of numbers. These numbers are used for identify products. The graphic is specifically formatted to be read by high speed scanning equipment, for computer lookup against a database of prices, as well as stock information, product locations and more. Modern commerce flows more smoothly due to the use of UPC barcodes.

If you manufacture or sell products, chances are you will need UPC codes for your products at some point. While UPCs can be expensive, there are numerous locations online where UPCs can be obtained for a fraction of the price instead of going through GS1. Companies such as Speedy Barcodes have surplus stocks of barcode numbers that are ready to be used with products. These UPC codes were purchased prior to 2002, so yearly renewal fees are not applicable, making them even more suitable for vendors and merchants selling on various types of websites. For manufacturers and vendors selling products in today’s marketplace the UPC barcode is the standard, and a necessity for any product going to market.

What is an EAN?

An EAN is a format of a barcode number. It was originally created for international use. Now, it is designed to be used to sell products worldwide, but is typically only used if products will be physically sold in countries outside of the United States and Canada. In 2005 the Sunrise 2005 Initiative was established by GS1. That initiative is what allows retailers in the United States and Canada to not only be able to accept the 12-digit UPC code, but also the 13-digit EAN barcode.

An EAN goes by a few different names. It can be called an EAN, EAN-13, GTIN-13, or European Article Number that has been renamed to International Article Number. It is made up of 13-digits.

What is the different between a UPC and an EAN code?

The number of digits. The UPC is 12-digits and the EAN is 13-digits. If you look at the two numbers side by side, you will see they are identical with the exception that the EAN has a 0* in front. That 0 indicates that the barcode originated in the United States and it give the 13 digit that is needed to turn the UPC into the EAN format.

*Speedy Barcodes now sells 12-digit UPC barcodes that start with a 0. These are older barcode numbers and there are less issues with them. If you happen to receive an order where your UPC barcodes start with 0 that means that your 13-digit EAN barcodes will start with 00. This is correct and not a mistake.