Getting barcodes on products gives businesses the capability to give a physical product numerous characteristics that can be easily referenced whenever a barcode is scanned. Barcodes also allow products to be scanned and tracked through a warehouse.
For these reasons, getting barcodes for your products is an important step for growing eCommerce businesses to track their operational efficiency.
In this post, we’ll explore what barcodes are, the different types of barcodes used today, and how to get barcodes for your products.
What are barcodes, and what do they do?
A barcode is a machine-readable code in the form of numbers and patterns of parallel lines of varying widths printed onto a product for identification.
A barcode symbol typically consists of five parts:
- A quiet zone
- A start character
- Data characters (including an optional check character)
- A stop character
- Another quiet zone
All of these symbols are what make each barcode, and subsequently each product, unique in an inventory environment.
A barcode reader is required to read the code. The reader uses a laser beam that can sense the reflections from the lines as well as the space thickness and reformat that pattern into a number in a digital format.
Inventory management software, POS systems, etc., use this digital format to transfer information about that product to various locations where users can make smart decisions about their product and business based on the data that is collected.
Barcodes can be used to scan products and keep track of sales, customers, and inventory.
There are two main types of barcodes: linear or 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes. Linear barcodes are the most common type of barcode and can be found on products in stores. 2D barcodes are newer and can hold more information than linear barcodes.
Warehouse operators use barcode scanners to interpret the information contained in barcodes and transmit it to a database or inventory management platform.
Barcoding systems are extremely inexpensive relative to the reliability, speed, and accuracy they bring to warehouse operations.
Do you need a barcode to sell products?
The short answer is no. You do not need a barcode to sell products. However, having a barcode can make your product look more professional and can make it easier to track inventory.
If you are selling products online, most marketplaces (such as Amazon) require that you have a barcode on your product to list it.
If you are selling products in brick-and-mortar stores, barcodes can make it easier for store employees to scan and track your product. Many store shelves already have barcodes printed on them, so adding a barcode to your product can help it fit in and look professional.
Getting a barcode for your product is relatively simple and can be done for free if you use a UPC.
If you need help getting started, this guide will walk you through the process of getting a barcode for your product.
What are the different types of barcodes?
There are two main types of barcodes: linear or 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes.
Linear barcodes are the most common type of barcode. They are long, thin barcodes that can be found on products in stores. Linear barcodes can only store a limited amount of information, so they are typically used to store product identification numbers (such as a UPC).
2D barcodes are newer and can hold more information than linear barcodes. 2D barcodes are square or rectangular and can be found on products, packaging, and labels. 2D barcodes can store a lot of information, so they are often used to store product information (such as nutrition facts) or to track inventory.
There are many different types of barcodes, but the two most common are UPCs and QR codes.
UPCs (Universal Product Codes) are the most common type of barcode. UPCs are linear barcodes that can be found on products in stores. UPCs are 12 digits long and are used to store product identification numbers.
UPCs are assigned by the GS1, a global organization that provides standards for barcodes and other identification numbers (more on them later).
If you want to get a UPC for your product, you will need to apply for a UPC through GS1.
Pros of UPCs:
- UPCs are the most common type of barcode, so they are more likely to be scanned by store employees and customers.
- UPCs can be read by all barcode scanners.
- UPCs are assigned by the GS1, so you can be sure that your UPC is unique.
Cons of UPCs
- UPCs are linear barcodes, so they can only store a limited amount of information.
- You need to apply for a UPC through the GS1, which can be a time-consuming process.
QR codes are 2D barcodes that can be found on products, packaging, and labels. QR codes are used to store product information (such as nutrition facts) or to track inventory.
QR codes are becoming more common as businesses look for ways to store more information on their products. QR codes can be scanned with a smartphone or tablet and can be used to provide customers with product information (such as nutrition facts) or to track inventory.
If you want to get a QR code for your product, you can create one for free using a QR code generator.
Pros of QR codes:
- QR codes can store more information than UPCs.
- QR codes can be scanned with a smartphone or tablet.
- You can create QR codes for free using a QR code generator.
Cons of QR codes:
- QR codes are less common than UPCs, so they may not be scanned by store employees and customers.
- QR codes can only be read by devices that have a QR code scanner installed.
GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers) are unique identification numbers that are assigned to products. GTINs are used to track inventory and can be found on product labels, barcodes, and packaging.
GTINs are assigned by the GS1, a global organization that provides standards for barcodes and other identification numbers.
If you want to get a GTIN for your product, you will need to apply for a GTIN through the GS1.
Many online marketplaces require GTINs through GS1. This video from the GS1 website explains it in more depth:
EANs (European Article Numbers) are unique identification numbers that are assigned to products. EANs are used to track inventory and can be found on product labels, barcodes, and packaging.
EANs are again assigned by the GS1, a global organization that provides standards for barcodes and other identification numbers.
If you want to get an EAN for your product, you will need to apply for an EAN through GS1.
What exactly is GS1, and why is it important?
GS1, which stands for Global Standards One, is a global organization that provides standards for barcodes and other identification numbers. GS1 assigns UPCs, GTINs, and EANs to products.
The GS1 is important because it ensures that all barcodes are unique. This is critical for businesses that want their barcodes to be scannable by external parties like delivery channels and brick-and-mortar partners.
If you want to get a UPC, GTIN, or EAN for your product, you will need to apply for it through the GS1.
A step-by-step guide to obtaining barcodes through GS1
Since UPCs are the standard in North America, here’s a step-by-step guide on obtaining a GS1-certified UPC for your product.
- Go to the GS1 website and create an account.
- Apply for a UPC for your product
- Wait for GS1 to assign you a UPC.
- Once you have been assigned a UPC, you can use it as your product’s barcode or store it in an RFID tag.
- You can also apply for GTINs and EANs through GS1.
How do I get a barcode for my product?
There are two main ways to get a barcode for your product:
- Apply for a UPC through the GS1.
- Generate a barcode with internal tools (note that this barcode should not be used outside of your warehouse).
Applying for a UPC through the GS1 is the most professional way to get a barcode for your product. The GS1 is a global organization that provides standards for barcodes and other identification numbers.
Generating a barcode with internal tools is less professional but can be done for free. This barcode should only be used within your warehouse as it is not unique.
When in doubt, we recommend applying for a UPC through the GS1.
Is it possible to use barcodes without going through GS1?
Yes, it is possible to use barcodes without going through GS1. However, it is not as professional and can be less reliable.
The main benefit of going through GS1 is that you are guaranteed to get a unique barcode for your product. If you create your own barcode or use a free QR code generator, there is a risk that your barcode will be the same as someone else’s.
An official GS1 barcode means your products can be scanned by external parties (not just internally in your warehouse) without risk of duplication or overlap with other barcodes.
If you plan on selling through third-party partners like Amazon or brick-and-mortar stores, this will likely be a requirement.
How to get barcodes for your products: a step-by-step guide
Now that we’ve laid all the important groundwork of the different types of barcodes, how to obtain them, and the relevance of GS1, here’s our recommended process for obtaining barcodes for your products:
Step 1: Figure out how many of your products require UPCs, GTINs, or EANs.
If you only need one UPC for your product, you can apply for it directly through GS1. If you need multiple barcodes (for example, one UPC per SKU), you’ll want to purchase a block of UPCs.
Determine whether you want to apply for your barcodes through GS1 or generate them yourself. If you only need one or two barcodes, it may be easier to generate them yourself.
However, if you need multiple barcodes or plan on selling your product through third-party channels, we recommend applying for them through GS1.
Step 2: Create an account through GS1 and register for a company prefix
If you’ve decided to apply for your barcodes through GS1, create an account and follow the instructions on their website. You’ll need to fill out some basic information about your business and product (like the product name, category, etc.).
The first step is to get a company prefix. This is a unique number that will be assigned to your business and used as the starting digits for all your barcodes.
Step 3: Obtain GTINs for each product
As mentioned above, GTINs are unique numbers that identify a product. You can think of them as the “serial numbers” for your products.
In the GS1 standard, these unique numbers follow your company prefix.
Step 4: Generate, store, and print your barcodes
Once you have your company prefix and GTIN, you are free to generate the barcodes by whatever means you prefer. You can create barcodes through your inventory management platform, through GS1’s free online tool, or even through Microsoft Excel.
The important thing is that your company prefix and GTINs are tracked and stored in a globally-recognized database.
Once you’ve generated your barcodes, simply print them or digitally send them to your third-party marketplaces.
While it’s entirely possible to create barcodes outside of the GS1 standards, we don’t recommend it for two main reasons:
- Most, if not all, third-party marketplaces require GS1-assigned barcodes. By going with GS1 first, you’re eliminating the headaches of having to retrofit your products with new labels should you ever decide to sell your products via other sales channels.
- GS1 barcodes are more professional and eliminate the possibility of code overlap (scanning a barcode that contains information from another business or entity).
What are the benefits of using barcodes on your products?
Barcodes offer many benefits for businesses, including:
- The ability to track inventory levels and product movement
- Increased efficiency during the checkout process
- Reduced chances of human error
- The ability to sell products through third-party marketplaces
How can you get barcodes for your products professionally and quickly?
The best way to get barcodes for your products is to apply for them through GS1. This will ensure that your barcodes are professional and can be scanned by external parties without the risk of duplication or overlap.
How much does it cost to get professional barcode labels printed for your products?
The cost of printing barcode labels will depend on the type of label you need, the number of labels you need, and the printing company you use. However, most professional printing companies will be able to print your barcode labels for a few cents each.
How much do barcodes cost?
If you only need one UPC, you can apply for it directly through GS1 for free. If you need multiple barcodes, you’ll need to purchase a block of UPCs. The cost will depend on the country in which you’re applying and the number of barcodes you need.
What is the difference between barcodes and SKUs?
SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) are unique identification numbers that are assigned to products. SKUs are used to track inventory and can be found on product labels, barcodes, and packaging.
While SKUs themselves aren’t necessarily barcoding technology, SKUs are the numbers that are often stored inside barcode data. When a product is scanned at a store, the barcode scanner will read the SKU number and use it to look up information about the product.
Barcodes are a type of optical machine-readable representation of data that can be used to store information like SKUs. There are many different types of barcodes, but the most common type is the Universal Product Code (UPC).
Are there any professional benefits to having GS1-assigned barcodes?
Yes! In addition to being able to sell your products through third-party marketplaces, GS1 barcodes are more professional and can be scanned by external parties without the risk of duplication or overlap.
Looking to get your barcode management system up and running fast? Learn how to make your own barcodes and pick barcode printers and scanners to get started.
Now that you know how to get barcodes for your products, it’s time to start generating them for your business. With a little bit of effort, you’ll be up and running in no time. Best of luck!