What Retail Suppliers Need to Know About Barcodes


What Retail Suppliers Need to Know About Barcodes

GTIN14 Outer Case barcode
GTIN14 Outer Case Barcode

You’ve been told you need to put barcodes on your products and you’re probably feeling overwhelmed by all these barcode names and numbers. UPC, EAN, GS1, GTIN12, GTIN13, GTIN8 – what do they all mean?  What do I need?  Let me explain all you need to know about barcodes for retail suppliers, but first let me explain how we got to where we are today.

In the beginning there was the Universal Product Code (UPC).  The UPC  was a 12 digit number that got turned into a barcode.

US retailers formed a group to manage the issue of barcode numbers and so did European retails.  So now there was a 12 digit number for the US and a 13 digit number for the rest of the world.

In 1990 the two organisations formally agreed to work together. In 2005 they started to use one name – GS1 meaning Global Standards One.

Whilst the two organisations had merged, the situation on the ground wasn’t so tidy.  There were UPC A, UPC E barcodes.  There were EAN8’s and EAN13s, ITF14s and EAN 128s not to mention a range of 2D barcodes from GS1.

In a bid to streamline the barcode names, GS1 launched Global Trade Item Number.  The GTIN identifies products and brings together formerly separate registers – for books, music, magazines, Japanese items, international items and American items.

So now we have GTIN8, GTIN12, GTIN13, GTIN14 and GTIN128s, but what’s the difference?


GTIN-8 Barcode
GTIN-8 Barcode

GTIN8s are scanned in retail shops (so you won’t find these codes being read in warehouses) and are short 8 digit codes for use on small items, such as packs of chewing gum or my personal favourite, chocolate bars.

If you’ve got small items to label, this is the code you need.  They used to be called EAN8s or UPCEs.

8 digit barcodes are in short supply so you would need to ask GS1 specially.  If you would like help printing GTIN-8 barcodes contact us for help.


GTIN-12s are used in retail.  They used to be called UPC A barcodes and are the North American format of barcode.  All barcode readers can read these codes and GTIN-12s can be used anywhere in the world.  GS1 in the US still issue 12 digit codes.

If you’re located outside North America and you need a barcode for an item you’ll probably be told to use the GTIN-13.


GTIN-13 Barcode
GTIN13 Barcode on a can of coke

GTIN13s are the most commonly used barcode in retail.

If you’ve been told you need barcodes on your items then this is what you’ll need.

They used to be called EAN13s or JAN13s and are the international barcode format.

All barcode readers can read GTIN13s and they can be used anywhere in the world – including North America.

Book barcodes look similar to these barcodes.

If you need GTIN-13 barcodes you can choose between having the barcode image added to the product packaging or having labels printed to stick onto your products or boxes.

There are strict rules for printing barcodes.  If you want help with barcode labels visit our contact us page and speak to us directly.


GTIN14 Outer Case barcode
GTIN-14 Outer Case Barcode

GTIN-14s are used in the warehouse and distribution side of the supply chain.  Retailers won’t be scanning these codes at the checkout.  In fact, none of the items you take to the checkout should ever have these codes on them.

They used to be called ITF-14, EAN14 or Outer Case Codes.

If you are a manufacturer – your customers will tell you if you need GTIN-14s.

GTIN-14s are GTIN-13s with a zero at the beginning.

How do you use GTIN-14s?  GTIN-14s are used on outer cases.  If you have a dozen retail items packed in a box then the label you attach to the outside of the box is a GTIN-14.  Identifying what’s in the box is all they do – but if you need to provide your customers more information – read on.


Example of a GTIN 128 barcode
Example of GTIN 128 barcodes

GTIN-128 barcodes are used in warehouses and distribution also.  They are more useful than GTIN-14s because they can display more than just the barcode of the box contents.  GTIN-128s can record how many items are in a box, their batch code, their expiry data – in fact you can include over 100 bits of information in your barcode.

These codes are usually unique to the carton the label is attached to, and would usually be printed on site and applied to the carton at the time of manufacture.

If you need to print GTIN-128 labels then contact us here and we can talk you through what you need to know.

Useful links

Find out more about GS1’s barcodes on Wikipedia here:


See our barcode label page here: http://expertlabels.co.uk/applications/barcode-labels/


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