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How to get a Barcode on your Product or Publication

Do I need a barcode?

There is no law that forces you to put a barcode on your product or publication, but almost all retailers and distributors will require it. They use the barcode to check out customers at the cash register efficiently and to keep accurate inventories and sales records. If you are serious about selling, you need a barcode.

For Retail Products

For marking retail products, the standard symbology for USA-based companies is UPC-A (Universal Product Code). For companies based elsewhere, the standard symbology is EAN-13 (European Article Number). Both of these codes work anywhere in the world.

The international registrar for retail barcodes is GS1, and you will need to contact them to obtain a manufacturer identification number that will become part of your barcodes. They have offices around the world; go to www.gs1.org and follow the Contact Us link to reach the office for your country.

Before you contact GS1, estimate how many different numbers you will need for your products. Be sure to get enough numbers, but remember that the registration fee goes up for more numbers. Every variation of every product will require a separate number. For example, if Product ABC is available in three sizes (small, medium, and large) and in three different colors (red, blue, green), you will need nine (9) separate numbers, one for each size/color combination.

For Books

For books, the international standard is the Bookland EAN symbology which encodes an ISBN number. To obtain an ISBN number for your book, go to www.isbn.org. The agent for ISBN in the USA is Bowker/Martindale-Hubbell, located in New Providence, New Jersey.

For Periodicals and other Publications

Publications sold at retail are generally marked with UPC/EAN or ISBN (EAN Bookland) codes. For publications that do not normally find their way into the retail distribution chain (scholarly works or published research, for example) the ISSN number is standard. For serialized periodicals, the SISAC code is often used.

In the USA, contact The Library of Congress. If you are located outside the USA, contact The ISSN International Centre located in Paris, France.

How do I put the barcode on my product or publication?

If you will be printing the barcode as part of your product package or label, you will need artwork that you can paste into the layout. There are on-line services that can generate the artwork for you at low cost, for example www.createbarcodes.com. If you will be needing many different barcodes, you may want to invest in software so that you can create the artwork yourself. Search for barcode artwork software.

If you want to print barcode labels and stick them onto your product or packages, look for barcode label printing software. We especially like Bar Tender for Windows (made by Seagull Scientific).

You can print your labels on a regular laser printer; inkjet labels tend to run if the labels get wet. If you will be printing a lot of labels in a serious production environment, take a look at thermal label printers. We have had good success with Zebra printers (www.zebra.com).