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UPC Barcode Spotlight: How UPC Barcodes Work and How to Get Them

Apr 13, 2009
TOPIC: Data Capture
2 min read
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UPC barcodes, or Universal Product Codes, consist of 12 characters that uniquely identify a product and were originally created to help grocery stores speed up the checkout process and track their inventory more efficiently, but they soon spread to other retail products because it was so successful.

A UPC barcode consists of the manufacturer identification number (the first six digits of the UPC number), an item number (the next five digits), and a check digit (the last digit). It is the manufacturers’ responsibility to make sure each item number is unique.

How is Priced Determined?
Contrary to popular belief, price is not encoded in the barcode; at checkout, a barcode reader will scan the barcode and the register transmits the UPC data to a POS (point of sale) computer to look up the number and retrieve the price of the item actual price of the item at that moment. This way, each store can sell a manufacturers product for a price that they see fit, and allows for easy sale price adjustment.

How to Get a UPC Barcode

1) First, you will need to obtain a manufacturers identification number, which will serve as the first six digits of your barcode, from the GS1. After this is obtained, each product you make will need to be assigned a unique item or product number. Finally, the last character in a UPC barcode is derived from a formula based upon the previous eleven numbers. The formula as is follows:

  • Add all of the digits in odd-numbered positions together and multiply the sum by three
  • Add all of the digits in even-numbered positions
  • Add the two sums together
  • The check digit will be the number it would take to round to the nearest multiple of 10. If the sums of your digits was 66, then, 66 + x = 70, where x represents the check digit and 70 represents the nearest multiple of 10. In this case, the check digit would be 4.

2) Once you receive your assigned UPC number, assigned all of your product numbers, and determined the check digit, you will need the barcode image itself. Check out barcode label making software for an easy way to make your barcodes.

3) Finally, once you have gotten all of your information and barcode images, you will need to print the barcodes on labels, and affix them to your product. Be careful as to what type of printer you are using, and if you plan on selling a lot of your product, it is highly recommended that a direct thermal or thermal transfer barcode printer is used. 

Read more on how barcodes are read.



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