Ten Steps to Bar Code Implementation

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

Step 1: Get a GS1 Company Prefix

Before a company can begin using bar codes, they must create the numbers that go inside the bar code. 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 Bar Code Printing Company

To begin, you should decide what you are bar coding and if the bar code 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 bar code 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 bar code is an important question to answer in developing a good bar code 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 bar code type, size, placement, and quality all depend on where the bar code 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 bar code 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 Bar Code

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

If you bar code 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 bar code 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 Bar Code Size

After the correct bar code 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 “”magnification factors”” 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%)