A UPC (Universal Product Code) is one of the oldest and most widely used barcodes, particularly in retail on consumer products.
It is a linear, one-dimensional barcode symbology characterized by its pattern of vertical stripes – a single set of varying-width black lines and white spaces.
UPC codes were originally developed to automate the retail check-out process. Their invention overcame the need to manually enter product information into a database, saving time and improving accuracy. Commercial use of UPC codes began in 1974. They are still widely used today, although it’s likely the UPC will be replaced by the more powerful 2D Data Matrix and QR codes through the GS1 Sunrise 2027 initiative.
Characteristics of a UPC barcode
- Encodes a Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN).
- Contains 12 (UPC-A) or 6 (UPC-E numerical digits).
- Last digit serves as a mod10 checksum.
- Uses a parity scheme for its data characters.
- Can store additional data in an EAN-2 or EAN-5 add-on code.
- Standardized use through the ISO/IEC DIS 15420 international standard.
A wide variety of devices can read UPC barcodes. While the first barcode scanners were laser-based, today any smart device with a camera can read a UPC barcode, if the right software is installed.
Scandit’s barcode scanning software supports all major barcode types, including UPC-A and UPC-E barcodes.
Regarding UPC barcode scanners specifically, the Scandit Barcode Scanner SDK:
- Supports color inversion.
- Has a mandatory mod10 checksum.
- Enables scanning codes with quiet zones (white area before and after the code) that are significantly smaller than the symbology specification allows.
- The first digit is always zero and can be removed on demand.
- UPC-E representation can be automatically converted to the UPC-A format.
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UPC barcodes are used extensively in warehousing and in retail to scan and price consumer products at the point of sale. They are used primarily in the US and Canada but also in other parts of the world, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
UPC Code Variations:
There are two variants of the UPC barcode:
- UPC-A stores 12 digits which form the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number). The first digit encodes information about the product type, the following five digits about the product manufacture and the next five about the specific product. The last digit is a checksum digit.
- UPC-E (also known as the ‘zero suppressed’ version of the UPC-A) has six digits, making it more compact and suitable for smaller products.
- UPC-A Used on products at the point of sale
- UPC-E Used on products at the point of sale
UPC barcode FAQs
What does UPC stand for?
UPC stands for Universal Product Code.
What is the standard UPC format?
A UPC barcode consists of 12 digits, used to identify an individual product. The data encoded inside a UPC code is known as the GTIN-12 (Global Trade Item Number).
The UPC barcode is a linear barcode symbology of vertical stripes and spaces. The required size of a UPC is 1.469” wide by 1.02“ tall. It can be reduced by up to 80% and increased by up to 200%.
When was the UPC barcode invented?
The UPC barcode was invented in 1973 in response to the need for a more efficient automated process for customer check-out in US grocery stores. The Uniform Grocery Product Code Council, a committee of grocery leaders, accepted a UPC symbology created by IBM with minor modifications as a standard for product barcoding during that year.
IBM was originally tasked to design the barcode based on a bull’s eye pattern but, as we still see today, it was developed with a pattern of vertical stripes.1974 saw the first UPC being placed on a packet of Wrigley’s gum, heralding a new way for people to shop.
Are UPC and SKU the same?
Even though UPCs and SKUs are both used for tracking, monitoring and managing inventory, they are not the same thing. A SKU (stock keeping unit) is an alphanumeric code which is unique to an individual product and retailer or manufacturer. A UPC is universal and identifies a product regardless of who is selling it.
For example, a packet of Classic Lay’s chips will always have the same UPC barcode. But different supermarkets selling them will have different SKUs related to the product.
What is the difference between UPC-A and UPC-E?
A UPC-A code uses 12 digits to encode information, whereas a UPC-E is 6 digits long.
Can two products have the same UPC code?
Two products can’t have the same UPC code. A unique identifier is assigned to each product, so that specific products can be tracked and identified. This ensures accurate inventory management, and data collection.
What is the difference between a barcode and a UPC code?
A UPC code is a type of barcode. There are around 30 different types of barcode (or symbologies) currently in use.
UPC codes are one of the most common barcode symbologies, used for product identification. A UPC code always encodes 12 digits which form the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) – a unique identifier of a product.
Different types of barcodes are used for different purposes and in different industries. For example, Code 39 barcodes are often found in the automotive industry.
How can I look up a UPC code?
You can easily look up the product data associated with a UPC code using online tools, such as Scandit’s UPC Lookup tool.
How do you create a UPC barcode?
You can create a UPC-A barcode using Scandit’s free barcode generator tool.