Difference Between EAN-13 and UPC-A Barcodes

UPC-A barcodes are a subset of EAN-13 barcodes. If the first digit of the EAN-13 number is ‘0’, then both barcodes will have identical bars for UPC-A (without the leading ‘0’). The greatest difference between UPC-A and EAN-13 barcodes is the displacement of the human readable numbers below. However, both barcodes can be easily scanned by most scanners.

Difference EAN-13 and UPC-A

When Should You Use an EAN-13 vs a UPC-A?

UPC-A format barcodes have been traditionally used in the United States, while EAN-13 format barcodes are primarily used in the rest of the world. However, most stores worldwide now accept barcodes in either format. Keep in mind that a few outdated systems may only accept one or the other. If you are selling your product in the UK, then the EAN-13 Barcode format is the most appropriate. However, if your product will be sold in the USA or other countries that recognise UPC-A format barcodes, then UPC-A is the most suitable option.

If you encounter a shop that struggles to read your EAN-13 or UPC-A barcode, they can opt to ignore or add a leading ‘0’ depending on the desired number of digits in their system. Doing so will not alter the barcode’s unique identity as the bars remain identical regardless of format.

Both UPC and EAN-13 numbers can be purchased here. – If you require a UPC-A format barcode, please specify this in the additional information section when you are checking out.

How are EAN-13 and UPC-A barcodes encoded?

Each digit in a barcode is encoded using seven blocks of either black or white. A full set of digits comprising 0-9 is referred to as a parity. Retail barcodes must have at least two parities: one for the left side and one for the right to enable scanning even when the code is upside down.

The 12-digit Universal Product Code (UPC) system was developed in the 1970s by George Laurer. The attached document displays the parities for 2 types of barcodes, differentiated by a left side odd parity and a right side even parity, each consisting of 6 digits.

The EAN-13 system was subsequently introduced as an extension of the UPC barcodes. These were deliberately designed to be used alongside UPC-A barcodes. Therefore, we used both left odd parity and right even parity of the UPC barcodes but included an extra parity – left-even parity – for specific left-hand side digits.

The EAN-13 barcodes are still divided into six digits on each side. Thus, the first digit determines which combination of the first six digits will utilise the newly introduced left-even parity. Hence, although the first digit in an EAN-13 barcode is not encoded, it determines the encoding method for the other digits.

If the code starts with a ‘0’, like our barcodes, all six initial digits will use left odd parity, making the bars look identical to a UPC barcode without the leading ‘0’. The UPC version also exclusively uses odd parity in a similar way.

How do they scan?

As the scanner only reads the actual bars on the barcode (not the digits underneath), EAN-13 barcodes with a ‘0’ at the beginning may occasionally be mistaken by scanners for UPC barcodes without the ‘0’ and vice versa. This is often due to the expectations of the scanner or software system. Often this happens when an unlinked barcode is scanned on the system. The software has no reference point to determine the barcode format.

Consequently, it assumes the format to be UPC. Normally, when the barcode is first added to the system in its 13-digit format and linked to the product by using the information provided on the buyer form, it usually scans correctly as an EAN-13 format barcode.Few stores have encountered problems in the past, and when they have, issues are typically resolved without delay. If you plan to visit Musgraves in Ireland, kindly complete their buyer form with our barcode in its UPC format (without the initial ‘0’) and indicate that it is in UPC format. By following these steps, they will have no difficulty using our barcodes.


Please contact us if you have any questions about this.

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