Difference Between EAN-13 and UPC-A Barcodes

UPC-A Barcodes are effectively a subset of EAN-13 Barcodes. If the first digit on the EAN-13 number is a ‘0’, then the bars will be of both the EAN-13 and the UPC-A (without the leading ‘0’) will be precisely the same. The displacement of the human-readable numbers below differ between the UPC-A and EAN-13 barcodes; however, this is the most significant difference. Both barcodes EAN-13 and UPA-C, scan quickly by the majority of scanners.

Difference EAN-13 and UPC-A

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

UPC-A Format barcodes have traditionally been used in the USA, whereas EAN-13 format barcodes have been used throughout the rest of the world. Nowadays, the majority of stores across the globe accept barcodes in either format. However, there may be some older systems that only accept one or the other. This means that if you are selling your product in the USA, the UPC-A format barcodes are best for you, and if you are selling your product internationally, or selling in a country other than the USA, the EAN-13 Barcode is best.

If you come across a store that has difficulty in reading your EAN-13 or UPC-A Barcode, they can either ignore the leading ‘0’ or add a leading ‘0’ depending on how many digits their system prefers. After removal or addition of leading ‘0’, the Barcode will read the same as the opposite format (as the bars are identical regardless), and will still be unique globally.

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.

Why this occurs?

The way a digit encodes into every Barcode is 7 blocks of either white or black, making up each digit. A full set of digits 0-9 refers to parity. Retail barcodes have a minimum of 2 parities, one for the left side and one for the right. This is so why if we scan it upside down, it’ll still return the correct number the right way around.

Initially, the 12 digit UPC system was created in the 1970s by George Laurer. These work with 2 different parities, a left side odd parity and a right side even parity (each with 6 digits). See the pictures for the parities.

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, both the left odd parity and the right even parity of the UPC barcodes, but adds an additional parity (a left-even parity) which uses a selection on the left-hand side digits.

The left and right-hand side of the EAN-13 barcodes are still divided into 6 digits each. So 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 scans (i.e., the scanner isn’t reading the digits below the BarcodeBarcode), an EAN-13 barcode with a ‘0’ on the front can be confusing sometimes by scanners as a UPC barcode without the ‘0’ and vice-versa. This is mostly to do with what the scanner or software system is expecting to see. This often happens when a barcode that is not linked on the network gets scanned, and 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 in the past. And when problems occur, they are generally resolved quickly. If you are going in the Musgraves in Ireland, they prefer that you fill out your Barcode in it’s UPC format on their buyer form (without the leading ‘0’) and state that the format is UPC. By doing so, they have no problems using our barcodes.


Please contact us if you have any questions about this.

Be conscious of your retail products and buy EAN-13 barcodes or UPC barcodes from an authentic and independent source of barcodes like us.

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