The Universal Product Code (UPC) bar code was created in 1973 and was the first format used and created by GS1, who is the worldwide distributor of bar codes. As demand started to increase for these codes in countries like Australia and Europe, country codes were added. However, certain countries such as the United States and Canada have a country code of zero (0) which is then not entered into the sequence, making it a UPC and bar codes South Africa using 600 The European Article Numbers (EAN), which is also referred to as the International Article Numbers, were then brought into the system in 1976 as demand increased.

UPC is most commonly used in the United States while the rest of the world favours EAN 13. Although these barcodes contain country codes, it does not necessarily tell a person where that product is manufactured, but rather where the code was issued. All barcodes originate at GS1, although they can then be transferred by the owner of those barcodes to various countries where their products are being manufactured.

The main difference between the EAN and UPC format, is that EAN has a 13-digit sequence, whereas UPC only has 12 digits. The graphics of the bars within the physical bar codes will be exactly the same when it comes to the different formats, having the same number of bars and spaces, at an equal width for each. While the numbers below the bars will be slightly different, having no country in the UPC code. The two (2) formats were both designed by the same individual, George J. Laurer, which is why there are no differences between the graphics. The bars are used only for scanners to register what product is being identified and the numbers are used for human identification of the product or if the bar code does not scan properly and needs to be entered in manually.

For the convenience of our customers when you buy a barcode from us, we will provide both the UPC and the EAN as this allows you to decide which one you would prefer to use and gives the opportunity to easily manoeuvre between each format if, for example, one retailer prefers UPC and another prefers EAN. This means that the one product being sold in multiple stores will have the same bar code and the scanned image will be identical, while only the number sequence will differ between the stores.

EAN codes can be made from UPC bar codes, although it does not work “visa versa” in this instance. This can be done by adding a zero (0) as the country code. These bar codes are used on virtually every product that you would purchase from a retail store which is what makes them so important as it allows us, as humans, to work more efficiently by scanning a number into a system and having all the information come up.

Using these barcodes, including the many that have not been mentioned in this article such as the way barcodes are used with credit cards, ID and loyalty cards, assists in preventing the inevitable possibility of human error and allows individuals and companies to work more seamlessly. This means greater productivity.  

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