UPC Symbols (aka UPC Codes)

There are a variety of different types of barcodes. However, the UPC symbol is the most recognized barcode in the United States, since it appears on almost every retail product. The UPC (Universal Product Number) symbol is the barcode representation of the GTIN-12 which consists of twelve numeric characters that uniquely identify a company's individual product. The GTIN-12 number is part of the family of GS1 global data structures that employ 14 digits and can be encoded into various types of data carriers (please visit www.gtin.info for more information).

Although, the initial UPC usage was focused on retail point of sale (POS), many other industries have adopted this coding structure. As of January 2005, there are significant changes to the terminology involving product barcode marking. Please visit www.gtin.info to learn more about the new GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number) data structures.


The first six to nine digits of a UPC are referred to as the “U.P.C. Company Prefix”, and they are assigned by a non-profit organization (GS1 US). This number uniquely identifies a company and always remains constant on all of a company's products. The next set of digits is called the “product numbers.” Product numbers uniquely identify individual items. Unlike the UPC Company Prefix, product numbers are arbitrarily assigned by each company. The twelfth character is called the “check digit”. Using some form of check digit generator (use our free check digit calculator ) this digit is calculated using a mathematical calculation based on the first 11 digits of the UPC code.

A common mistake companies make is creating their own UPC numbers. A company can not “make up” its own UPC number. To have a UPC code that will scan at Point of Sale, the UPC number must contain a GS1-US assigned  U.P.C. Company Prefix, also known as a manufacturer prefix. GS1-US is the governing agency for the assignment of manufacturing codes, and they make sure that no duplicate numbers are issued. Your company assigns the second part of the UPC number, which is called the product code or item code. Please visit www.gs1-us.info for information on obtaining your GS1 Company Prefix.

A typical process of obtaining a 12-digit UPC number is as follows:

  1. Purchase a unique GS1 Company Prefix from the GS1 agency
  2. Assign product number(s) to unique products making your number equal 11 digits
  3. Using a check digit calculator with your 11 digit number, generate your check digit.

Combining the above steps will result in a 12-digit UPC number.

UPC Sizing Requirements

UPC sizes are referred to as magnifications or magnification factors. The nominal size of a UPC is 100% magnification factor or 1.469 inches wide (from the far left hand side number to the far right hand side number) by 1.02 inches tall (from the top of the bar code to the bottom of the human readable numbers). The minimum size of a UPC is 80% magnification factor (80% of the nominal size) and the maximum size of a UPC is 200% magnification factor (200% of the nominal size). Click here for a complete UPC Magnification Table.


The main difference between a UPC-A and a UPC-E is the size of the barcode. The UPC-E is also called a 0-Suppressed UPC because the UPC-E compresses a normal 12 digit UPC-A number into a six digit code by "suppressing" the number system digit, trailing zeros in the manufacturers code and leading zeros in the product number. The seventh digit is a calculated check digit using the first 6 digits of the code. UPC-E can thus be uncompressed back into a standard UPC-A 12 digit number. Please note that some manufacturing code numbers beginning with "0" have this capability. And, any manufacturing code starting with a number other than "0.” cannot be zero-suppressed.

UPC Coupon Codes

DataBar and GS1-128 coupons currently contain a UPC code. However, the new GS-1 DataBar strips the UPC code from the coupon. Below displays the information encoded in a UPC coupon code. For more information please click here.


Single UPCs: Understand the Potential Limitations

Many new companies are unaware that they need to obtain a Company Prefix directly from GS1 US (formerly the Uniform Code Council). There are online firms offering individual UPCs. Some of these companies are preying on the lack of understanding by many small new businesses. Common claims are "Our UPCs originate with the GS1", "Official UPC codes", or "Authentic and Unique UPC barcodes". Before you take a chance with your company's future, we encourage you become educated on the actual requirements and processes required to properly mark your items and shipments. This alternative might work for your situation, but you should be fully informed of potential limitations.

Please click here for a detailed guide about using UPC Resellers.

For additional information on UPC/EAN EAN numbering and barcode requirements please visit www.gs1-us.info.

There has been a dramatic increase in the dependency on UPC symbols, since companies are investing millions of dollars in computer systems and scanning equipment to take advantage of automatic data collection. The foundation of these systems is contingent on barcode print quality. When symbols can not be read or decode incorrectly, the efficiency of these systems is brought to a halt. Consequently, many retailers are severely penalizing consumer goods manufacturers who furnish substandard UPC symbols.