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Generating UPC Barcodes for Small Businesses

UPC barcodes can be extremely useful for tracking your products. Whether your product is sold in stores, or if your online business is growing, UPC barcodes can not only save you time, but also ensure high levels of accuracy when you're dealing with big quantities.

So, what are they and how do you produce and use them? That is what this blog is set out to answer. From the first ever barcode system to the difference between a UPC-E and UPC-A, you'll learn everything you need to know to get started. As always, here are some shortcuts: What is a UPC? History of the UPC Difference between UPC-A and UPC-E How to produce a UPC Can I print my own? Barcode scanners


A UPC is a Universal Product Code, a barcode symbology that is widely used worldwide for tracking trade items. They can be easily scanned to simplify transactions. A UPC barcode is visually represented by strips of bars and spaces that encode the UPC 12-digit number. Every digit is represented by a unique pattern of 2 bars and 2 spaces. The bars and spaces have variable widths, like 1, 2, 3, or 4 modules wide. The total width for a digit is always 7 modules, which means that a UPC 12-digit number requires a total of 84 models (7 modules x 12 numbers).


The UPC was developed to save both time and money. Workers at the time were manually entering the information of a product into a database. Streamlining a barcode system would reduce error (saving companies money), and increase productivity (making companies money). The first concept of an automated check-out system was first proposed by Wallace Flint in 1932 with punch cards. You know, the ones you use to ‘punch in’ and out of a shift. However, barcodes as we know them today were developed by a group called the Uniform Product Code Council (UPCC) in 1973. The group was made up of a group of trade associates from the grocery industry. While multiple technology firms put forward proposals, it was IBM’s proposal designed by George J. Laurer that was selected. The very first UPC item to be scanned at a retail store was a 10-pack (50 sticks) of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It was purchased at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio (as you can see in figure 2).


The main difference between a UPC-A and a UPC-E is the size of the barcode. The UPC-A is considered a ‘long-format’ code while a UPC-E is a ‘short-format’ code. A UPC-E is considered a ‘suppressed UPC’ because it compresses a normal 12 digit UPC-A number into a six digit code by “suppressing” the number system digit, trailing zeros in the manufacturers code and leading zeros in the product number. A UPC-E is produced from a UPC-A. It is often used on food products.


Global Standard 1 (or GS1) is a neutral, not-for-profit, international organization developing and maintaining standards including barcodes. There are currently over 100 million products that carry GS1 barcodes—which are scanned more than 6 billion times a day. You can get started here. Company identification number: You need to apply and register with GS1 to get started. Once you register, you will be assigned a 6-digit manufacturer identification number (the first 6 digits in your UPC). All of your company’s products will have this number. Item number: A UPC coordinator will add the next 5 digits, considered the ‘item number’. All of the numbers are unique and are assigned to every product to properly differentiate them.

Check digit: The check digit is the last number in your UPC and is calculated by adding and multiplying numbers in your code. Every time it is scanned, the check digit calculation occurs. When you have a scanning error, it is often because the check digit is incorrect/unclear to the scanner.


Once you have registered for your UPC product numbers, you can either get them printed or print them yourself. There are pros and cons to both. Getting them printed: Getting them printed professionally means they will be consistent and reliable. However, depending on demand, it may not be convenient to use a third-party. Printing them yourself: If you purchase a small printer to run your own UPC codes, you have the flexibility to test new products, produce smaller quantities, and do it on-demand. Get in touch with us if you’d like to learn more about printing your own UPCs!


Now that you’ve got your UPC, you will need a program to store all of your data. There are dozens of inventory management software programs available, and they all depend on your need. How many UPC barcodes will you be using? How much product will you be selling? Will it be used in-store? G2 has a really comprehensive list of inventory management systems you can use:

There are multiple scanners, including corded, wireless, in-counter, and portable batch. The types include laser, image, and cell phone barcode apps.

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