European Article Numbers (EAN barcodes) comprise 13 digits. They are used worldwide on all retail products except books and magazines. They are the most widely used barcodes globally, except in the USA and Canada, where UPC-A (Universal Product Code) barcodes are more common. In New Zealand, the EAN-13 is probably the barcode you need if you have products you wish to stock at a retail store.
Each EAN-13 is product-specific and encoded into a barcode image. This means that when the barcode is scanned into store systems, price and inventory data related to your product is recorded by the retailer. A different EAN-13 number, therefore, is required for each unique product.
12-digit UPC Barcodes are used predominantly in the USA and Canada on all retail products, except for books and magazines. UPC barcodes predate EAN-13 codes and started appearing in stores in the USA in the 1970s. If you are selling in the US or Canada, you likely want to use a UPC-A code rather than an EAN-13 code.
Also known as: European Article Number 8
Encodable digits: 0-9
Length: 8 digits
Purpose: Used for small products that cannot fit an EAN-13
A smaller globally unique barcode intended for VERY SMALL products. They are difficult to obtain and only available from GS1 (a membership organisation). As EAN-8 barcodes are only 8 digits long it means that there is a limited number of them, and hence GS1 guard them carefully. So to obtain these, you need to submit proof that your product is very small and wait to see if GS1 approve this.
ITF-14 Carton Codes are created from EAN-13 and UPC-A barcodes. They are only used in warehouses on cartons containing a specific quantity of the product that the barcode represents. These codes are not for products that are sold individually at a retail level. For example, a case of wine sold as a single unit would need a retail barcode. You may need an ITF-14 code if you have a shipping carton full of wine bottles taken out and sold individually after they arrive at the shop.
International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) are unique numbers assigned to a book. ISBNs start with 978 and are distributed by ISBN agencies in each country (see isbn-international.org/agency). They can also be obtained through independent publishing agencies such as bookisbn.org.uk, used for self-publishing authors.
ISBN Barcodes are barcodes generated based on an ISBN. Each book has a unique ISBN, so this ensures no two ISBN barcodes will be the same, allowing retailers to easily keep track of each book when stocking and selling it.
Also known as: International Standard Serial Number, Magazine Barcode, ISSN Barcode
Encodable digits: 0-9
Length: 13 digits plus 2- or 5-digit supplement
Purpose: ISSN barcodes are for magazines being sold over the checkout
Magazine barcodes are called ISSN barcodes, and they are based on a unique ISSN number that each magazine is assigned. If you intend to publish and sell a magazine, you will need an ISSN number obtained from the ISSN International Center. Once you have your number, it can be converted by a barcode company such as ourselves into a 13-digit unique retail barcode.
Other Types of Barcodes
Name: Code 39
Also known as: Alpha 39, USD-3, Type-39, Code 3-9
Encodable digits: Alphanumeric characters plus some special symbols
Purpose: Asset labels, name badges, membership cards, etc. Any closed system that needs unique identifiers
Code 39 barcodes are used for internal unique numbering. This makes them appropriate for asset labelling, membership cards, library books or any other internal item that needs to be tracked or managed. Nobody is regulating the uniqueness of these barcodes (unlike retail barcodes), so they cannot be used outside of a closed system. Code 39 barcodes have a low data density, which means each character they contain takes many bars and space. Due to this, these codes are not suited to very long strings of characters.
Code 128 barcodes are very similar to Code 39 in that they are unregulated codes suited for internal use. The main difference between the two is that Code 128s have a higher data density (more characters can be encoded in a smaller space) and can contain any ASCII character instead of just alphanumeric and some symbols.
Name: Code 11
Also known as: USD-8
Encodable digits: 0-9 and – (dash)
Purpose: Primarily used in telecommunications
Code 11 barcodes are relatively simple, with a limited range of encodable digits. They are high density, which means each character doesn’t take up much space. Telecom companies most often use code 11 barcodes to identify equipment and other important business assets.
Name: Code 93
Also known as: USS Code 93, USS 93 or Code 9/3
Encodable digits: The same as code 39, so alphanumeric characters plus some special symbols
Purpose: Internal use (like Code 39 and 128)
The Code 93 barcode is an updated version of Code 39, with more efficient encoding, more reliable scanning and a greater variety of characters. The uses are the same as Code 39, and Canada Post uses Code 93s for internal use.
Also known as: UCC-128 or EAN-128
Encodable digits: Numeric characters
Length: Variable, even number of characters preferred
Purpose: Can encode an enormous variety of details about a product shipment
The GS1-128 is a subset of the Code-128 barcodes. However, these GS1 barcodes include only numbers, unlike the regular 128 codes. They can encode various product details, such as expiry date, packaging date, batch number, net weight and more. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GS1-128 for details.
Also known as: Serial Shipping Container Code
Encodable digits: Numeric
Length: 18 digits
Purpose: Used on tertiary level of shipping (pallets etc.), these codes communicate the company and shipment number
Serial Shipping Container Codes are a shipping code that communicates which company a container, pallet or outer carton has come from. SSCCs are different from ITF-14 carton codes because they cover a shipment with several different products (and therefore EAN-13 codes), unlike ITF-14 codes, which are matched 1:1 with their related product barcodes. SSCC codes are iterated by one for each order, so a retailer’s inwards good will know they are receiving the 20th shipment from Generic Company (for example).
Also known as: Codeabar, Ames Code, Code 2 of 7, Monarch or USD-4
Encodable Digits: Numeric digits and some special symbols
Purpose: Used for asset tracking, e.g. library books, the Codabar can function even on suboptimal printing material
The Codabar is a somewhat outdated barcode found in some dated internal inventory systems such as libraries. These codes are designed to function even when printed on low-quality paper or created with a mechanical printer (typewriter). It is similar to Code 39 but less versatile in what it can contain.
Name: QR Code
Also known as: Quick Response Code or Matrix Barcode
Encodable digits: Alphanumeric and symbols
Length: Variable, more characters means a more complex code
Purpose: Commonly used to encode a website URL, QR codes are extremely versatile and can contain almost anything.
QR Codes have become a very common feature of marketing, advertising and communicating digitally stored information through a physical object (the code). QR code can store more data than traditional 2D codes and are easy to scan with a smartphone. In future retail products are likely to use datamatrix QR codes although this is dependent on stores upgrading point of sale scanners. Due to the covid pandemic, QR codes have been a huge rise in use.