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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 visually divided into three parts. The left-most portion will be a string of 5 or 6 digits. This is followed by a strng of 5 digits and a single number to the right.

Sometimes, as in the example, there will be a separate number to the left that indicates the country in which the owner of the trade item is located. Since this is 0 in the US, it is often omitted on US products. The next six digits identify who the "owner: of the item is.   In both cases, the next 5 digits comprse 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.In the example above:

  1. 0 indicates "US"
  2. 24000 indicates "Del Monte Foods Company, PO Box 3575, San Francisco, CA, 94119-3575, US
  3. 16717 is Del Monte's number fo Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in Heavy Syrup
  4. 4 is a check digit that is calculated from the prior numbers and that is used by scanners to ensure that the number was correctly captured.

Note that in both UPC and EAN codes, the first digit may indicate that the code is a special purpose code.

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, that is also available.  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" and dropping and recalculating the check digit 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 or "02" and EAN codes that start with "002" 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 or weight of the item, depending on local usage.

Will the UPC or EAN code indicate the country where the product was made?
Possibly, but not necessarily. The left portion of the code indicates 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 left portion of the 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? There is no central database of UPC / EAN codes. The Digit-Eyes database is proprietary and is created by our software. The Digit-Eyes database is available to other companies through our API (Applications Program Interface).

Does Digit-Eyes have all the UPC / EAN codes?
No way.   But we do have quite a lot of them! 39,464,579 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 a special high-priority queue for processing.

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 unless it is extremely large.  Even when the tattoo is new, the tolerances for reflectivity and spacing are very unlikely to be met with ink embedded in skin and, 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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