Barcodes in the UK

What are UK barcodes?

UK barcodes are barcodes that can be used for retail in the United Kingdom. This generally means EAN-13 barcodes which are a 13 digit barcode that is most common on products in the UK, however it could also mean UPC-A barcodes (which are 12 digit barcodes more common in the USA and Canada), or ITF-14 carton codes (which are commonly used for the Cartons of 6 or 12 of a product)

What is the difference between UPC and EAN-13 Barcodes?

Both EAN-13 barcodes and UPC barcodes can theoretically be used anywhere in the world, however EAN-13 barcodes are far more common the UK and internationally whereas UPC barcodes are more common in the USA.

As far as the actual bars go, the bars can be the same regardless of whether the barcode is in UPC format or EAN-13 format. This means that scanners will sometimes scan a, EAN-13 barcode beginning with a ‘0’ and read it as a UPC format. Please see the image below for an example of this:

07 EAN-UPC

Where can I get barcodes for my products?

There are essentially 2 options for where you can obtain barcodes. The first is to go through GS1-UK. This is a global organisation that rents barcodes out to you and charges both a joining fee and annual membership fee. This means that they are both expensive in the short term and cost continually on an annual basis. GS1 UK is the only company that can provide legal ’50 barcodes (the UK country code).

Luckily there are alternatives to GS1 which come in the form of barcode resellers. These have barcodes that are part of the GS1 system and work internationally in the same way, however they are no outside of GS1’s control and can therefore be sold for a one-off cost. This makes them a much more affordable option for small to medium size business owners.

Barcodes through members of the International Barcodes Network tend to be good options for a reliable barcode reseller. They have been in the business for 10 years and sold in over 100 countries to 10’s of thousands of customers. ┬áThere are a couple of options for this network in the UK. You could check out barcode1.co.uk or buybarcodes.co.uk.

What to watch out for with barcode resellers?

As with most things, there are trustworthy barcode resellers and non-trustworthy ones. There are a few things to watch out for that should tip you off to the fact that they can’t be trusted.

Watch out for:

  • Sites that say they can sell you barcodes with your country code ’50’ in the UK.
  • Sites that are difficult to contact or only have an email address available
  • Sites that are too cheap. If they are selling barcodes too cheap they probably can’t ensure that they are unique and will likely cut and run if you have issues later. If you are printing something on thousands of products, they you want to make sure it is as good as possible

Take a look at the Barcode Sellers Website here. This has more information on what to look out for as well as specific warnings on the worst of these sites.