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.

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 afford 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. It’s best to stick with black text on a white box for any barcode to help ensure scanning success. Warm colors won’t work well with red laser scanners, so sticking to black on white will help you avoid potential problems in the future.

Pay attention to barcode size

It’s important to make sure the 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.

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.

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.