If you’re reading this post, then you may have decided you need a UPC code for your custom product labels. Many business owners believe that they can print a random barcode on their product and call it a day. However, the numbers that you see below those barcodes are not just random digits, and those lines aren’t random either. In order to get a UPC code that will be accepted by retailers, you need to go through the proper steps to get an approved UPC code for your products.
Understanding the Numbers on a UPC-A Code
Universal product codes (UPCs) are the 12-digit numbers that appear under the barcodes on many U.S. products. They are assigned to companies by GS1 US, a nonprofit group that sets standards for commerce.
The most common UPC code (referred to as a UPC-A code) is used by retailers to scan the barcode of an item at checkout in order to retrieve the correct price and simultaneously update their inventory management system. The 12-digit code is comprised of three parts: a company prefix, an item reference number, and a check digit.
The company prefix is the first six digits of the code and is assigned to your company by GS1 US. This UPC company prefix ensures that your product’s barcode is not confused with another company’s product. The next five digits are the item reference number and are assigned by your company to uniquely identify each of your products. The last digit is what is known as a "check digit" and it is automatically calculated by a special formula using the first 11 digits, which is designed to prevent scanning errors - it's simply a cross-check to make sure everything works properly.
How Does All Of This Work?
Businesses pay to join GS1 US and the organization then assigns each member its own identification number that appears as the first part of its UPC code. That part of the barcode remains the same for all of your products. However, you will need a separate Item Reference number (digits 7-11 of the barcode) for every item that you sell - so that the retailer's systems are able to identify prices and sales for each line item separately. Each UPC code can then be used to produce a specific barcode that can be incorporated into the product label design so it is easily scanned at the register. There are many ways for your designer to create that barcode image (so long as you have the relevant digits already assigned), but if necessary we can also create the images for you. Please note - we do not get involved in the process of getting your UPC registration done, nor do we help assign individual product codes - that part of the puzzle is your responsibility.
We recommend that you always include the barcode in the design of the outermost label or packaging. If you have multiple layers of packaging (e.g. a bottle inside of a box), then there is usually no reason to have the UPC code on the inside bottle label as well as the outside packaging, because it's reasonable to assume the retail customer will scan the outside package.
Like most things in business, registering your company with GS1 is not free. The fees that you will have to pay also depend on the number of unique products you sell. A membership form can be filled out online on GS1′s website, www.gs1us.org.
Here are a couple of helpful links to the Just Getting Started and The Ten Steps to GS1 Barcode Implementation pages on the GS1 US website. This will offer an extremely detailed and in-depth look into the process of obtaining a UPC code, as well as a wealth of other information regarding UPC code placement, color, and more in-depth information on how to properly use them.
One last important tip - just because you sell products does NOT necessarily mean you need UPC codes. It depends on how your products are distributed and sold, because unless your retail outlets are equipped with checkout scanners then the barcodes will be useless. For example, if you sell your products via farmers' markets or some other method without retail stores in the mix, then registering and printing UPC codes will be a waste of time (and money). In other words, don't assume you need UPC codes until you've worked out how your products will be sold and whether the chosen outlets require them.