Getting Started with UPC Codes


If you’re launching a product and are thinking you’re going to need a set of UPC codes, but you’re not too sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ll help you with everything you need to know about UPC and EAN codes.

UPC stands for universal product code, and UPCs are usually 12 digits long and have two parts: the machine-readable barcode, and the human-readable 12-digit UPC number.

The organization that standardizes and controls these codes is GS1, an international non-profit organization known for its standard barcoding. In order to get barcodes, you can join GS1 and pay annual fees for your organization to use UPCs at retailers. You will be able to use up to 100 UPC codes.

You don’t need to join or pay fees to GS1 for your organization to use UPCs within your internal communication systems. You also don’t need barcodes if you have an online store; they’re not for internet sales. It’s primarily for store retail and not mandatory to sell a product.

UPCs were originally created for grocers and department store retailers as a way to keep track of products. They do not carry the price within the barcode, as many people tend to think, but actually carry information such as the store warranty, product color, shape, and other things. The price is actually set by the retailer and inputted into the systems prior to the product being put on the shelf. This way, the retailer can always set their own prices.

There are certain steps that need to be taken in order to get a barcode. If you’re thinking about getting a set of UPC codes, here are those steps.

First, get a GS1 Company Prefix:

Before getting a barcode, you have to get your GS1 Identification Keys. The first step to getting these keys is getting your company prefix, which is the first two or three numbers of the 12 digit UPC. You can do that here.

Select a barcode printing process and know your scanning environment:

Figure out what kind of information the barcode will carry. Then figure out what kind of environment your barcode will be scanned in: at the point-of-sale? Will it need omnidirectional scanning support? Or will it also need to support warehouse scanning as well? Barcodes on healthcare items that are scanned in hospitals and pharmacies don’t need omnidirectional scanning support, unless they are also to be scanned at retail point-of-sale.

Select a barcode and pick a barcode size:

If you need a barcode that will be scanned at the point-of-sale, then the choice is EAN/UPC symbol. It’s guaranteed by POS systems all over the world. If you’re printing other types of information, there are other symbols for that, such as the GS1 2D. You also pick the barcode size — and this is where the design stage happens. Things to consider: size. When it comes to barcodes, size matters. A barcode can only be reduced or magnified 80 percent to 200 percent of its original size before it’s warped. Having a large UPC doesn’t necessarily mean you have a high resolution, so make sure you have a sufficient resolution when choosing your barcode.

Pick the barcode color and placement:

The optimum color is black bars with a white background. If you want to choose differently, then you can, but GS1 recommends dark bars with a light background. You should also consult with the packaging engineer in the printing stage to make sure the symbol won’t be obscured or damaged and make sure it’s placed right. Contact the printing company and make sure the bars run parallel to the press direction. Otherwise, the symbol will be distorted.

Build a barcode quality plan:

GS1 recommends an ISO method for assessing the quality of barcode symbols after they are printed. ISO creates documents, specifications, guidelines, and requirements to be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for the company.

You get a UPC barcode from GS1 here.

Whether you’re just learning about UPC codes, or you’re ready to take the next step with your retail product and purchase your set of barcodes, we hope this guide was a good starting point for your journey into retail and/or ecommerce.

This article was published by the Jaycon team. Learn more about how we can take your product design and hardware idea to the next level here.