You’re going to need a barcode if you want to sell your product commercially. You need to use a Global Standards One (GS1) compliant barcode. GS1 is the entity that regulates barcodes. You’ll want a Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode. UPC codes work worldwide.
There are actually several types of barcodes. The main two being:
- Universal Product Code (UPC). Used mainly in North America.
- European Article Number (EAN). Used in the rest of the world.
You do not need both barcodes. Either type works worldwide. With the creation of GS1, all barcodes have become standardized and universal. What really matters is the number located below the barcode. This is known as a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). This assigned number is basically the true identifier of your product.
GS1 tries to clarify everything on their website: "GTINs, UPCs, and other types of barcodes are often confused as the same thing – but they are different. A GTIN is a number that identifies the product itself and the UPC is the barcode that allows the GTIN to be scanned by a barcode reader."
To get an official barcode from GS1 go to their website (www.gs1.org or gs1us.org). You’ll have to apply for a company prefix. This is what connects the barcode to your specific company. Basically the first few numbers on a barcode represent the company. You’ll then have to pay. The smallest increment is 10 barcodes for $250, plus there’s the annual $50 renewal fee to keep your barcodes active. After you pay, you’ll be asked to make an account.
Once you have an account, go to the Data Hub section. This is where you will assign barcodes to your products. It is not very intuitive. But here are some helpful steps:
1. Go to Product tab. Then Create tab.
2. Enter information about your product.
3. Once you click Save, more options will appear.
4. Click Auto Assign GTIN.
5. Change Status to: In Use.
6. Now you’ll be able to generate a barcode image.
Your barcode will now be associated with all that information (product description, name, dimensions, etc.) you entered. So if there’s ever an issue, the GS1 database will display who owns the barcode and the exact product that barcode should be on.
Now there are other ways to get a barcode:
Way back when before the formation of GS1, independent companies (BuyABarcode.com, NationwideBarcode.com) bought millions of barcodes for the purpose of reselling them. They offer cheap onetime fees and your barcode never expires. Super easy and convenient. There is however one catch…
In recent years, barcodes have become more regulated. You were once able to straight up buy barcodes, not lease them like the current GS1 business model. The board members at GS1 headquarters now consist of high-ranking officers from companies such as Walmart and Kroger. Some of these companies will only do business with you if you lease a barcode through them. They will crosscheck your barcode with the GS1 database. If you bought a barcode from an independent reseller, your name will not be in their database, because you recycled a barcode that is permanently registered to someone else. And the GS1 will not let you update info for previously bought barcodes, because they’re greedy assholes.
Amazon is also a board member of GS1. And for a long time Amazon didn’t seem to care about how you obtained your barcode. But times are a changing. There are a few horror stories out there on the blogs. Rumor has it Amazon is starting to crosscheck the barcodes being sold on their website. But many sellers have continued to operate just fine with their recycle barcodes. Maybe it’s overblown or maybe everyone’s time will come. It’s hard to get a grasp on what’s happening.
When placing your barcode on the box, make sure the background is basically white. To make sure the barcode can be scanned, you want a lot of contrast between the bars and the background. Don’t get cute and creative. I know barcodes are ugly and ruin your artistic design. But it would suck if you paid to manufacture a 1000 units and your barcode is unscannable.