In global trade, the most commonly used barcodes are UPC and EAN. We often encounter misinformation about which code should be used in which country. In this article, you will learn the differences between these two codes and learn which code you should use for your products.
UPC is North America’s most popular 12-digit barcode for product identification. EAN has 13 digits and is used mainly in Europe and partly in Asia, and the rest of the world. Both codes are part of the international GS1 standards and are Two main pillars of the global market.
Let’s dive into the differences between these two barcodes and answer the question of when to use one and when the other, to sell properly a product in a given country.
Is UPC and EAN number the same?
First of all, both UPC and EAN codes are 2 dimensional GS1 standardized codes. The organization assigns both of these codes and is responsible for setting standards for their use and presentation on products.
It must be said at the outset that at the moment of writing this article, there is no obligation to use any of these barcodes, however, the popularity of both EAN and UPC codes has made that for many years the entire industry and world trade have been based on these two codes.
It is also very important to notice that the UPC code is a 12-digit GTIN code, i.e. the so-called GTIN-12 code, and the EAN barcode is a 13-digit GTIN code, i.e. GTIN-13
The UPC code has been adopted in the United States and the rest of North America. In parallel, the EAN code began to be used in Europe and Asia.
Is EAN or UPC the same as GTIN?
The concept of GTIN-12 code instead of UPC code and GTIN-13 code instead of EAN code are very often used interchangeably. However, be aware that it’s not exactly the same code.
Formally speaking the GTIN is a number used to uniquely identify trade items around the world. On the other hand, EAN and UPC is a barcode symbol in which the GTIN number is encrypted. This is best illustrated by the graphic below:
Even though the usage of UPC and EAN are the same, they are not the same barcodes. Below, let’s break down these codes into prime factors.
The commonly used UPC code refers to the UPC-A code. And in most cases, it is what you will use if you plan to sell in the USA and Canada
What does UPC stand for?
UPC or UPC Code stands for the Universal Product Code. This is the international designation in the GS1 standard for codes used in North America.
How many digits is a UPC?
The UPC code, professionally known as the UPC-A code, consists of 12 digits, the first of which defines the product type, the next 5 digits are the product number and at the end there is a check digit that is used to verify the error when entering the code. This code consists only of numbers and cannot contain other characters, which makes it a simple and useful barcode.
Here are also other – less common variants of the UPC code:
- UPC-B is a 12-digit version without a check digit. It was invented to label National Drugs and National Health Related Products and are rarely used.
- UPC-C is a 12-digit version containing the product code and 1 check digit. They are rarely used.
- UPC-D this version can have 12 or more digits with the 12th digit being a check digit. Rarely used.
- UPC-E is a compensated version of the UPC-A code. It works well with very small labels where there is no space for the full 12-digit code.
- UPC-2 is a supplement to the UPC-A code used for magazines and books
- UPC-5 is an extension of the UPC-A code used to specify the price of books
It is a code popularly used in Europe and Asia developed on the basis of the previously created UPC code.
What does EAN stand for?
EAN stands for European Article Number. This is a commonly used code in Europe designed in the GS1 standard.
How many digits is an EAN?
The best-known version of the EAN code, i.e. the EAN-13 code, has 13 digits, and its shortened version EAN-8 has 8 digits. But other variations of the EAN code can also have 14 digits, or in the case of the EAN-128 code, it will be a variable number.
There are 4 types of this code, with the first two being the most commonly used.
- EAN-13 (GTIN-13). Commonly referred to as the EAN code. It consists of 13 digits with the last digit being a check digit. This is the most popular EAN code.
- EAN-8 (GTIN-8) It consists of 8 digits, the last of which is a check digit. This code is used in products where there is little space for a barcode and we want to minimize its size.
- EAN-128 (GTIN-128) It consists of a variable number of digits and one check digit
- EAN-14 (GTIN-14) It consists of 14 digits, where the last digit is a check digit
Can I use EAN as UPC?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to use the EAN code instead of the UPC code. The EAN code has one more digit and scanners set to read UPC codes will not be able to read the EAN code.
The reverse situation is possible because the barcode scanner will probably add itself digit ‘0’ in front of the UPC code considering it as an EAN code.
How do I convert UPC to EAN?
If you want to convert the UPC code to an EAN code, you must enter an additional 0 before the EAN code. In this way, the 12-digit code will become a 13-digit code (which is a characteristic feature of the EAN-13 code). Due to the fact that both codes are in the same standard, all barcode readers should read this code correctly.
What does EAN have that UPC doesn’t?
The EAN code is no better than the UPC code. Both EAN and UPC are in the same GS1 standard. The EAN code has one more digit than the UPC code. EAN operates in Europe and UPC in the United States and Canada.
Can EAN codes be used in the US?
If you want to trade in the USA or Canada, you must comply with the standards that apply in those countries. These are not legally regulated standards, but resulting from the adaptation of sellers to a given type of barcode. The entire US and Canadian markets run on UPC codes, so if you want to sell in this market, just adapt and get UPC codes.
In individual cases, this may be successful.
Can companies selling in the US use EAN codes instead of UPC barcodes on products?
Whether another seller will be able to read the EAN code in the US will depend on its hardware and software capabilities. Because if the scanner and the sales system is able to read both codes (UPC and EAN), then theoretically you can use the EAN code instead of the UPC.
However, it should be remembered that most stores work on standard equipment and this can be problematic for them. If you don’t want your product to be a flop, it’s better to make an effort and get your own UPC codes.
Do I need a UPC or EAN to sell on Amazon?
Yes, you will need a UPC, EAN, or other GS1 code. Amazon requires that all products listed on its platform have a product code that allows them to be uniquely identified among others on the market. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule.
Amazon supports all codes that are GS1 standard, which means that you can also use their less common variations, e.g. shortened UPC code or shortened EAN code.
If you want to use an unusual barcode, the system will certainly inform you about whether you will be able to use it, because Amazon’s sales model is based on cataloging and standardizing all products in its database.
What type of barcode is used in the USA?
In the US, the retail market is based on UPC-12 codes. Most retailers in North America have scanners and sales systems adapted to this type of codes in the GS1 standard.
Therefore, if you plan to sell on the US or Canadian market, get UPC codes. Remember to get them from the official pool of codes assigned by the GS1 system. Only in this way will you be sure that your code is correct and will be correctly read by barcode scanners.
We know from experience that it is not worth going against the grain when it comes to choosing a barcode for your product. All trails have already been blazed and it is worth using a proven method of marking product codes. Therefore, we ultimately recommend going for standard solutions. This will make your work easier and minimize operating costs.
However, if you need more information about unusual barcodes, you can find them in our article on this subject. We have tried to list and describe as many types of barcodes as you may encounter in your career of an entrepreneur, e-commerce manager, product manager, or seller