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UPC Bar Codes


How to get a UPC code

History of the UCC

History of the UPC

> Becoming a member, UCC or GS1

To get the UPC Bar Code number for a retail package, suppliers first get a UPC Bar Code prefix from a private organization called GS1. The supplier then assigns and adds a unique product number to the UPC bar code prefix.

The complete UPC Bar Code number consists of the UPC Bar Code prefix plus the unique product ID number that the supplier randomly assigns.

To create the UPC bar code symbol, the UPC Bar Code number is input into UPC Bar Code software called DataDriver. The UPC Bar Code software will then generate the UPC bar code symbol that is printed on the retail product packaging. You will designate the product box shape, weight and count to each larger container. You can create a code for each container size. The software is very strait forward and simple to use. It is all structured after your unique id that you will obtain once you have joined the GS1 or UCC group. Once you have completed the process you will receive you unique product codes that can be used on your package.

The retail packaging graphic designer or packaging printer then takes this UPC Bar Code symbol artwork and adds it to the artwork of the retail product packaging at the proper size and in the proper format.

This is a UPC-A Bar Code sample

The UPC-A bar code symbol is shown above.

The UPC-A bar code number (and associated bar code symbol) consists of the manufacturer number (also known as the UCC or GS1 company prefix) which is combined with a product number (assigned by the manufacturer), and a check digit (assigned by a mathematical equation found in most bar code software).

The UCC Company Prefix is provided by the GS1 Council, and, with it as the prefix, the manufacturer creates the individual product number. In most software, when the prefix # and the product # are entered, the software automatically generates the check digit.

The UCC Company Prefix is a 10, 9, 8, 7 or 6 digit number assigned to you by GS1 when you become a member and pay the $750 per additional user license for UCC members, $1500 per user for non-members

The number of digits in the UPC bar code is determined typically by how many products you will need to assign numbers to.

If you have 50 products that require unique numbers, you would probably be assigned a 9 digit UCC Company Prefix (leaving 2 digits to represent your items).

The U.P.C. symbol is composed of a row of 59 black and white bars. Printed beneath the bars (on a UPC-A) is a series of 12 numbers. The bars are scanner readable while the numbers are human readable and can be input manually.

In the bar code sample above, a 6 digit number, "012345" has been assigned (leaving 5 digits to represent items - plus one 'check digit'). This initial number "012345" represents the manufacturer on all of their products as well as in any EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) applications.

For example, in a 12 digit UPC bar code there are three main parts, the prefix, the product identifying code, and a last number which is the 'check digit'.

The UPC prefix code for the Coca-Cola Company is 049000. Therefore, this 049000 number will appear in the first 6 digits of all of the Coca-Cola Company's product UPC Bar Codes.

This 049000 prefix was assigned and licensed to the Coca-Cola Company from the Uniform Code Council (UCC), and Coca Cola, as a member of the UCC, pays an annual fee to the UCC (currently based on its gross sales) to license this unique number from the Uniform Code Council (UCC).

The 6 digit UPC prefix identifies the Coca-Cola Company while the 5 numbers that follow identify the specific product, and its size, color, flavor, etc. (depending on type of product).

The last number, in the example above a 5, is called the 'check digit' and is used to guard against errors (when numbers are manually keyed in) and fraud. There is a mathematical formula that, when applied, produces the proper check digit.

How do companies get a retail product bar code?

The retail product seller, manufacturer or distributor with the retail package (the supplier) does not actually get or buy the UPC barcode symbol you see in the retail product package design.

Instead, to get the UPC Bar Code on its retail packaging, the supplier must first get its own UPC Bar Code prefix by becoming a member of an organization that licenses the UPC Bar Code prefix to them. This UPC bar code prefix identifies the seller, manufacturer or distributor (the supplier).

Once the retail supplier/vendor is able to get the UPC Bar Code prefix, it is the supplier (or a UPC coordinator working for the supplier) who actually assigns the numbers following the UPC Bar Code prefix.

Does every supplier need to get a UPC Bar Code?

To sell products, most retailers require sellers or suppliers to get a UPC Bar Code. The organization a U.S. supplier must get a UPC Bar Code prefix number from (in order to assign the numbers that follow it and create a UPC Bar Code symbol) is called the GS1

What a seller must do to get a bar code number.

A supplier must first obtain a Universal Product Code Identification Number to use with your UPC Bar Code symbol.

A US company can obtain this unique six digit UPC company identification number (UPC company prefix) by becoming a member of the
Uniform Code Council (UCC), GS1.

The Uniform Code Council, Inc. does not sell the U.P.C. barcode prefix to the supplier, it licenses this UPC barcode prefix number to the supplier.

To obtain a prefix, a supplier must become a UCC, GS1 member.

Even if all the supplier needs is one UPC Bar Code, according to the current rules of the Uniform Code Council, Inc., to get that one UPC Bar Code, the seller must become a member of the Uniform Code Council, Inc. Without becoming a member, the supplier will not have the necessary UPC Bar Code prefix, and therefore cannot create the UPC Bar Code to place on the retail package. So to get a bar code symbol, the supplier needs to become a Uniform Code Council, Inc. member.

A seller needs a UPC prefix in order to create a UPC symbol and bar code. The prefix is actually just the first set of numbers from the left (not the symbol). The remaining numbers describe the product except the last number to the right, which is the check digit. It is used to increase reliability.

Sellers/suppliers pay an initial fee and then an annual renewal fee to keep their UCC membership and license this UPC company prefix that identifies the company (since the seller is not buying the UPC code but instead becomes a licensee of the UPC).

The only place to get a GTIN (or UPC Bar Code) in the US is the Uniform Code Council, GS1, a privately owned and operated not-for-profit tax-exempt organization that assigns all bar code prefixes necessary to have a bar code, and has done so for over 30 years. There is no alternative to becoming a member of the UCC to obtain a bar code number.

The UCC has an interesting history which all began with a request of grocers involved in the National Association of Food Chains, a trade group of supermarket owners and others.

The UCC today administers the Universal Product Code (U.P.C.) for over 250,000 member companies doing business in 141 countries worldwide.

The address and phone is Uniform Code Council, Inc., Princeton Pike Corporate Center, 1009 Lenox Dr., Suite 202, Lawrenceville, New Jersey 08648, Telephone: 609-620-0200, Fax: 609.620.1200.

The current minimum initial UCC membership fee is $750.

Whether you as a seller need only one bar code or many (each and every product variation must have its own unique bar code), the Uniform Code Council (UCC) charges an initial $750 fee to become a member, plus an additional annual membership fee based on your company's annual revenues. Most retailers require bar codes and therefore you must become a member of the UCC to get a bar code.

Can a supplier buy the UPC bar code number anywhere else?

No, not in the U.S. The Uniform Code Council is the exclusive privately held non-profit, tax-exempt organization that assigns all UPC numbers to all US manufacturers. No one else can sell or broker a UPC number. According to the UCC, a UPC number cannot be rented, leased, or further sub-divided.

To obtain a bar code, you will need to become a member of the Uniform Code Council, pay the $750 minimum fee, plus a fee based on your company's revenue, and wait for an information packet to be sent to you. See theUniform Code Council web Site. According to the UCC Site (at the time of this writing), you should allow up to 14 business days from the time they receive your completed application and payment.

This UPC identification number can then be encoded into a UPC-A or EAN-12 bar code symbol and be printed on your retail product packaging.

The retail bar code format is currently referred to as UPC-A. There are also many other types of bar codes and uses for a bar code, though this page discusses those used for retail.

Today most retail stores in North America will only stock retail packaging with a UPC-A or UPC-E bar code symbol. The UPC-A bar code is 12 digits long. The UPC-E bar code is a special shortened version of the UPC-A bar code and is 6 digits long. The UPC-E bar code is primarily for small retail packaging where a UPC-A code would not fit.

The U.P.C. (Universal Product Code) number itself may also be referred to as the GTIN - Global Trade Item Number. The GTIN is made up of the UCC Company Prefix and the number that the seller, manufacturer or distributor has assigned to that unique product, however the GTIN numbers are 14 digits while the UPC-A bar code format is12 digits long. The assignment of the numbers following the UCC company prefix on the bar code is normally sequential, though can be random, and is determined by the seller, manufacturer or distributor who then lets the retailer know which specific retail product is associated with which specific UPC Bar Code number. The only real trick is for the seller, manufacturer or distributor to keep track of its own UPC Bar Code numbers and to be sure it doesn't assign duplicate UPC Bar Code numbers.

So now you know that suppliers do not buy a UPC Bar Code to get the bar code symbol, they obtain a UPC bar code prefix.

Some companies have a U.P.C. coordinator whose job it is to assign the numbers (that come after the UCC company prefix) and manage the UPC Bar Code program. The numbers that come after the UCC Company prefix identify the specific product. Though these additional numbers are assigned by the UPC coordinator (and do not have any further meaning in themselves), each size, style, color, flavor, and other variation of product requires its own unique U.P.C. number.

The computer systems of the retailer can read these numbers, program them in their systems, and have the system associate the unique number with the specific product the seller assigns the number to.

Does the UCC UPC have any relation to the product price?

No. The UCC provides the manufacturer with its own unique UPC identification number. The UPC is read into the system and the retail product pricing and adjustments are controlled by the POS (point of sale) system software and can be changed at any time by the retailer. The sole purpose of the UPC is to enable scanning of the product and for product identification (as well as retailer inventory tracking).


How to get a UPC code

History of the UCC

History of the UPC


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