How to Get a Barcode, UPC, and QR Code for a Product Label

A good product label performs many jobs, including making a great first impression on potential customers. These labels also need to provide important information to both consumers and retailers alike.

UPC barcodes and QR codes aren’t always the most attractive part of your labels, but they serve essential roles for your products. Let’s break down how to create a barcode for a product and what it takes to get UPC barcodes and QR codes for your product labels (and what it takes to make sure they work).

The Differences Between a UPC, Barcode, and QR Code

What is a UPC code? While a UPC and barcode are inherently connected, they are two different things. The UPC is the Universal Product Code, which is a unique identifier for every single product. The barcode is the machine-readable version of that same code. Those two features are then combined into one visual element so that people and machines can read them.

A QR code is a type of two-dimensional barcode, also known as a matrix barcode. Like UPC barcodes, the design contains patterns that represent certain information. However, this information is typically something larger than a product identifier.

These codes are designed to be scanned by a smartphone or some other device with a QR code reader. The scan would then direct users to different websites, videos, or other content that may interest them – QR codes can store up to 4296 characters in total. In short, UPC barcodes are designed to identify a product’s identity, while a QR code is a useful tool for branding and marketing purposes. Keep reading to learn how to make a barcode for a product label.

Product labels with UPC barcodes.

How to Get a UPC Code

The first step toward getting a 12-digit UPC barcode is to join GS1. GS1 is an international group that created UPCs to help standardize the way that vendors track products both online and in stores. The group has different divisions across the country, and GS1 U.S. covers the United States.

GS1 does charge membership fees based on the total number of unique product variations, but it’s a small price to pay for the ability to sell your products throughout the country. GS1 also provides a barcode estimator to help you identify how many UPCs you’ll need.

Once your company joins GS1, it will be assigned a company prefix. This prefix is a six to 10 digit that serves as the manufacturer identification number for all your products. You can then assign each unique product a global trade item number (GTIN). Then, you may license these GTINs from GS1 to allow retailers to identify the various products in your supply chain.

The exact number of digits you get for the item numbers depends on the length of your prefix. The prefix and item numbers must combine to be 11 characters, so a six-digit prefix would require a five-digit item number.

The final number of a UPC is called the check digit. The check digit is a single number that’s used as a redundancy check to check for any potential errors. You can use GS1’s check digit calculator to determine the right number to finish off your UPC. That should give you something like the UPC listed below.

A breakdown of UPC numbers and how to get a barcode.

How to Get a Barcode

Now that you have a UPC, it’s time to get a barcode that matches your 12-digit codes. Every barcode must match the UPC in question. The good news is that GS1 includes machine readable barcodes along with the UPCs you license from them. Members can use the GS1 U.S. Data Hub to create high-resolution artwork to include on their product labels.

How to Get a QR Code

Unlike UPC barcodes, getting QR codes for your business isn’t nearly as official of a process. In fact, anyone with access to the internet can make them.

The first step toward getting a QR code is to choose a QR code generator. There are a wide variety of options available, many of which include completely free QR codes. There are also more comprehensive generators that allow you to customize the look of QR codes and track performance. Others allow you to make dynamic QR codes that can be updated in real time. No matter your choice, some form of generator will allow you to create a scannable design.

Once you’ve chosen a generator, you can enter your information into the field it provides. For something like QR Code Generator, that’s as simple as copying and pasting a website, text, or something else into a field and having a QR code generated automatically. You can then download those files and add them to your product labels so that people can scan your QR code with a mobile device.

How to Prepare UPC Barcodes and QR Codes for Labels

Getting UPC barcodes and QR codes is the first step, making sure they work on your product labels is the next. A code won’t help at all if it doesn’t work. That’s why it’s important to take some steps to make sure your barcodes and QR codes are properly set up for your labels. Use these practices to improve your label’s barcodes and QR codes.

  • Use proper colors. Warm colors can lead to scanning issues. Stick with dark colors on light backgrounds to play it safe.
  • Keep a “quiet zone.” You need to have enough white space around the codes so that the scanner doesn’t try to read other elements. The quiet zone should be at least an eighth of an inch wide around all sides.
  • Maintain proper sizing. Bigger codes are easier to scan, especially for barcodes. A typical barcode measures 1.469 inches wide by 1.02 inches high.
  • Send barcodes and QR codes in the right files. The appropriate art files will help ensure your codes translate well to your labels. Make sure to deliver the image files you’ve received from the code providers, as well as an Excel document with a list of UPC numbers.

Make Sure Your Product Packaging is Ready for Success

Barcodes and QR codes aren’t the flashiest part of your labels, but it’s imperative that they work. Fortunately, a good printing company can work with you to ensure that your UPC, barcode, and QR code are set up for success.

From barcodes to label materials, there are several factors that go into a successful product label. Blue Label works with you to identify the best, most cost-effective label printing solution for your products. That includes not only testing out barcodes and QR codes to make sure they work, but also working with you to uncover ways to enhance and protect your label design to wow your customers.

Ready to invest in quality, eye-catching labels for your products? Contact us today to talk about your next label project.

Barcode Basics: What to Know About Barcodes and UPCs for Product Labels

A barcode and a UPC may not be the most attractive part of your product label, but they play an important role for your business. A good barcode with an appropriate UPC will make it easy for you or a separate vendor to scan your labels and sell your goods. This makes it very important to make sure your barcodes are set for success. Here’s what you should know to make sure your barcodes and UPCs are ready to head out into the market.

What Goes into a Barcode and UPC?

A barcode and a UPC are two different elements that work together to identify a product. The UPC, which stands for universal product code, is a 12-digit number assigned to merchandise, while the barcode is the machine-readable version of that number. Different parts of that 12-digit code play different roles.

  • First six digits – the manufacturer identification number
  • Next five digits – the item number
  • Last digit – the check digit

A product label barcode with an example UPC.

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Manufacturers can apply for UPCs from the Uniform Code Council. After approval, a manufacturer can pay an annual fee to become a part of the UPC system and get its unique manufacturer identification number that will be used for all its barcodes. The item number is specific to each product. The manufacturer is responsible for issuing those numbers and avoiding any duplication of numbers for different SKUs. Finally, the digit check is a single number to confirm the integrity of your barcode number. You can determine the exact number for a product with GS1’s check digit calculator.

Other Types of Barcodes

While EAN/UPC barcodes are the most common and widely-used barcodes, GS1 uses several other types of barcodes for different business requirements:

  1. GS1 Databar: The GS1 DataBar is a family of barcodes designed to provide a compact yet comprehensive solution for encoding data in smaller items that cannot accommodate traditional barcodes. They’re capable of carrying extensive information including product identification, batch numbers, and expiration dates, making them ideal for fresh foods and healthcare products where space is limited but detailed data is essential.
  2. GS1-128 and ITF-14: The GS1-128 barcode is a high-capacity symbol that allows the inclusion of various data elements by utilizing application identifiers, making them ideal for complex supply chain needs. On the other hand, the ITF-14 barcode is designed specifically to encode a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) on corrugated materials, making it important in tracking trade items in bulk through distribution channels.
  3. Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes: Think of two-dimensional (2D) barcodes as the evolved form of the typical one-dimensional barcodes you see on product packaging. You’re likely familiar with the most common 2D barcode, the QR Code. These compact squares are cleverly designed to hold a wealth of information by encoding data both horizontally and vertically. They offer a great way to store more in less space.

Different types of product barcodes

Should You Use QR Codes for Product Labeling?

While a QR code might not fit the design (or even size) of every label, a study published in Sustainability evaluated the use of QR codes (in this case on food labels) and published some interesting findings:

  • Nearly 39% of respondents wanted to see QR Codes used more broadly in the future
  • 67% of the respondents agreed that these codes make life easier

The study found that, “QR Codes included in product packaging, on labels, and in commercial spaces (shelves, showcases, posters, etc.), are considered particularly effective in providing timely product and brand information given their capacity to reach consumers when and where they are ready to purchase with relevant, targeted, and interactive information.”

How to Make Sure Your Label’s Barcode and UPC Work

Barcodes are graded on a scale from A to F. As you may expect, the higher your grade, the better your barcode and UPC will be for business. Here are some key considerations to help improve your barcode and UPC for your product labels.

Respect the quiet zone

Every barcode has what’s called a “quiet zone.” This space is the area around the barcode that should be clear of any texts, graphics, or other printed elements. If you don’t leave a barcode a proper quiet zone, a scanner can accidentally read some other element in the surrounding artwork and cause an error.

To prevent any issues, it’s important to give each barcode the proper amount of space. In general, the quiet zone should be the larger of the following two measurements.

  • 10 times the width of the most narrow bar in the barcode
  • An eighth of an inch

An example barcode with the approapriate amount of quiet space.

Use the right colors for your barcode

While utilizing various colors can help lead to an eye-catching label, barcodes should follow a very simple color scheme.

  • Bars: Use a single color, ideally black or a dark color, and avoid warm colors like red or brown (they won’t work well with red laser scanners)
  • Background: Typically the background of the barcode is not printed, meaning the background takes on the color of the label or packaging; if necessary to print the background, use a light color like white for the background and quiet zone

Barcode colors for products

Pay attention to barcode size

Just like labels come in custom sizes, so do barcodes. It’s important to make sure that your barcode isn’t too big or too small for both your label and scanners. In general, bigger barcodes and UPCs are easier to scan, but your options may depend on your design and total label space.

A typical barcode measures 1.469 inches wide by 1.02 inches high, but you can adjust the size as necessary as long as you stay between the following minimum and maximum recommended barcode sizes.

  • Minimum – 1.175” wide by .816” high
  • Maximum – 2.938” wide by 2.04” high

A visualization of the minimum and maximum barcode sizes.

When considering sizing, create your barcode to fit your label size. Be sure to avoid adjusting it by making it bigger or smaller—this could cause issues for its scanning ability. If you need a different size, start fresh and design the barcode in that new dimension.

Ensure proper barcode placement

It’s important to consider where you place a barcode on your label. For products getting scanned at checkout, aim to place the barcode in the lower right corner of the backside. Be sure to keep it away from edges and make sure there’s enough white space around it—this helps the barcode scan easily.

We know that packaging and containers come in a wide variety of shapes, but make sure that the printing surface for the barcode is relatively flat—any bumps or irregularities could cause issues with how well scanners can read your barcode.

GS1 has published Guidelines for Bar Code Symbol Placement for reference.

Send your barcodes to the printer in the right format

Once you have your label design with an appropriate barcode, it’s time to send It along to a printing company. However, there are specific rules as to how you should send that information. In addition to sending the appropriate art files for your label, you’ll also need to deliver the barcode(s) in one of the following forms.

  • An image file of the barcode you’ve received from the provider
  • An Excel document with a list of UPC numbers
  • A PDF or EPS of the barcodes

A label printing expert testing a barcode label.

It’s important to work with a label printer with premium printing capabilities—if a barcode fails to scan, it could lead to lost sales and frustration on the part of both customers and vendors. Even worse, it could lead to charge-backs from retailers if they can’t scan your products.

A label expert will know how to choose the right materials and printing techniques to avoid smudges, defects, abrasions, and low-resolution printing.

Thinking of using printable label sheets on an inkjet printer or laser printer at home? Be careful—home printers may not be able to provide the resolution needed for barcode labels. Plus, paper labels compatible with home printers typically aren’t suitable for most product environments (i.e. durable label materials, tear-resistant, water-resistant labels, etc.).

How to Get a Barcode

We’ve talked about different types of barcodes as well as design considerations, but you may be wondering how you actually obtain a barcode in the first place? The best place to start is the GS1 website.

In the U.S., you can either start with an individual GTIN or register multiple barcodes at a time. Luckily, GS1 provides a helpful barcode estimator to identify exactly how many (and what kind of) barcodes you’ll need.

The process of obtaining a barcode is pretty simple:

  1. Choose either a GS1 US GTIN or GS1 Company Prefix
  1. Input your contact information
  2. Pay (price will vary depending on quantity and type of barcode)

Make Sure Your Labels are Perfect for Your Products

Preparing a barcode and UPC for a product label is one of many important parts in the labeling process. Once you take all the steps to make sure your design is ready for production, it’s time to find a good printing company to give you the quality labels you deserve.

At Blue Label, we take all the steps necessary to not only print stunning labels, but also to check and make sure that everything is right before we print your full order. To help ensure that your barcodes are ready for the market, we’ll print out example labels and test them with scanners to make sure they work. After review, we’ll grade your barcodes and double check that your UPC matches the bars. If we notice any problems, we’ll notify you so that you can amend the issue before we print your run.

Ready to invest in quality product labels for your business? We’re happy to help. Contact us today to talk to us about your next labeling project.