Businesses that sell physical products need a universal product code (UPC) and a barcode for every unique item that they deal with. These are essential as they help to identify products and convey information about them to distributors and retailers.
Difference between a UPC and a barcode

Most products have a 12-digit number below the bar code, which are machine-readable black and white lines. The numbers, of course, can be read by humans. These are issued by GS1 US, a non-profit organization that provides standardization of commercial procedures.

A UPC barcode can be scanned to provide product information to the reseller or even to different departments within the organization. A scanning device is able to gather data from the varying widths of the bars compared to the widths of blank spaces between them. Barcode software is installed on a computer or a mobile device to obtain the required details.

Procedure to get UPC barcodes

The first step is to get a prefix for your company from GS1 US. This is a unique identification number licensed to your organization. It will form part of every barcode and identification number that you create for your individual products.

There is a 12-digit number in a UPC barcode. This is called a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number). The initial digits are reserved for your company prefix and this is followed by the item reference numbers. The last number is the check digit.

Your company prefix can range from 10 digits (which leaves one place for your product code) to six digits (leaving five places for your product code). Based on this, you can create from 10 product codes to 100,000 product codes.

Upon buying a company prefix, you will be issued with access to an online tool that enables you to create and manage barcodes and product identifiers.

How much does it cost?

The pricing structure is simple and the amount that you will pay depends on how many products you need to identify.

This table gives the fee structure:

Number of Items for which a barcode is requiredInitial FeeAnnual Renewal Fee
1 - 10$250$50
1 - 100$750$150
1 - 1000$2,500$500
1 - 10,000$6,500$1,300
1 - 100,000$10,500$2,100
How many barcodes will you need?

To get an idea about the number of GTINs that you require, you will have to factor in the total number of products that you sell.

For example, if you run a store, which sells t-shirts in different sizes, colors and designs you would need to assign a GTIN to each specific type of t-shirt. If you have three different colors, each of which is available in three sizes and three designs, then you would require 27 GTINs (3 X 3 X 3).

Purchase barcodes from resellers

If your product range is limited and you want to save money, it is possible to buy barcodes from resellers. These are companies who buy UPCs from GS1 US and sell them to other businesses.

But if you plan to follow this practice, you should check with your resellers first as the GTINs will carry the company prefix of the reseller.