In South Africa retailers may have differing preferences as to whether they wish to use the newer EAN system or continue using the UPC barcode system. The larger retailers such as supermarket chains will most likely have adopted EAN whereas smaller individual shops may not have the resources available to do this. SA Barcodes therefore always suggests that you check with your intended retailers directly before you embark on the full print run of your packaging. To make the process as simple as possible we always send you both formats when you purchase a barcode package through us, so that you are covered in either scenario.
January 7, 2013
The most common retail barcodes which you come across in South Africa are the 13-digit EAN barcode (European Article Number – now known as International Article Number) and the 12-digit UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode which originates from the United States. You may however have noticed barcodes such as the one on the left which only has 8 digits – most likely on smaller items such as cigarettes or confectionary. So what is the difference between them and which should you use?
All EAN and UPC retail barcodes in use today are based on the original UPC barcode symbology which was developed in the US in the early 1970’s by George Laurer. These two systems are the only accepted retail barcodes as per GS1 standards. The UPC barcodes which are widely used in South Africa – as well as in North America, Australia, New Zealand and other countries – is what is called the UPC-A format and consists of 12 digits, the last of which is the mathematically calculated error correcting check digit. Similarly, the 13-digit EAN barcode format is simply an extension or ‘superset’ of the original UPC-A system, which includes a country code at the start of the barcode. This means that any scanner capable of reading an EAN barcode will automatically be able to scan UPC barcodes as well.However – what if you need to get a barcode on a very small item where your available width is very limited? That’s where the EAN-8 barcode comes in. You can see how the size of a sample EAN-13 barcode compares to an EAN-8 barcode below:
They are also commonly used by shops which make use of their own in-house brands. If an even smaller barcode is required – for an item such as a small pack of chewing gum for example – there is also the option to use what is called the UPC-E format:
This system works through eliminating ‘unnecessary’ zeroes which may appear in the manufacturer and product code, and through a rather complex set of rules and steps. The barcode itself contains only 6 embedded digits.Sometimes however, it is useful to have more information available through a product’s barcode. In addition to the normal 13 digits, an EAN barcode can also include supplemental barcodes of either 2 or 5 digits. These may be used to indicate the issue number in a series in the case of periodical publications; and are also often used on food products to indicate a suggested retail price which a manufacturer may stipulate.
Our blog researchers include local barcode experts from the SA Barcodes team: Cat Robinson and Andreas van Wyk
SA Barcodes Team
The aim of this page is to educate you, our customer, with all the information you may require about the different facets of barcodes and how they work.