UPC Symbols

There are a variety of different types of barcode symbols. However, the UPC symbol is the most recognized barcode in the United States, since it appears on virtually every product. The UPC (Universal Product Number) symbol is the barcode representation of the GTIN-12 which consists of twelve numeric characters that uniquely identify a company’s individual product. The GTIN-12 number is part of the family of GS1 global data structures that employ 14 digits and can be encoded into various types of data carriers.

Although, the initial UPC usage was focused on retail point of sale (POS), many other industries have adopted this coding structure. As of January 2005, there were significant changes to the terminology involving product barcode marking. Please visit to learn more about the GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number) data structures.

The first six to nine digits of a UPC are referred to as the “GS1 Company Prefix”.This number uniquely identifies a company and always remains constant on all of a company’s products. The next set of digits is called the “product numbers.” Product numbers uniquely identify individual items. Unlike the GS1 Company Prefix, product numbers are arbitrarily assigned by each company. The twelfth character is called the “check digit”. Using some form of check digit generator (use our free check digit calculator) this digit is calculated using a mathematical calculation based on the first 11 digits of the UPC code.

A common mistake companies make is creating their own UPC numbers. A company can not “make up” its own UPC number. To have a UPC code that will scan at Point of Sale, the UPC number must contain a GS1 assigned Company Prefix, also known as a manufacturer prefix. GS1 is the global standards organization for item/shipment identification and administers the assignment of GS1 Company Prefixes.

Please visit for information on obtaining your GS1 Company Prefix. To order GS1 UPC barcodes, please visit

A typical process of obtaining a 12-digit UPC number is as follows:

  1. License a unique Company Prefix from your local GS1 office
  2. Assign product number(s) to unique products making your number equal 11 digits
  3. Using a check digit calculator with your 11 digit number, generate your check digit.
Combining the above steps will result in a 12-digit UPC number.

For additional information on UPC/EAN EAN numbering and barcode requirements please visit