Barcodes are typically found on the back of most packaging containers, books, and even airline tickets and coupons.
The two most common barcode formats are the EAN, or International Article Numbering, and UPC, or Universal Product Code.
The Uniform Code Council headquartered in New Jersey, USA, manages the format and allocation of all UPC barcodes while the International Article Numbering Association headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, manages the EAN barcodes. EAN used to stand for European Article Numbering, but because the code is now used worldwide, the name was changed to the International Article Numbering Association
Wallace Flint proposed an automated checkout system in 1932 using punched cards. Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland developed a bull's-eye style code and patented it (US patent 2612994, Norman J. Woodland and Bernard Silver, "Classifying Apparatus and Method", issued October 7, 1952). In the 1960s, railroads experimented with a multicolor barcode for tracking railcars, but they eventually abandoned it.
A group of grocery industry trade associations formed the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council which with consultants Larry Russell and Tom Wilson of McKinsey & Company, defined the numerical format of the Uniform Product Code. Technology firms including Charegon, IBM, Litton-Zellweger, Pitney Bowes-Alpex, Plessey-Anker, RCA, Scanner Inc., Singer, and Dymo Industries/Data General proposed alternative symbol representations to the council. In the end the Symbol Selection Committee chose to slightly modify, changing the font in the human readable area, the IBM proposal designed by George J. Laurer, pictured.
The first UPC marked item ever scanned at a retail checkout (Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio) was at 8:01 a.m. on June 26, 1974, and was a 10-pack (50 sticks) of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum.The shopper was Clyde Dawson and cashier Sharon Buchanan made the first UPC scan. The cash register rang up 67 cents.The entire shopping cart also had barcoded items in it, but the gum was merely the first one picked up. This item went on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The UPC code, designed in 1973, was the first common product barcode. The primary version of UPC is actually a 13 digit code: 10 digits to represent the individual product, an 11 digit that acts as a check code, and two extra digits that are used to catalog items within a system. These latter two digits are not printed in below the barcode in numeric form, but only appear when the code is scanned with a barcode reader. Because of this, UPC codes is often described and thought of as being an 11 or 12 digit code. There are several variants of UPC including the common UPC-E, shown below, which encodes the 13 digits of UPC in a much smaller space for use smaller product packaging.
EAN is the European version of the UPC barcode, designed in 1976. Like UPC, the EAN is a 13-digit code, but the code is displayed with all 13 numbers printed below it, often leading people to believe it has more digits than UPC. Ten digits are used for product identification, one as a check code, and two as a country code identifying the country where the product was stamped for retail. This was once necessary because unlike the UPC, it was designed to be used in many different countries. The two digit country identifier is now becoming obsolete. EAN also has a smaller varient, the EAN-8, used on smaller packaging.
A Comparison between UPC and EAN
Now that we know a little bit about UPC and EAN barcodes, we can see that they are fundamentally identical. They both contain the same amount of digits when encoded the same way, and the two digit country code contained in EAN numbers are becoming abandoned.
If we overlay a UPC and an EAN, we can see that the actual barcode graphic is identical, even though the numbers shown at the bottom are slightly different.
Since 2005, all barcode scanners around the world are required to read both EAN and UPC codes. This means that there are no more compatibility issues between the two. The only difference now is purely visual; what the actual barcodes look like to us. The content of the codes themselves are identical.
EAN Country Codes
Different Types of Codes
||Numbers and symbols: "- : . $ / + "||Variable||This older code is often used in librarys and blood banks. No checksum is required.|
||Numbers Only||Variable||Checksum is required.|
||All ASCII characters||Variable||This barcode is widely used and is excellent for many applications. Checksum is required.|
||Uppercase letters, numbers, space and "- . $ / + %"||Variable||This barcode is also widely used for many applications. Checksum is optional.|
|Extended Code 39
||All ASCII characters||Variable||More robust than standard Code 39, but uses pairs of characters to encode non-standard symbols; wasteful of space. Checksum is optional.|
||Numbers Only||12 + Checksum||This is the most commonly used barcode system world wide for products. Checksum is required.|
||Numbers Only||7 + Checksum||This is a shorthand version of the EAN-13 barcode system. It's commonly used on smaller productes due to its smaller size. Checksum is required.|
||Numbers Only||12 + Checksum||Special use of the EAN-13 symbol to encode ISBN number on books. Checksum is required.|
||Numbers Only||11 + Checksum||This is the most commonly used barcode system for products in the US and Canada. Checksum is required.|
||Numbers Only||0 + 6 + Checksum||This is a shorthand version of the standard UPC barcode. It's commonly used on smaller productes due to its smaller size, similar to the EAN-8 system. Checksum is required.|
||All ASCII Characters||Variable||This two dimentional code provides robust error correction, allows for fast reading, and can be used to encode large amounts of data. Checksum is required.|
||Numbers Only||Variable||Commonly used on grocery store tags for internal management. Checksum is required.|
|Interleaved 2 of 5
||Numbers Only||Very compact encodes digits in pairs so total length must be even number of digits. Checksum is optional.|
||Numbers Only||9 + Checksum||Special use of Interleaved 2 of 5 for marking retail optical products. Checksum is required.|
|SCC-14 (Shipping Container Code)
||Numbers Only||13 + Checksum||Special use of Code 128 to mark shipping cartons containing UPC encoded products. Checksum is required.|
|EAN-128||All ASCII characters||Variable||Special use of Code 128 for data formats for commerce. Checksum is required.|