Everything About EAN Codes: Barcode Information & Tips

By Thomas Bennett Financial expert at Priceva
Published on February 20, 2023
In this article, we will consider the EAN code, which is an important part of any product. We will tell you where it is used, why it is needed, what varieties there are, and how to get such a code for your product.

What is an EAN Number (European Article Number)?

An EAN number is the European barcode standard for encoding product and manufacturer identifiers. It is a variation of the American UPC standard.

This is a unique product number that serves to identify a product item in the database of a manufacturing enterprise or store. Just generating barcodes is not enough. In order to sell goods in large stores and supermarkets, it is necessary to carry out official registration of serial numbers.

The formation of barcodes in the GS1 system takes place in strict accordance with unified international standards. The EAN code consists of 12-13 digits, and is accompanied by a barcode.

The GS1 identification system is designed in such a way that the Global Item Number, displayed as a barcode, cannot be accidentally assigned to another product in any country in the world.

Therefore, once issued, a barcode is unique and is not found anywhere else in the world.

Structure of an EAN Code

Information is encoded in barcodes using the most common international standard: EAN-13. Decryption works like this:

  • 2-3 digits — The code of the National Organization, a member of GS1, which has registered the enterprise;
  • 4-5 digits — The identification number of the enterprise in the system of the National Organization of Commodity Numbering;
  • 5 digits — The product number assigned by the manufacturer;
  • The last “control” digit is used to check the correct reading of the barcode by the scanner and is calculated from the previous 12 digits according to an established algorithm.

If the product is small, the code may consist of 8 digits. And another important detail is that the code takes up more than 25% on the package.

EAN Code Variations

The two most important EAN code variations are:

The GTIN code (formerly EAN13 code)

A classic barcode consists of 13 digits. A complete GTIN is encrypted in it. You can find a description of the information that the code consists of in the section above.

What functions does this code perform?
  • Automates the process of identifying objects by means of machine-reading devices (scanners);
  • Automates monitoring and accounting of goods available in the warehouse;
  • Accelerates the management of the movement of goods: shipment, transportation and warehousing;
  • Increases the speed and improves the culture of customer service;
  • Provides information support for marketing research.

Today, the EAN13 barcode is the most well-known barcode standard used in trading activities by companies around the world as a unique product identifier.

Information about the code is also encrypted in the width of strokes, spaces and their combinations. The standard size of an EAN code-13 is 31.35 mm, but taking into account the mandatory presence of empty space around the code, the size increases to 37.29 mm.

The extreme strokes at the beginning and end of the barcode are elongated; this is a kind of "label" for the scanner, indicating the beginning and end of scanning.

The GS1-128 code (formerly EAN128)

A feature of EAN-128 that distinguishes it from other barcodes of the CODE-128 format is the presence of the Function Command 1 (FNC1) before the encoded data.

FNC1 is not encoded in user data as it is only an internal barcode instruction. It allows you to identify the encoded sequence of characters as an EAN-128 barcode.

Dimensions of EAN-128:
Maximum length, including side clean zones: 165 mm; up to 48 characters are encoded in this space.

EAN-128 is not a barcode symbology language, but a standard that defines the data type and format through FNC1 and the Application Identifier.

Structure of EAN-128:
The composition of the EAN-128 barcode is typical. It contains the following data:

  • Start symbol (START-A, START-B, START-C);
  • FNC1;
  • Application ID (Al);
  • Encoded data;
  • Control symbol;
  • Stop symbol.

Knowing this information, you can decrypt the barcode.

Al (Application Identifier) - these are groups of numbers in brackets before the encoded data, from 2 to 4, for example, (01), (12), (320Y), etc. They indicate the nature of the product and serve to interpret the following digits, which describe the type and length of the data.

Application Areas of the EAN Code

  • A Point of Sale (POS) is one of the most common areas where EAN codes are used to record items sold.
  • Inventory – EAN numbers are actively used in warehouses to account for goods. Portable scanners are used to control the shipment and receipt of goods. The data collected by the scanner can be periodically uploaded to a computer, allowing companies to monitor inventory levels and reduce shipping costs.
  • Shipping – barcodes are used throughout the world by the transportation industry to mark everything from letters to large shipments. The barcode encodes the sender, recipient, courier and other information.
  • Identification – EAN numbers are used on employee ID cards by various companies around the world.
  • Packaging – EAN codes are used to identify lot number, serial number and shipping information. Tagging can be used to automatically sort on shipment, automate receiving, and increase control over the transport of goods.
  • Data collection – Medical forms require long and patient completion. By using barcodes, information can be quickly and easily entered into a computer database. By reducing the cost of data collection, you increase the quality of service.

How to Get an EAN Code

The main condition for obtaining an EAN code is the membership of the enterprise in the National Association of Commodity Numbering. To join, you can apply to a company that provides EAN codes and complies with GS1 standards. You will need to complete the following documents:

  • Application for membership in the Association;
  • List of products subject to barcoding.
When registering an enterprise, the National Commodity Numbering Association assigns it a unique code that is not found in any other enterprise in the world.

The code will be provided to you in JPEG, TIFF, and EPS format for you to conveniently manipulate and apply to the packaging or tag included with each of your products.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we explained in detail what the European Article Numbering code is and what its aspects are. This is a very important part of e-commerce, so we hope this information helps you determine whether this tool is right for you.

The EAN code helps to identify your product, but since an online store usually has a lot of different products, it can be difficult to keep track of them all. In addition to this, you will have to monitor your competitors’ products and prices, and doing it manually can be extremely difficult, so Priceva offers you services like Minimum Advertised Price Monitoring and Competitor Price Monitoring, which automate the process of monitoring prices and products.


How is the EAN-13 number calculated?

In the EAN number, each digit carries some information related to GS1 or the product. The last digit is calculated this way: three times the sum of digits in even positions is added to the sum of digits in odd positions.

Is the EAN code mandatory?

No, it's not.

The barcode on the product packaging is optional. Nevertheless, its presence greatly facilitates the work of suppliers of goods, as well as trade enterprises, so they are very reluctant to take unmarked goods for sale.

Why is the EAN code important?

The EAN code simplifies such processes as: automation of logistics, tracking the movement of goods, and product accounting. The EAN code simplifies all sorts of technical processes and, again, inspires more confidence among suppliers and trade enterprises.

Is the EAN a serial number?

No, the EAN number isn’t a serial number, it is a unique identifier for a particular product. No other product in the world has the same EAN number.

This number is assigned to the product. For example, the iPhone 14 Pro model has its own EAN number, which is assigned to the model range. But each device individually has its own unique serial number.

How many digits is an EAN number?

In the classic EAN number there are 13 digits. There is an abbreviated for that has 8 digits. The EAN-128 code has 48 characters, including not only numbers, but also letters.

Is an EAN the same as a UPC?

The UPC code appeared before the EAN code. The EAN encoding was redesigned from UPC so that it still contained only 12 "bar digits" – that is, only 12 digits in the code have a specific correspondence to specific strokes – and the thirteenth, additional, digit was calculated in a logical way. In principle, the EAN-13 “drawing” is no different from the UPC figure, and for codes starting with the number zero, it is an exact copy, because in Canada and the US, in which the UPC number was created, the number 0 is the country code.

Can a product have both a UPC and EAN?

It is not recommended to use both barcodes at the same time, as this may cause problems in product identification. And it most likely will not have to be done, because the UPC code is only for the US and Canada, and the EAN code is for European countries. And the EAN for the US and Canada is identical to the UPC code.

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