A 12 digit UPC-A barcode

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Get a UPC Bar Code | UPC Bar Code History | Bar Codes

How retail suppliers get a UPC bar code and how they get the UPC bar code number on a retail product package.

To get the UPC bar code number for a retail package, suppliers first get a UPC bar code prefix from a private organization called GS1 (formerly the UCC).

GS1 is the umbrella organization with operations in many countries.

Each UPC barcode has a country code with the UPC barcode.

Suppliers seeking UPC barcodes must go to their own GS1 member organization located in their own specific country.

In the United States, suppliers seeking a bar code visit GS1 US, gs1us.org, become a member, and receive their barcode prefix.

Suppliers in other countries seeking a bar code should first visit gs1.org to find the GS1 member country web site in the specific country of the supplier.

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More about UPC bar codes

While others sell UPC barcode numbers, there is no guarantee other bar code providers will keep the supplier's number unique, no support from GS1, and no way to grow a business with GLN assignments (the global data synchronization network), or for product recalls, or RFID using an electronic product code. In an interesting way, GS1 is the only valid source to obtain UPC barcode numbers.

With a bar code prefix assigned by GS1, the supplier then assigns and adds a unique product number to the UPC bar code prefix.

The complete UPC bar code number consists of the UPC bar code prefix plus the unique product ID number that the supplier randomly assigns.

To create the UPC bar code symbol, the UPC bar code number is input into UPC bar code software. The UPC bar code software will then generate the UPC bar code symbol that is printed on the retail product packaging.

The retail packaging graphic designer or packaging printer then takes this UPC bar code symbol artwork and adds it to the artwork of the retail product packaging at the proper size and in the proper format.

This is a UPC-A Bar Code sample

The UPC-A bar code symbol is shown above.

The UPC-A bar code number (and associated bar code symbol) consists of the manufacturer number (also known as the GS1 company prefix) which is combined with a product number (assigned by the manufacturer), and a check digit (assigned by a mathematical equation found in most bar code software).

The GS1 Company Prefix is provided by the specific country's GS1 member organization, and, with it as the prefix, the manufacturer creates the individual product number. In most software, when the prefix # and the product # are entered, the software automatically generates the check digit.

The GS1 Company Prefix is a 10, 9, 8, 7 or 6 digit number assigned to you by the GS1 member organization in your country when you become a member and pay the membership fee.

The number of digits in the UPC bar code is determined typically by how many products you will need to assign numbers to.

If you have 50 products that require unique numbers, you would probably be assigned a 9 digit GS1 Company Prefix (leaving 2 digits to represent your items).

The U.P.C. symbol is composed of a row of 59 black and white bars. Printed beneath the bars (on a UPC-A) is a series of 12 numbers. The bars are scanner readable while the numbers are human readable and can be input manually.
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In the barcode sample above, a 6 digit number, "012345" has been assigned (leaving 5 digits to represent items - plus one 'check digit'). This initial number "012345" represents the manufacturer on all of their products as well as in any EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) applications.

For example, in a 12 digit UPC bar code there are three main parts, the prefix, the product identifying code, and a last number which is the 'check digit'.

The UPC prefix code for the Coca-Cola Company is 049000. Therefore, this 049000 number will appear in the first 6 digits of all of the Coca-Cola Company's product UPC bar codes.

This 049000 prefix was assigned and licensed to the Coca-Cola Company from GS1 US, and Coca Cola, as a member of GS1 US, pays an annual fee to GS1 US (currently based on its gross sales) to license this unique UPC bar code number from GS1 US.

The 6 digit UPC prefix identifies the Coca-Cola Company while the 5 numbers that follow identify the specific product, and its size, color, flavor, etc. (depending on type of product).

The last number, in the example above a 5, is called the 'check digit' and is used to guard against errors (when numbers are manually keyed in) and fraud. There is a mathematical formula that, when applied, produces the proper check digit.

How do companies get a retail product bar code?

The retail product seller, manufacturer or distributor with the retail package (the supplier) does not actually get or buy the UPC barcode symbol you see in the retail product package design.

Instead, to get the UPC bar code on its retail packaging, the supplier must first get its own UPC bar code prefix by becoming a member of an organization that licenses the UPC bar code prefix to them. This UPC bar code prefix identifies the seller, manufacturer or distributor (the supplier).

Once the retail supplier/vendor is able to get the UPC bar code prefix, it is the supplier (or a UPC coordinator working for the supplier) who actually assigns the numbers following the UPC bar code prefix.

If you are a supplier based in the US and need a UPC bar code, click here.

If you are a supplier based outside the US and need a UPC bar code, click here.

Does every supplier need to get a UPC bar code?

To sell products, most retailers require sellers or suppliers to get a UPC bar code.

Does a company just starting out need a bar code?

I'm often asked this question. The answer is yes and no. Click here.

What a seller must do to get a bar code number.

A supplier must first obtain a Universal Product Code Identification Number to use with your UPC bar code symbol.

A US company can obtain this unique six digit UPC company identification number (UPC company prefix) by becoming a member of GS1 US.

Outside the United States, a company can obtain the unique UPC company identification number (UPC company prefix) by becoming a member of their own country-specfic GS1 member organization.

GS1 does not sell the U.P.C. barcode prefix to the supplier, it licenses this UPC barcode prefix number to the supplier.

To obtain a prefix, a supplier must become a GS1 member.

Even if all the supplier needs is one UPC bar code, according to the current rules of GS1, to get that one UPC bar code, the seller must become a member of the G1 member organization in their own country.

Without becoming a member, the supplier will not have the necessary UPC bar code prefix, and therefore cannot create the UPC bar code to place on the retail package. So to get a bar code symbol, the supplier needs to become a GS1 member.



A seller needs a UPC prefix in order to create a UPC symbol and bar code. The prefix is actually just the first set of numbers from the left (not the symbol). The remaining numbers describe the product except the last number to the right, which is the check digit. It is used to increase reliability.

Sellers/suppliers pay an initial fee and then an annual renewal fee to keep their GS1 membership and license this UPC company prefix that identifies the company (since the seller is not buying the UPC code but instead becomes a licensee of the UPC).

The only place to get an authentic GTIN (or UPC bar code) in the US that is accepted by retailers everywhere is GS1 US, (formerly the Uniform Code Council), a privately owned and operated not-for-profit tax-exempt organization that assigns all bar code prefixes necessary to have a bar code, and has done so for over 30 years.

GS1 has an interesting history which all began with a request of grocers involved in the National Association of Food Chains, a trade group of supermarket owners and others.

Today GS1, the parent organization of GS1 US, administers the Universal Product Code (U.P.C.) for over 108 local country GS1 member companies doing business in 150 countries worldwide

The address and phone of GS1 US is Princeton Pike Corporate Center, 1009 Lenox Dr., Suite 202, Lawrenceville, New Jersey 08648, Telephone: 609-620-0200, Fax: 609.620.1200.

Whether you as a seller need only one bar code or many (each and every product variation must have its own unique bar code), GS1 charges a fee to become a member, plus an additional annual membership fee based on your company's annual revenues.

Most retailers require bar codes and therefore you must become a member of the GS1 to get a bar code.

Can a supplier buy the UPC bar code number anywhere else?

Only GS1 US offers unique and authentic barcodes which are accepted by retailers everywhere.. According to GS1 US, a UPC number cannot be rented, leased, or further sub-divided.

To obtain a bar code, you will need to become a member of GS1 US (or GS1 in your own country), pay the membership fee, plus a fee based on your company's revenue, and wait for an information packet to be sent to you.

According to the GS1 US site (at the time of this writing), you should allow up to 14 business days from the time they receive your completed application and payment.

Cummings Design cannot issue you a bar code or UPC or GTIN.

Since all of the retail packaging design Cummings Design creates involves a bar code, I am interested in knowing your thoughts and possible experiences with bar codes, the UCC, and related topics. Please contact me to share your thoughts and comments. Thanks!

This UPC identification number can then be encoded into a UPC-A or EAN-12 bar code symbol and be printed on your retail product packaging.

The retail bar code format is currently referred to as UPC-A. There are also many other types of bar codes and uses for a bar code, though this page discusses those used for retail.

Today most retail stores in North America will only stock retail packaging with a UPC-A or UPC-E bar code symbol. The UPC-A bar code is 12 digits long. The UPC-E bar code is a special shortened version of the UPC-A bar code and is 6 digits long. The UPC-E bar code is primarily for small retail packaging where a UPC-A code would not fit.

The U.P.C. (Universal Product Code) number itself may also be referred to as the GTIN - Global Trade Item Number. The GTIN is made up of the GS1 Company Prefix and the number that the seller, manufacturer or distributor has assigned to that unique product, however the GTIN numbers are 14 digits while the UPC-A bar code format is12 digits long.

The assignment of the numbers following the GS1 company prefix on the bar code is normally sequential, though can be random, and is determined by the seller, manufacturer or distributor who then lets the retailer know which specific retail product is associated with which specific UPC bar code number. The only real trick is for the seller, manufacturer or distributor to keep track of its own UPC bar code numbers and to be sure it doesn't assign duplicate UPC bar code numbers.

So now you know that suppliers do not buy a UPC bar code to get the bar code symbol, they obtain a UPC bar code prefix.

Some companies have a U.P.C. coordinator whose job it is to assign the numbers (that come after the GS1 company prefix) and manage the UPC bar code program. The numbers that come after the GS1 Company prefix identify the specific product. Though these additional numbers are assigned by the UPC coordinator (and do not have any further meaning in themselves), each size, style, color, flavor, and other variation of product requires its own unique U.P.C. number.

The computer systems of the retailer can read these numbers, program them in their systems, and have the system associate the unique number with the specific product the seller assigns the number to.

Once you have your number as a member of GS1...

If you have Cummings Design create your retail packaging, we can create the bar code symbol for your retail product package and design your retail product packaging with your bar code on it. I can also design your retail product packaging without the bar code leaving a space for the UPC bar code symbol.

Does the GS1 UPC bar c ode have any relation to the product price?

No. GS1 provides the manufacturer with its own unique UPC identification number. The UPC is read into the system and the retail product pricing and adjustments are controlled by the POS (point of sale) system software and can be changed at any time by the retailer. The sole purpose of the UPC is to enable scanning of the product and for product identification (as well as retailer inventory tracking).

Should you get a bar code for the first printing or labels?

Many of my retail product packaging clients are unsure whether or not they need a bar code. The UCC will keep $250 (at the time of this writing) as a processing fee should you decide to return the package with your bar code prefix and not go forward with the licensing of your bar code. Also, a retail buyer may have certain bar code requirements. Therefore, I recommend many clients wait until they know they actually need a bar code and have discussed this with the retailer before applying for a membership at GS1.

Can you print a package or label without a UPC bar code?

Yes, and often it's the best way since there is no other way to get a bar code in advance other than to become a member of GS1.

I typically leave a suitable space on the package or label to accommodate a bar code, and recommend that the quantity of the first printing run be limited. For the first run, a separate bar code label may then be printed and affixed. Once the product is in the retailer's system and at the time of the next printing, I can then add the bar code to the packaging. This does add cost to the printing (printing a smaller quantity first, then a second printing later), though it insures that you will not have a bar code that is unacceptable to a retail buyer. 

The future of the bar code, GTIN, RFID - and more.

If you're interested in finding out more about the latest in bar code technology and the newly announced RFID, please see the links to articles below.
USA Today on the GTIN and RFID
WorldTradeMagazine on the GTIN and RFID

You also may be interested in knowing more about 2005 Sunrise:

All U.S. and Canadian companies must be capable of scanning and processing EAN-8 and EAN-13 symbols, in addition to 12-digit U.P.C. symbols, at point-of-sale. 2005 Sunrise from the UCC web Site

More links will be added to this page. If any of the links do not work, please contact me.

See HISTORY of the UPC Bar Code.

See HISTORY of the UCC (Uniform Code Council, Inc.)
The company that assigns all US bar code prefixes.

More history of the UCC is on the UCC web Site.

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Note: This article is of an editorial nature. All trademarks and copyrights are owned by their respective owners. If you see errors or omissions, please contact me so that I may make necessary corrections. I feel the history of the bar code (as well as the future) is important and created this page since I found little about this elsewhere. I am doing my best to cross-check and verify information presented. Thanks - Rob Cummings.

Bibliography and sources:
http://www.ecominfo.net/supplychaindata/arts/pearce_history.htm
http://www.fmi.org/careers/fmi_history.htm
http://www.frontlinetoday.com/frontline/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=101942
http://www.psc.com/html/pschistory.htm
http://bellsouthpwp.net/l/a/laurergj/UPC/triviaqu.html
http://www.infowars.com/print/bb/barcodes_common.htm
http://educ.queensu.ca/~compsci/units/encoding/barcodes/history.html

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