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Look up UPC, EAN and APC codes

About UPC and EAN codes
What are these codes?
The Universal Product Code (UPC) is a barcode symbology that is widely used in North American and in other countries for tracking trade items in stores.   It consists of a set of digits that identify the producer and the product.

The European Article number ("EAN") was developed as a superset of the UPC where an extra digit is added to the beginning of every number, expanding the number of codes from 100 million to 10 trillion codes.  The EAN codes indicate the country in which the company that sells the item is based.

The code appears as a block of thick and thin vertical lines alternating in dark and light colors above a sequence of 12 (UPC) or 13 (EAN) numbers.

UPC Code 024000 16717 4What information is in the code?
The codes are typically divided into two parts. 

In both kinds of code, the first digit may indicate that the code is a special purpose code.

Normally, in an EAN code (13 digits), the leftmost digit indicates the country in which the owner of the trade item is located and the next six digits identify who the owner of the item is. In a UPC code (12 digits), the left six digits of the code identify the owner.  In both cases, the next 5 digits is the number the owner uses to identify the product.  The right-most digit is a check digit used in the scanning process to ensure the label was correctly read and decoded by the scanner.

There are some compressed versions of UPC codes (5 and 8 digits) that are usually expanded to 12-digit format before being used. For purposes of this discussion, consider these to be the same as the 12-digit codes.

Every item that a company sells, as well as every size package and every version of packaging has a different item code.   Thus, the code will tell you whether the item that the code identifies is a 8-ounce can of soda or the same soda in a 2-liter bottle.

Click here for an excellent website that discusses bar codes in general and UPC/EAN codes in particular. 

What can I learn from a UPC / EAN code?
If you scan the code with Digit-Eyes and we find it in the database, at a minimum, you can learn the name of the product.   If the manufacturer has made information available about how to use the product, its ingredients or its nutritional value, Digit-Eyes will also provide a link to our original source of the information plus additional links that you can use to search for more information about the item.

Are all UPC / EAN codes unique?
No. Most UPC and EAN codes are unique and indicate the branding of an item. However, there are some special classes of codes that have different meanings. These are not unique:

  • UPC codes that start with the number 5 and EAN codes that start with "05" or that have a beginning value between 990 and 999 are coupons. It is common, but by no means guaranteed that substituting a "0" for the "5" will give you the identification of the item to which the coupon applies.
  • Codes that have a starting value between 981 and 982 are common currency coupons.
  • UPC and EAN codes that start with the number 2 and EAN codes that start with "02" are random weight items. In this case, the code is unique only to the store. Typically the left portion of the code is used to indicate the product to the store's point-of-sale system and the right portion and is used to indicate the weight of the item. This allows the POS system to calculate the price of the item without re-weighing it at checkout time.
  • UPC codes starting with the number 4 and EAN codes starting with "04" are locally priced items where the meaning of the code is unique to the store. Generally, these use the left part of the code to denote the local item number to the store's POS system and use the right part to indicate the price of the item.

Will the UPC or EAN code indicate the country where the product was made?
No. The EAN codes indicate the country in which the company that has trade responsibility for the item is based. Thus, if a British company sells crisps that were made in Poland and labeled to the British company's specifications, the EAN code will indicate Britain, not Poland. This is because the British company has the trade responsibility for the item. In the case where the British company is buying and redistributing a product that has a brand on it that is not their own, the code will generally indicate the country where the owner of the brand is located. Click here to read more on this topic.

Is there a database of UPC and EAN codes that I can get? No such database exists. There is a central authority for issuing the country codes and in each country, there is an agency that issues the codes to the manufacturers. However, there is no central registry for the product codes -- every manufacturer does their own thing. Click here to look up company codes.

So how does Digit-Eyes get UPC and EAN codes and the information associated with these codes?
Digit-Eyes is (in part) a search engine that specializes in UPC and EAN codes.   We get our information in the same way that Google or any other search engine does -- we have special computer programs (sometimes known as "bots" or "robots") that search the web and get information about manufacturer's and retailer's websites.  This information includes UPC / EAN codes and is used to provide the results to people who scan and to give links to the original sources so that you can find out more about the product.

Does Digit-Eyes have all the UPC / EAN codes?
No way.   But we do have quite a lot of them! 39,296,230 codes as of midnight last night, to be exact.

What happens if a code I scan with Digit-Eyes is not found in the database?

  1. You are given a chance to enter the name of the product if you know it.   This is immediately added to the database and becomes available to everyone.  It is then checked by our staff and the number is added to the list of codes to be searched for additional information by the spiders.
  2. All failed codes go into a special high-priority search queue that is used to direct the spiders to look for information about that code.

the practical effect is that it is fairly common that find within 24 hours or so that the code that was previously not found is now in the database.

What if I find that the description associated with a code is wrong?
Click the link titled "report wrong description" and it will be flagged for immediate review.

Are there other kinds of barcodes?
Yes, there are many types.  UPC and EAN codes consist only of numbers and are only used for product identification.   Other bar codes like Code 3-of-9 and code 128 have letters as well.   These are used for many purposes.   Inventory control is a common one.  The full version of Digit-Eyes will read code 3-of-9 and code 128.

Can UPC and other codes be applied other than with a printing press?  I saw a barcode tattoo and it looked pretty cool.
All are decoded by measuring the distance from leading edges to leading edge of bars, trailing edge to trailing edge of bars and leading edge to leading edge of characters and the tolerances are fairly exacting.  It is very difficult to achieve this except with a printing press.  

Thus, if you're thinking of getting a tattoo of a barcode, don't expect it to be readable with a scanner.  Even when the tattoo is new, the tolerances for reflectivity and spacing are very unlikely to be met with ink embedded in skin.  As the tattoo stretches with time, this will become even less true.   Really determined? You can buy a set of custom, scannable temporary tattoos here

Just for fun
Click here for an interesting website that features barcode art.

For more about scanning UPC / EAN codes, click here.

Did this section answer your questions?  If not, please click here to contact us.

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