How to Get a UPC Barcode

When your product is ready for major retailers and distributors it is vital to have a UPC barcode. Barcodes are not for online sales, but they allow retailers to program their POS systems to easily identify your product with prices and other necessary information for each purchase.

What Is a UPC Barcode?

UPC stands for universal product code. It is a unique 12-digit number that appears on many U.S. products. A UPC number consists of two components: a U.P.C. Company Prefix and a Product Number. The brands or companies determine the Product Number but the Company Prefix is assigned by GS1 US. GS1 US is a nonprofit group for regulating international commerce who first introduced the barcode in 1974.

Before You Can Apply for Barcodes – Join GS1

As a business, you must pay to join GS1 US. As a member, the organization will assign you your own identification number that appears as the first part of your UPC.  GS1 US charges capacity-based membership fees that begin at $250, plus annual renewal fees starting at $50. The fees depend on the number of unique products you sell. A membership form can be filled out online on GS1′s website. When setting aside time to apply be aware that the online application can be very challenging for some, especially new companies, as it includes many acronyms and references that might not be familiar.

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3 Steps to Getting a UPC Barcode

1. Apply for a GS1 Company Prefix (comes with membership)

This Company Prefix code can vary from 6 to 10 digits depending on the number of products you need identified. Smaller companies usually are assigned a higher number of digits.

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2. Create Unique Product Number

You will most likely need a different UPC code for each product you sell. Depending on how many colors and sizes you offer within a style, the number of unique products can quickly add up.  Once you add your product number to your company prefix, you have your UPC.

3. Decide on adhesive/print or digital barcodes

Each UPC can be used to produce a specific barcode that can then be printed out and attached to products or, ideally, incorporated into the product design so that it is easily scanned at the register.

Alternative Options

Though GS1 is the primary way to attain barcodes historically, there are alternative ways to consider:

  • Resell: Some Internet-based companies, including, resell UPC codes for less than $100, so small companies don’t have to pay to join GS1 themselves. You will be paying for the use of that company’s identification number — not your own. It can be a fine solution if you are cash-strapped or working with small or independent retailers — if the retailers don’t mind — and just selling one or two products. But it won’t work if you’re planning to sell through major retailers because they generally require product makers to have their own identification numbers.
  • Internal Usage Only:  You don’t need to join or pay fees to GS1 or GS1-US for your organization to use UPC barcodes within your internal communication systems.   “Restricted distribution (MO defined)” is specifically assigned for internal usage.  Another option for internal barcodes is to use another type of barcode symbology (aka class of barcode). UPCs have a fixed length code that must be exactly 12-digits long and contain only numbers. There are other types of barcode symbols (like Code 39 or Code 128) that can handle both letters and numbers, and can be as long or short as you need.
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