How to Read a Universal Print Code for Any Item

By Dzhingarov

First created in 1973 by the famous IBM, universal print codes (UPC) were designed to designate every item on any shelf with a unique reference number. UPC was an innovative idea at the time to speed up checkout lines, and help manufacturers to identify their specific products. A UPC helps to keep track of warehouse items through a computer software program that manages inventory, but there are many variations to how a UPC is created. To learn about these specifics, this quick guide will get you started.  

Barcodes Starting with Two/Three

When manufacturers assign their barcode UPCs, there are only two variations that need to be considered. Firstly, the number two is for items that are sold by their weight. The first six numbers identify the manufacturer; however, a two is always placed at the very beginning. The remaining numbers specify the weight of the item.

Any barcode that begins with a three is for pharmaceutical products like medicine, beauty creams, and health supplements. This confirms that the item is in the U.S National Drug Code’s database. Again, the rest of the six to 10 digits are the manufacturer, followed by their chosen inventory numbering system.

The 12 Digit Barcode

The most common type of UPC you will see is the 12-digit barcode, which is split up into five sections. The first six to 10 digits designate the name of the company that manufactured the item. Every manufacturer is assigned a unique number that specifically identifies its products.

For instance, a producer of stainless-steel pipes will be assigned a number that is anywhere from six to 10 digits long. The remaining barcode numbers are there for the manufacturer to create a unique item number for their products. If you ever find a barcode that isn’t attached to an item, use an online upc lookup tool to identify the product and the manufacturer. There is no real way to know where the item comes from without looking it up online unless you know the company’s individual identification number.

The Last Number

The very last number in any barcode sequence is the result of a mind-blowing mathematical formula that manufacturers are required to use. The 12th digit is determined by applying a certain formula to the 11 other numbers. Each manufacturer can choose any formula they like, so it can be difficult to identify a product from just the barcode this way.

The purpose of the formula is to spot printing errors. It validates that the UPC barcode has been legally created and verified in an official database. Interestingly, barcode scanners do not just scan the black lines. Instead, it scans the white gaps in between the black streaks as well. Additionally, the width of each line categorizes a specific number. This means that even barcodes without numbers can still be read by UPC scanners.

The UPC system is quite a sophisticated one that is still being used almost four decades later. Not only does it help manufacturers to identify their items, but with these tips, you will be able to impress your friends with a party trick.