UPC Barcode Basics

UPC Barcode Basics

How to get a UPC barcode

The topic of UPC barcodes comes up fairly frequently in our conversations with clients. We hope the following information about UPC barcodes will be useful to you.

What is a UPC and why should I care?

A Universal Product Code, or UPC for short, is the well-known bar code found on every product sold in major retail stores in North America.

The UPC symbol has two parts: the machine readable bar code and the human readable number. The bar codes are black or another dark color with white spaces between the dark bars. The human readable number consists of 12 digits listed beneath the bar code.

Each UPC is unique to a company and a particular product. A different set of digits must be assigned even if the product is the same but the container is different, such as various sized bottles of soda.

The standard UPC is also referred to as a UCC-12. UCC stands for “Uniform Code Council” which was the former name of the standards body that assigns official UPC numbers. They are now known as the GS1 US.

Most Americans are familiar with the UPC Version A specifically, which is the type of bar coding used on most products in American and Canadian retail stores. These symbols are not found on books or periodicals, as they have their own type of bar codes. Products sold in European retail stores use the EAN (European Article Number) bar code instead, which is 13 digits long.

The digits of a UPC barcode

The set of 12 digits that make up a UPC is also known as a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). This number contains the following data:

  • Left side of the code = Manufacturer identification/ company number assigned by the GS1 US. It is officially known as the “UCC Company Prefix.”
  • Right side of the code = Product number which the company has assigned to the particular product.
  • Last digit = Check digit (calculated with the equation below). This ensures that the UPC symbol is valid.

Example UPC: 01234567890

  1. Add together the value of all of the digits in odd positions.0 + 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 + 0 = 20
  2. Multiply that number by 3.20 x 3 = 60
  3. Add together the value of all of the digits in even positions.1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 25
  4. Add this sum to the value in Step 2.60 + 25 = 85
  5. Take the number in Step 4. To create the check digit, determine the number that, when added to the number in Step 4, is a multiple of 10.85 + 5 = 90
    The check digit is therefore 5.

Company Prefix:
The UCC Company Prefix is a unique five- to nine-digit number assigned to a company by the GS1 US. They vary in length to meet the company’s bar code needs. The number of digits assigned is determined by how many products a company projects that they will need to give UPC numbers to.

If a company has about 50 products that require different numbers, they would probably be assigned a nine digit Company Prefix. This leaves the last two digits to create number combinations to represent all their products. They can have up to 100 different codes in this example. If a company expands and reaches the maximum capacity of their current Company Prefix, they can apply for an additional Company Prefix.

Product Number:
The product number portion of a UPC is always assigned by the company/ manufacturer. The same code cannot be used for two products, as each product variation requires its own unique number. Therefore it is strongly advised that each company employ or appoint a UPC Coordinator to manage this task and keep this information organized.

According to the GS1 US website, companies that need a Company Prefix assigned must also join their Partner Connection program. By doing so, a company will gain access to the GS1 US’s Data Driver™ tool to help define and manage bar codes. This tool ensures barcode accuracy and that the same number is not accidentally used for two or more products.

How do I get a UPC barcode?

The GS1 US (formally the Uniform Code Council) exclusively controls and manages the Company Prefixes assigned to companies and eliminates the use of the same UPC number between two different companies or products.

In order to obtain a unique Company Prefix, a company must apply for a membership with GS1 US and pay the annual fee. This fee is based upon the number of unique products that the company will sell. Below is the pricing schedule provided on GS1 US’s website (as of Jan 2014):

Up to 10 products: Initial fee = $250. Annual renewal fee = $50.
Up to 100 products: Initial fee = $750. Annual renewal fee = $150.
Up to 1,000 products: Initial fee = $2,500. Annual renewal fee = $500
Up to 10,000 products: Initial fee = $6,500. Annual renewal fee = $1,300

To apply for an official Company Prefix and start creating unique UPC numbers, contact the GS1 US directly:

Website: http://www.gs1us.org
Email: info@gs1us.org

Telephone: (937) 435-3870
(Mon – Fri 8:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST)
Fax: (937) 435-7317

7887 Washington Village Drive
Suite 300
Dayton, OH 45459

It generally takes 5 business days for the GS1 US to process a company’s request.

Who needs a UPC?

Any company planning to sell their merchandise in moderately sized or larger retail stores must have unique UPC symbols on their products. Most retail stores rely heavily on unique bar codes for scanning purposes.

Many retailers will even demand proof of certificate to verify that the number is indeed unique to the company. Any company that has successfully applied for a Company Prefix through GS1 US will receive this certificate when they are provided with their Company Prefix.

Larger big-box retailers also require that the companies that they work with are EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) compliant. In order to even begin this process, a company must have their own Company Prefix issued only by the GS1 US.

What about unique UPC resellers?

An option that some companies might have looked into is purchasing a guaranteed unique UPC number from a reseller. It is appealing to smaller businesses because the cost is significantly less than the GS1 US membership fees. A small business might only have ten products total in their inventory, and the GS1 US sells UPC numbers in blocks of 100.

If a company purchases some UPC numbers from a reseller, the Company Prefix number (left side of a UPC) identifies the UPC reseller, not the company purchasing the unique code. This is because the reseller licensed the Company Prefix and is a member of the GS1 US.

The reseller will issue the product numbers (right side of a UPC) to different companies for a small fee per UPC number. The various UPC resellers claim that they issue a certificate confirming that the customer does indeed own that particular UPC number.

Although the costs are lower, this is not an ideal solution for any business that plans to grow. Many larger retailers will not accept the certificate provided by the UPC reseller because of the risks involved. If a reseller is unorganized, they could have issued the same UPC number twice. Also, if the reseller disappears, so does the valid UPC number issued to the company.

Barcodes and Rush Order

We have the ability to print any company’s UPC symbol and apply it to the particular product in the form of a label. However, if a client has official UPCs, it is best if the bar code is printed directly onto the packaging of the products by their manufacturer or printer. This is a much more professional route and it reduces retail store scanning problems due to the ink smearing, the label peeling off the product, or some other issue.

If a client is a smaller business that primarily sells their products to end users and small retail stores that do not scan their items, official UPC numbers from the GS1 US are not necessary. Rush Order will still apply bar code labels to their products, however, for our scanning purposes. By scanning a client’s products, we ensure that the correct products are picked and shipped to the consumer.

Once provided by the client, the UPC number for each product (or simply the item number if a client is a small) is entered into a specific field in the client’s order management system. The label program extracts the human readable number from the database and prints it out in the form of an accurate bar code, which we then affix to the product.

Additional questions? Contact us. There’s no obligation.