How to Buy a Barcode

Two Methods:Acquiring Barcodes Unique to Your CompanyBuying Barcodes a la Carte

Barcodes, those strips of alternating white and black vertical stripes of varying width that appear on just about everything you buy, have become a standard method of keeping track of products for both inventory and sale. Unlike serial numbers, which identify one unique item (akin to how a VIN number identifies a single car), barcodes classify categories of items by criteria like maker, type, size, style and price (for example, all Brand X, Model Y four-door sedans in red). If you intend to sell a product in a retail setting, you will likely need to have a legitimate barcode on the packaging. Fortunately, whether you need one barcode or thousands, or want them direct from the supervising organization or don't mind buying them secondhand, the process of acquiring barcodes is relatively simple.

Method 1
Acquiring Barcodes Unique to Your Company

  1. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 1
    Determine if a unique barcode is needed. If you are manufacturing products for retail sale, especially at major retail outlets, you will almost certainly need to have identifying barcodes on the packaging. Contact your intended retailers, including those online, for information.
    • If you intend to use barcodes only to track the production process and/or manage inventory (that is, they will only be used internally), you as a manufacturer can define your own barcodes. However, it is required by the international barcode governing body (GS1) that these barcodes not leave your manufacturing premises or be offered for sale.
    • If you are using the barcode in any other way than for internal tracking, you need one authorized by (if not necessarily directly purchased from) GS1.[1]
  2. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 2
    Contact GS1. A non-profit organization known as GS1 sets the standards for global commerce using barcodes. GS1 operates in over 100 nations, so you can likely contact an office in your country or region.
    • To find the closest GS1 office to you, visit the GS1 website and click on "I need a barcode." Then click "contact a local GS1 office" and find your closest office on the drop-down menu.[2]
  3. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 3
    Join GS1. Purchasing barcodes directly from GS1 requires a membership and payment of an annual fee, which is why some people prefer to buy their barcodes from resellers for a one-time charge. GS1 membership, however, is the best way to ensure the legitimacy of your barcodes.
    • To join the U.S. chapter of GS1 (GS1 US, formed in 2005 by a merger of GS1 and UCC, the originator of the UPC barcode), go to the GS1 US homepage; click on "I need a barcode," then "I'm new to GS1 US."[3]
    • If you're already a member and need to buy more barcodes, click on "I have a GS1 company prefix" on the second page.
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    Estimate your barcode needs. The first step in joining GS1 U.S. is acquiring a GS1 Company Prefix, and the length of the prefix (6-12 digits) determines how many barcodes you can create.
    • A six-digit prefix lets you create 100,000 barcodes, while a ten-digit prefix gives you only ten.[4]
  5. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 5
    Choose your membership level, based on barcode needs. Not surprisingly, the more blocks of barcodes you buy, the lower price per barcode you pay.
    • Currently, for example, you will pay a $250 initial fee and $50 annual renewal fee for up to 10 unique barcodes, and $10,500 / $2,100 for 100,000 of them.[5]
  6. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 6
    Fill out the application and pay online. GS1 US claims that within one business day of purchase you will receive a "Welcome Email" with all the information you need to start creating unique barcodes for your product line(s).[6]
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    Create your barcodes. Instead of buying already-created barcodes as you do when purchasing secondhand, with GS1 membership you will actually create the barcodes for your product(s).
    • GS1 US offers a "Data Driver" interface that enables you to create the barcodes yourself, or you can utilize (for a fee) an authorized GS1 US Solution Provider to do the work for you.[7]
    • Contact GS1 US if you need to modify or add to the series of barcodes that you create.

Method 2
Buying Barcodes a la Carte

  1. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 8
    Establish whether you require a unique retail barcode. This is almost always the case if you have a retail product, as the vast majority of retailers require products going into their stores to have barcodes on the packaging.
    • If you're selling your homemade candles at the farmer's market, you probably won't need a barcode; at the small shop on the corner, possibly so; and at a big-box retailer, certainly so. Some online retailers may also require barcodes for logistical purposes. Contact your intended retailers before proceeding with or without barcodes.
    • Please note that this Method describes buying barcodes from resellers that have bought them in bulk from the originating organization (known as GS1). Some retailers, such as Target and Wal-Mart, may not accept such secondhand barcodes (even though they are unique and legitimate) because they require you, the producer, to have a certificate from GS1. Check with your intended retailer(s) before buying barcodes.[8]
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    Determine whether you need a UPC-A or an EAN-13 barcode. In general, UPC-A barcodes are used in the USA and EAN-13 barcodes are used predominantly everywhere else. This means if you are primarily selling in the USA, you should get a UPC-A barcode; if you are predominantly selling outside of the USA, you should get an EAN-13.[9]
    • Truth be told, however, UPC-A and EAN-13 barcodes are virtually identical and almost always interchangeable; the latter has one more digit (13 instead of 12) as a country code.[10]
  3. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 10
    Find a barcode reseller that supplies the barcode you require. Resellers supply legitimate, legal barcodes for a one-off cost. Many of them supply both UPC-A and EAN-13 barcodes.
    • A list of reputable resellers can be found, for instance, at It is important to make sure your reseller is reputable because using fraudulent or copied barcodes can lead to problems down the track.
  4. Image titled Become a College Professor Step 32
    Determine how many barcodes you need. Buying secondhand barcodes a la carte gives you more flexibility to buy only the amount you need, though buying in bulk does save money per barcode.
    • As an example of how many barcodes you may need, let's suppose you are selling a t-shirt with your logo on the front, in two colors (white and blue) and three sizes (S, M, L). Each combination of size and color requires a unique barcode, meaning you will need to buy six. With increased variety and complexity in your product line, the amount of unique barcodes you need can grow substantially.
    • As one example from a barcode reseller, one barcode costs $75 (a one-time fee); 12 cost $250; and 100 cost $695.[11]
  5. Image titled Buy a Barcode Step 11
    Buy your barcode from the reseller. Most resellers will promptly email an image of the barcode to you, allowing you to quickly incorporate it into your product packaging. You can then begin using your barcode.[12]
    • Make sure the barcode image sent to you is clear, and that the copies you render for your product packaging are of the same quality.
    • Barcodes don't necessarily have to be black and white, but a high contrast between the alternating bars is essential for easy reading.
    • In some cases product packaging (e.g. a matchbox) may be too small to incorporate a standard EAN and UPC barcode image supplied by resellers (37.29mm x 25.93). This is because GS1 recommends a minimum 80% reduction of a bar code's original size. If your product packaging is very small you can ask your reseller to scale down your barcodes to suit or you can obtain smaller eight digit EAN 8 barcodes from GS1 directly.[13]


  • Purchase barcodes from a secondhand reseller with care. While this is a perfectly legal practice and the barcodes they sell are accepted by the vast majority of retailers, GS1 does not condone the reselling of barcodes in this way. Therefore, as far as GS1 is concerned, these reseller barcodes belong to the original purchaser that was given the company identification number and not to any company that purchased the number.

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Categories: Business | Buying & Forming a Business