Calculating How Many UPCs to Buy

One of the most common questions companies ask us when it comes to UPC barcoding is determining "How many UPCs to buy?" Likely the most important consideration is cost - UPC Company Prefixes come with an upfront membership fee and annual renewal fees. Acquire a prefix that has less assignments than you need and you'll be scrambling to get another prefix (the pricing tiers usually make this a bad deal). Get more assignments than you need and you’ll be paying every year for the surplus numbers. If a GTIN is used or not, you still need to pay annual fees on it!

Prefix Length and Number Capacity

While it's expensive to have excess, it is also expensive to make mistakes. Careful consideration of how many UPCs need to be assigned and how your needs may change will help you select the best option.

The table below illustrates how prefix length relates to the number of UPCs you can assign. A UPC is 12 digits long and is made up of the prefix, and item number, and a check digit. The longer the prefix is the less UPCs you can assign. As expected, long prefixes are less expensive and short prefixes more expensive.

As the table shows, price per UPC decreases significantly for each step up in capacity. Let’s say you needed UPCs for 400 products; it makes more sense to get the 1,000 capacity prefix ($3,500) than 4 – 100 capacity prefixes ($4,000). This is something to consider as you figure out how many UPCs you will need.

How does a company determine how many UPCs they need?

As a general rule, every variation of your product will need its own UPC. If your product comes in different colors or patterns, each different color or pattern will need a UPC. If your product comes in different sizes, each size will need a UPC. Stock of one specific item would all share the same UPC.

The same is true for different configurations and packaging. For example, a plastic bottle of sparking water will need a different UPC than the same sparkling water in a glass bottle. The same kind of baby shampoo with and without a bundled toy will need different UPCs for each type of packaging.

Product Changes

Companies need to also consider how their products might change in the near future. Any time a change is made that impacts how a retailer or consumer might assess an item, a new UPC probably needs to be assigned. Some examples:

  • Net weight changed from 7 oz. to 10 oz.
  • Adding a feature to a product
  • Adding or removing certain ingredients
  • Making a product “gluten free”

Assorted Cartons

For companies that will ship cartons consisting of all the same products, the carton level GTIN is based on the UPC of the product so additional assignments are not needed. But for companies that will ship assortments of items and require a GTIN for those cartons, each assortment will need its own assignment – an assignment that cannot be used on another product.

Some retailers, especially warehouse clubs, that sell bulk items need special consideration. Your bulk carton that might be a shipping carton for another retailer could be considered the consumer selling unit by a retailer like Costco or Sam’s Club, and would require its own UPC assignment.

Fashion, Apparel, and Seasonal Products

Apparel is a UPC intensive category. Consider that clothing often comes in many sizes and colors, with each unique size and color combination requiring their own assignment. Additionally, if every season brings new items for your company, you will need to consider not just your immediate needs but also how many UPC assignments you will need for every new rollout and every new year.

Ongoing Assessment

Determining your UPC needs is important now, but also important to revisit from time to time. We recommend that companies do this twice a year. Take stock of how many UPC assignments you have used and forecast for any new items or changes that could be coming soon.

Companies work with Bar Code Graphics through either our GS1 Barcode Service (new GS1 membership) or GS1 Barcode Support (current GS1 members) means that you’ll always have access to a live person to walk you through assigning UPCs and answer your questions for any new product or product change. Both come with a credit equal to our fees towards label printing, digital barcodes or UPC testing , so it makes signing up an easy decision.