Introduction To Barcodes

Barcodes for Retail Products

  • Retail products require barcodes to assist retailers. 1
  • Retail barcodes have no legal requirements. 2
  • Retail barcodes come in three formats:
    • EAN13 – 13 digit barcodes used in the majority of countries outside the USA and Canada – can be used on products worldwide.
    • EAN8 – a smaller barcode made specifically for VERY SMALL products – difficult to obtain and only available from GS1. 3
    • UPC (also known as UPC-A) – 12 digit barcodes commonly used in the USA and Canada, but can be used on products worldwide.
  • All legal retail barcodes (including ours) are sourced from from GS1.
    – Barcodes can be bought directly from GS1, but this is ONLY a licensing arrangement and you would need to complete long membership forms, pay multiple fees (joining and annual fees) and then wait for approval.
  • Barcode numbers are globally unique numbers and protected
    • You cannot make up your own barcode numbers. 4
    • You need to either purchase or license barcodes 5
  • Retail barcodes do not have product information encoded in. 6
  • ONLY the number shown under the bars is encoded onto the bars. This is purely a fast way for retailers to enter the barcode number into their computer system, so that all the relevant product information (such price) shows up at the checkout.
  • Retailers will scan the barcode orentertype the barcode number into their computer system when they first receive the product. Other product information will also be entered at this stage, such as product name, description, retail price, supplier etc. Thereafter, whenever the barcode is scanned at the checkout, all the relevant information will appear. 7
  • Every different product requires a different barcode – then any quantity of same product can be sold with the same barcode number on it.
  • Product differences such as size or colour will each need a different barcode number. 8
  • Incorporating the barcode image into the product packaging design is the best way to include the barcode onto your product. 9
  • The country of origin of the product or the company is not reflected on the barcode number itself. 10
  • ALL retailers WORLDWIDE are able to scan our barcodes. With the exception of a very small group of retailers that have restrictive additional requirements. 11
  • ALL countries accept our barcodes, with the possible exception of China. 12


Barcodes for Cartons

  • Barcodes for cartons with retail products can also be supplied. Cartons are typically for shipping and storage.
  • The common barcodes for cartons are ITF-14 barcodes.
    • These have 14 digit numbers and are based on the retail product barcode number inside the carton.
    • Carton barcodes can only be used for shipping and storage. If you are selling cartons at retail level, then you will need a retail barcode on the carton (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 would need a retail barcode (EAN13 or UPC).
    • Carton barcodes are much bigger than retail barcodes, and contain a heavy horizontal line top and bottom. If you want, you can also vertically print the bearer bars at the end. 13


QR Codes

  • QR codes are square shaped barcodes that look a bit like a maze.
  • They can contain specific information (such as competitions) or link to a website URL. 14
  • Whilst QR codes can be used on retail products, you will also need a retail barcode on the product. 15


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 (eg for library books or asset labeling)
    • Some are 2 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.

Or here if you are ready to buy a retail barcode.




  1. Barcodes are used for scanning at the checkout, stock tracking etc
  2. The barcodes used for retail products are based on accepted industry standards
  3. GS1 is a membership organisation. – EAN8 barcodes are only 8 digits long – this means that 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.
  4. Unless you are ONLY selling your products within your own store
  5. Obtaining a barcode number from a licensee organisation is usually VERY expensive
  6. Barcode numbers are purely unique numbers, effectively drawn from a large international database and allocated to you
  7. Larger retailer chains will require you to enter all this information onto a form, which is then entered into their computer system automatically
  8. e.g. if you have 4 different products and each has 5 different sizes, you will need 4 x 5 = 20 barcodes
  9. We supply the barcode images for printing on your product. If you have already printed your product packaging, then you can add a barcode using a separate sticky label. See our labels page for label pricing
  10. The first few digits of a barcode number ONLY show the country of origin of the BARCODE NUMBER. Our numbers start with 07 which shows the NUMBER comes from the USA. We have thousands of customers using tens of thousands of our barcodes in 100+ countries without any problems
  11. For details of barcode acceptance worldwide see
  12. Some Chinese distributors insist that the products they distribute have a barcode number that originates from GS1 in your country. This is because they incorrectly believe that the first few digits of a barcode number show the country of origin of the product. 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
  13. The heavy lines are called bearer bars
  14. 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
  15. The retail barcode is scanned by the retailer fro pricing etc at the checkout