Difference between UPC and EAN-13
We normally supply EAN-13 format barcodes. These are the most common barcode format in Thailand. In fact more EAN-13 is the most common barcode format in all countries except for the USA and Canada. We supply these 13 digit numbers with a leading ‘0’. This makes the barcode an EAN-13 format barcode. If a UPC-A barcode is required, for example for supplying stores in the USA, then our EAN-13 format barcodes can be used as a UPC format barcode.
As can be seen below, the actual bars of an EAN-13 with a leading ‘0’ and a UPC barcode without the leading ‘0’ are identical. The only difference is in the distribution of the numbers below. Scanners read the bars not the numbers underneath. This means that scanners read both formats in exactly the same way. If a store requires a UPC-A version barcode when you have an EAN-13 barcode, tell the store to ignore the leading ‘0’. It will work in the same way.
The way a digit is encoded into every barcode is 7 blocks of either white or black making up each digit. – A full set of digits 0-9 is called a parity. – Retail barcodes have a minimum of 2 parities one for the left side and one for the right. – This is so they can be scanned upside down and still return the correct number the right way around.
Originally the 12 digit UPC system was created in the 1970’s by George Laurer. These work with 2 different parities. There is a left side odd parity and a right side even parity (each with 6 digits).
Later, a 13 digit EAN-13 system was introduced as a superset of the UPC barcodes. These were deliberately designed to be used in conjunction with UPC-A barcodes and hence, employed both the left odd parity and the right even parity of the UPC barcodes, but added an additional parity (a left-even parity) which was to be used on a selection of the left hand side digits.
The left and right hand side of the EAN-13 barcodes are still divided into 6 digits each. The initial digit determines which combination of the first 6 digits will use the newly created left even parity. Hence, in no EAN-13 barcode is the first digit encoded in the barcode, however it does determine the way the other digits are encoded.
In the case of a leading ‘0’ as with our barcodes, the 0 determines that all of the initial 6 digits will use the left odd parity, meaning that the bars look the same as a UPC barcode would without the leading ‘0’ as the UPC version also only uses the odd parity.
How do they scan?
Because the actual bars are the only part of the barcode that is scanned (i.e the scanner isn’t reading the digits below the barcode), an EAN-13 barcode with a ‘0’ on the front can sometimes be confused by scanners as a UPC barcode without the ‘0’ and vice-versa. This is largely to do with what the scanner or software system is expecting to see. Often times this occurs when a barcode that is not linked on the system is scanned. The software has no point of reference for what format the barcode should be, and, hence, assumes that it is UPC format. When the number is first added to the system in the 13 digit format and linked to the product in the system (this is generally how stores add the barcodes based on the information provided on their buyer form), it tends to scan appropriately as an EAN-13 format barcode.
Very few stores have had issues with this. And when issues occur, they are generally resolved easily. The stores can use the barcode in either EAN-13 or UPC-12 format.
Please contact us if you have any questions about this.