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What is UPC, EAN and GTIN and How are these different

UPC (or EAN or GTIN) started as a value add feature to track inventory for companies. They have become necessity for commerce (and e-commerce) in modern times.

What is UPC (Universal Product Code)

UPC or UPC-A (UPC has many variations) is a 12 digit identifier (in a number format or bar code format) to identify each specific item. This can be used to track inventory, movement etc. UPC which started as a value add feature to track inventory has become a necessity for commerce in modern times.
  • First digit in UPC Bar code is called number system digit and has special meaning. For example,0 is used for standard products, 2 is used for random weight items (vegetables etc), 3 is used for Pharmaceutical products, 4 is used for in store products, 5 is used for Coupons and so on.
  • Next 5 digits of UPC identifies manufacturer.
  • Next five digit after Manufacturer code identifies item number.
  • Last digit is a check number to validate UPC.
Membership of UPC is controlled by UCC (Uniform Code Council). UCC assigns a manufacture identification number (first 6 digit in UPC) to all members. Manufacturer has to apply for membership and pay fees for using UPC privileges.

Manufacturer then has to use next five digit for item numbers making sure there are no duplication.

How does check digit works in UPC Bar Code

Check digit (last digit of UPC code) is used to check authenticity of UPC code.

Here is how it works.

Let us assume 12 digit bar code is 123456789999.
  1. Add all the odd digits (1+3+5+7+9+9=34)
  2. Multiply it by 3 (34*3=102)
  3. Add all the even digits except check digit i.e. last digit (2+4+6+8+9=29)
  4. Add the values in last two step (102+29=131)
  5. Calculate additional digit required to take the value to next multiple of 10 (140 in this case) (140-131=9)
This is Check digit.

The check digit calculated must match the last digit in bar code. Otherwise, UPC scanner or system will not accept the bar code and produce an error.

UPC-E (Short Bar Code or zero-suppressed Bar Code)

UPC-E is a 6 digit variation of UPC code in which zeroes are suppressed to create a short bar code. Short Bar Code allows companies use bar code on products where long bar code will not usually fit.

In UPC-A (12 digit bar code) product will have many zeroes. In UPC-E these numbers are omitted to create a short bar code.

As it might be clear, that everyone would want to have manufacturer id with zeroes, so they can create short code when necessary. However, UCC is very stringent in assigning manufacturer id with zeroes and companies need to substantiate need of short code (smaller products where UPC-A will not fit).

Introduction to EAN (International Article Number)

EAN (or EAN-13) is a 13 digit bar code system to identify products. It was initially called European Article number, but now is renamed to International article number. The standard is defined and maintained by GS1 organization.

EAN was initially created to increase the number of available 12 digit UPC bar codes by adding one more digit. To convert existing UPC code, a zero was added in the starting. This also ensured there was no impact on check digit.

Similar to short UPC Code, EAN-8 can also be used for smaller items.

GS1 also allows adding additional supplement at the end called EAN-2 (2 digit code) or EAN-5(5 digit code). This is usually added to add additional information. Periodic products such as magazines can use these to indicate serial number. Weighted products such as vegetables can use these to indicate weight.

EAN number has distinct components.
  • GS1 Prefix– First 3 digits identifies country of GS1 organization (For example – US) where Manufacturer is registered.
  • Company Number– Next 3 to 8 digits (Manufacturer will opt for higher number if they have a need to identify multiple product lines).
  • Item reference– Next 2 to 6 digits identify item or product.
  • Check digit– Last digit to check validity of EAN number.

How to calculate check digit in EAN

Here is how to calculate the check digit in EAN-13 or EAN-8
  1. For EAN-13, multiply odd digits by 1 and even digits by 3. For EAN-8, do the reverse (odd digits by 3 and even digits by 1).
  2. Add the multiplied numbers from above step.
  3. Calculate the number required to be added to make the above number multiple of 10. This is check digit.

What is GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number)

GTIN is the super-set of all the UPC and EAN numbers and is maintained by GS1 organization.

Earlier UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN-13 and EAN-8 codes were used to identify products. UPC was maintained by UCC, where as EAN was maintained by EAN International. GS1 combines both the bodies and maintains GTIN-8 (same as EAN-8), GTIN-12(same as UPC), GTIN-13(same as EAN-13), GTIN-14.

GTIN-14 is created by adding an extra digit for packaging level called indicator level. Indication numbers 1 to 8 indicates packaging level whereas 9 indicates variable measure item.

Where is UPC-E in GTIN world

UPC-E is 6 digit zero suppressed bar code which allows UPC to be printed on items where 12 digit code will not fit. However, there is no 6 digit GTIN number (No GTIN-6).

GTIN-8 is the shortest code in GTIN which maps perfectly to EAN-8. For GTIN conversion, UPC must be converted into GTIN-8 by suppressing 4 zeroes (unlike suppressing 6 digits to create 6 digits UPC-E).


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