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Understanding UPC Codes and How to Buy Them for Your Business

UPC Codes are a Part of Growing Your Business - Here's How to Get Them

UPC Codes

We engage with UPC numbers every time we go to the grocery store. Short for “Universal Product Codes,” these codes are scannable identifiers unique to a specific product and consist of a bar code and corresponding 12-digit number. If you’re looking to expand your business and sell your products via various distributors and retailers, you’ll need UPC codes. Thankfully, the process for obtaining the codes is straightforward, and when it comes to printing them on your products, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn more.

The Components of a UPC Code

First used in 1974 to purchase a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum, the UPC code is made up of a bar code and GTIN-12 number. These twelve numbers inform the appearance of the bar code’s lines, making the number readable by scanners at points-of-sale. The GTIN-12, or “Global Trade Identification Number,” is assigned by the GS1 and is unique to all products.

The GTIN-12 itself is built of three parts: The UPC company prefix, the item reference, and the check digit. As expected, the company prefix will remain the same across all products produced and is assigned by the GS1. The item reference number identifies each individual product, encompassing not just unique items but variations like size and color as well. Combined, the company prefix and item reference number will always be 11 digits long; the number of digits used for each, however, varies. Lastly, the check digit is calculated with a modulo algorithm and used to prevent scanners from misreading the barcode.

Purchasing UPC Codes

Unlike QR codes, companies cannot generate UPC numbers on their own. Instead, you’ll need to go to GS1 directly to purchase the codes. If your business isn’t established with GS1 yet, you’ll first buy a GS1 US membership, which will set you up with your company prefix. These memberships cost between $250 and $10,500, depending on how many items you have that will require a barcode. This initial cost includes your prefix and your barcodes. Additionally, you’ll need to pay an annual renewal fee between $50 and $2,100 to maintain access to the codes.

GS1 offers details for the UPC code application, as well as a pricing chart, on its website.

Printing UPC Codes for Your Products

Once you’ve purchased the codes, it’s time to add them to your products. If your packaging is already printed, you’ll need to use a sticker or some form of adhesive to apply the bar codes. If you haven’t created the packaging yet, consider adding the barcode to the design itself to save time and money at the labeling stage.

Whichever option you choose, we have labeling and custom packaging solutions to help. Contact us today at (904) 263-2804 or schedule a free consultation to learn more.


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