Characteristics and construction of barcodes
Barcodes play a key role in supply chains, enabling parties like retailers, manufacturers, transport providers and hospitals to automatically identify and track products as they move through the supply chain.
Get a Licensed GS1 Company Prefix
You have your product, your business plan, and maybe even some prospective buyers. Now it’s time to take the next step.
To sell your product in a store or online, you could be looking for a barcode, a GS1 Company Prefix, a Global Trade Item Number® (GTIN®), a U.P.C., or a GTIN-14. Whatever your needs, the solution begins with an authorized GS1 Company Prefix.
A GS1 Company Prefix is a unique identification number licensed just to your company—and it is part of every barcode and identification number you create.
It is the only way to uniquely identify your brand in the global supply chain.
Estimate your barcode and product identification needs
Products come in many sizes, colors, and package configurations (e.g. individual boxes or cases). Each of these variations may require a unique identification number.
The first step is to identify all the variations you have for each of your unique products. If you and your customer need to distinguish one variation from another, the general rule of thumb is that each product variation will require its own U.P.C. barcode.
If you make three t-shirts, but each shirt comes in three sizes (small, medium, large), three styles (short sleeve, long sleeve, ¾ sleeve), three colors (blue, pink, and purple); and three packages (single, 2-pack, 3-pack); you need to identify 81 product variations (3 sizes x 3 styles x 3 colors x 3 packages = 81).
It’s also important to plan for additional product variations for your business growth (over the next year or so) when estimating your barcode needs, since you can't "add capacity" to your prefix.
You can always license additional prefixes as your company grows, but you may be able to save time and money by planning for more product variations now.
To identify products, you'll need a GTIN
A GTIN® (Global Trade Item Number®) is the number you see underneath the U.P.C. barcode symbol—and it’s the same number that’s encoded in the lines and spaces above that the scanner reads. Used in both the physical and digital worlds, GTINs uniquely identify products at all item and package levels.
In the physical world, GTINs are used in barcodes scanned at retail point-of-sale and on inner packs, cases, and pallets of products scanned in a distribution or warehouse environment. They are used to identify products sold online as well. They are commonly used on purchase orders and in delivery and payment documents.
They can be encoded into various types of GS1 barcodes and Electronic Product Codes (EPCs), which are programmed into Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Also, they can be used in the Global Data Synchronization Network™ (GDSN®) through data pools and catalogs. You will assign each unique trade item a separate, unique GTIN.
The rules for assigning GTINs ensure that every variation of an item is assigned a number that is globally unique. You create a GTIN by combining your licensed U.P.C. Company Prefix number* with a unique product number that you assign, plus a check digit that ensures the GTIN is created correctly.
A GTIN, along with a U.P.C. barcode, can be used anywhere in the world. There are many formats of barcodes. The barcode formats you need for products scanned at point-of-sale (or checkout) are different from the ones you need for products scanned in a distribution center or a warehouse. So your first step is to consider where your barcode will be scanned.
Any questions about how to code products?
Select where your barcode will be scanned:
- Point-of-Sale (checkout)
If your product will be sold at retail point-of-sale (or checkout) you’ll want to use a UPC-A barcode. It’s the most common barcode required by retailers in North America. U.P.C. barcodes ensure that all products are properly identified at retail point-of-sale.
The U.P.C. barcode enables rapid product scanning, resulting in more accurate data that can be used by trading partners.
Many online retailers use the same process as physical stores. Most require that you assign a GTIN to your products. In fact, the same GTIN can be used. As for barcoding your products, many do require that a U.P.C. barcode be placed on your items.
As a best practice, you should review your customer’s vendor requirements to help you get started. Inconsistent or incorrect usage of U.P.C.s/GTINs can make finding and buying products online difficult for consumers—and when consumers can’t find what they want when they want it, brands and retailers lose an opportunity for their product to be discovered.
If your products will pass through a warehouse, you’ll need to identify units such as cartons, cases, and pallets. There are two different barcodes that are most commonly used to identify cases:
- ITF-14 barcodes: will contain only the GTIN. The advantage of ITF-14 barcodes is that they can be pre-printed directly on corrugated material, such as boxes. This saves you time and money.
- GS1-128 barcodes: also contain the GTIN, but can also encode additional product information, including batch/lot number, weight, or expiration date.
The quality of your barcode is critical for successful data capture. Your barcode could look great on the package and be formatted perfectly, but if it fails to scan it may lead to requiring manual keying of the GTIN or lost sales and market share from customers at checkout.
You may also have additional expenses from retailer charge-backs. You need to use high-resolution artwork and high-resolution printing. Using both means that the lines and spaces in your barcode are clean and readable.
To create high-resolution art for an actual barcode digital file yourself, use GS1 US Data Hub® | Product, an online resource for GS1 US prefix licensees. You can use this art to print your labels yourself or send it to a barcode label printer or your package label vendor. You can also turn to a GS1 US Solution Provider for your barcode art and printing needs.
These providers are trained by GS1 US on GS1 Standards for barcodes:
The optimum color combination for a barcode symbol is black bars with a white background (spaces and quiet zones). If you want to use other colors, follow these guidelines: Bars GS1 barcode symbols require dark colors for bars (e.g., black, dark blue, or dark green).
Never print the bars in red, or in a reddish color, like brown. This is because scanning lasers use red light, and red bars are “invisible” to the scanner’s red light.
Print the bars in a single ink color—never print them with four-color process or other multiple-color process.
GS1 barcode symbols require light backgrounds for the quiet zones and spaces—white is the best option. In addition to light backgrounds, you can also use "reddish" backgrounds since the scanner light is red and cannot read the red background.
Typically you would not print the symbol background. In this case the background is the color of the label, package, or package contents (if the package is clear). Be sure to follow these rules for the background color. If you do print the background: If you use multiple layers of ink to increase the background opacity, print each layer as a solid.
If you use a fine screen to deliver more ink to the background, be sure there are no voids in the print caused by the screen not adequately filling in.
Placement on packaging
Where you put the barcode on your package can impact the ability of scanners to read your barcode. In general, for an item scanned at checkout you’d put the barcode in the lower right-hand section of the back of the package.
Avoid the edge of the package, and allow enough white space surrounding the barcode to ensure a clean scan. It’s also critical that the printed surface be smooth so nothing interferes with the scanner’s ability to read the barcode.
There are other guidelines for bagged items, large/bulky items, curved items, tags, and non-packaged items for checkout, and guidelines for items scanned in warehouses or distribution centers.
Selecting the barcode size
The size of the barcode within the package design will depend on where you will use the barcode and how you will print the barcode. U.P.C. barcodes have a fixed relationship between barcode height and width. When one dimension is modified, the other dimension must be altered by a proportional amount.
It’s best to print barcodes at their full height and not remove portions to make it fit on the packaging (this is called truncation) since this could result in incorrect scanning. Also, leave a clear, unprinted area on the left and right sides of the barcode (known as the quiet zone).
Create your barcode art in the size you’ll need for your packaging. If you need to change the size of the barcode art do not shrink or enlarge it, otherwise it won't scan correctly. If you need to resize the barcode art, just re-create the barcode in the desired size.
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