Ten Steps to Barcode Implementation

Knowing where to start when you need to get barcodes for your product is an important part of the development process. Thankfully, weโ€™ve put together a simple page showing the steps needed to make it easy to get your barcodes.

Step 1: Get a GS1 Company Prefix

Before a company can begin using barcodes, they must create the numbers that go inside the barcode. These numbers are called GS1 Identification Keys. The first step in building a GS1 Key is to obtain a GS1 Company Prefix from a GS1 Member Organization. GS1 Company Prefixes are used by over 1 million companies worldwide as the basis for creating unique numbers to identify everything in the supply chain. To obtain a GS1 Company Prefix contact the GS1 Member Organization in your country.

Step 2: Assign Numbers

After receiving a GS1 Company Prefix, a company is ready to begin assigning identification numbers to their trade items (products or services), themselves (as a legal entity), locations, logistic units, individual company assets, returnable assets (returnable pallets, kegs, tubs), and service relationships.

The process is fairly simple. You learn about how to format each number then use the GS1 Company Prefix in combination with reference numbers you assign. Your local GS1 Member Organization can provide you with specific information about how many numbers you can assign based on the length of your GS1 Company Prefix.

Step 3: Select a Barcode Printing Company

To begin, you should decide what you are barcoding and if the barcode will carry static or dynamic information inside it. An example of static information would be simply a product identification number (GTIN) on a cereal box. An example of dynamic information would be printing serial numbers on product labels.

If your barcode has static information and you need a large volume of labels then you will likely ask a printing company to print your labels. If you need a small volume of labels or need to print labels with dynamic information you will likely need an on-demand printer like a laser printer in your office or thermal transfer printer in your warehouse.

Knowing how you will print your barcode is an important question to answer in developing a good barcode implementation plan. Again, your local GS1 Member Organization is there to assist you in making the right selection and many Member Organizations can also help you find a printer in your local area.

Step 4 : Select a Primary Scanning Environment

The specifications for barcode type, size, placement, and quality all depend on where the barcode will be scanned.

There are four basic scanner environment scenarios for trade items:

  • Product package scanned at the retail point-of-sale (POS)
  • Product package scanned in a general distribution
  • Product package scanned at POS but also scanned in distribution
  • special environments like medical device marking

By knowing where your barcode will be scanned you can establish the right specifications for its production. For example, if a product package is scanned at Point-of-Sale (POS) and in general distribution, you will need to use an EAN/UPC symbol to accommodate POS but print it in a larger size to accommodate distribution scanning and ensure the placement meets automated distribution scanning requirements.

You can find more information in the GS1 General Specifications (available from your local GS1 Member Organization, for on scanner environments see Section 5.4, for symbol placement consult Section 6.0).

Step 5: Select a Barcode

Selecting the right barcode is critical to the success of your barcode implementation plan, but here are some high level tips:

If you barcode a trade item that will be scanned at the retail point-of-sale (POS), you must use an EAN/UPC symbol.
If you are printing a barcode with variable information like serial numbers, expiry dates, or measures, then you will use GS1-128, GS1 DataBar (RSS), or in special cases Composite Component or GS1 DataMatrix symbols.
If you want to encode a URL into a bar code to make available extended packaging information to the end consumer, then the GS1 QR Code is the symbol you should use.
If you just want to print a bar code carrying GTIN on a corrugated carton, ITF-14 may be the choice for you.
There are other factors to consider so contact your local GS1 Member Organization to see what implementation products and services they offer.

Step 6: Pick a Barcode Size

After the correct barcode symbol is specified together with the information to encode in it, the design stage begins. The size of the symbol within the design will depend on the symbol specified, where the symbol will be used, and how the symbol will be printed.

EAN/UPC Symbols

EAN/UPC Symbols differ from ITF-14 and GS1-128 Symbols because they are scanned by retail Omni-directional scanners. This means that EAN/UPC Symbols have a fixed relationship between symbol height and width. When one dimension is modified, the other dimension should be altered by a proportional amount.

Because of this relationship, EAN/UPC Symbols have a nominal height and width specified. A range of allowable sizes from 80% to 200% of the nominal size are also specified and a figure showing the range of dimensions can be found in GS1 General Specifications, Section 5.1, Appendix 7. This range of sizes is often referred to as โ€œโ€magnification factorsโ€โ€ on purchase orders specifying EAN/UPC Symbol sizes. The minimum, nominal, and maximum magnification for EAN/UPC Symbols is shown in Figure 1.3.1-1.

EAN/UPC Magnification

Minimum (80%)

Nominal (100%)

Maximum (200%)

7. Format the Barcode Text



Ever noticed the text or digits below a barcode? This is called the Human Readable Interpretation (HRI). This is important because if the barcode is damaged, or poor quality to begin with, the HRI is used as backup.

Some considerations for the formatting of your HRI:

  • There is no standard size for the HRI text. It should be clearly legible and proportional to the barcode size.
  • Place the HRI below the barcode and grouped together wherever possible while maintaining HRI legibility and minimum barcode height.
  • All Application Identifiers (AI) must be enclosed in parentheses in the HRI, but the parentheses are not encoded in the symbol.
  • UPC-A Symbols require 12 digits below
  • EAN-13 Symbols require 13 digits below.
  • UPC-E and EAN-8 Symbols require 8 digits below.

8. Pick a Barcode Colour

The optimum colour combination for a barcode symbol is black bars with a white background. If you want to use other colours, focus on the contrast. The individual colours arenโ€™t as important as ensuring you pair the right colours together. This will produce an appropriate contrast and guarantee scanner readability. For more information, read our article Warning: Don’t Use These Colours For Your Barcodes.

9. Choose the Barcode Placement

Where on the package or label should you put your barcode? Consider the following before finalizing your package design:

  • Review the packaging process to ensure the barcode won’t be obscured or damaged (over a carton edge, beneath a fold or flap, or covered by another packaging layer).
  • Talk to your printer. The printing process may require barcodes to be printed in a specific orientation to the feed direction of the web or sheet.

10. Build a Barcode Quality Plan

The quality of your barcodes is essential to ensure scanner readability. Work with an experienced barcode company to ensure the design, placement, and printing meet the ISO/IEC 15416 Barcode Print Quality Test Specifications for Linear Symbols.


Click here for more in-depth reading on barcode specifications.


Read also: GS1 Canada Free Barcode Generation System Down