Are All Barcodes UPC? What Type of Barcode Do I Need?

By The Barcode Guru

If you are new to launching a retail product, there are few things as confusing and frustrating as barcodes.  With an infinite amount of product categories and more than 30 commonly used barcode types, trying to figure out the correct way to barcode your product can reduce anyone to tears.


So allow me to make this as simple as possible for you.


You need a UPC barcode.


Unless you are selling a book or a magazine, the type of barcode you are going to put on your product is the UPC Barcode.  Specifically, it is the 12-digit UPC-A barcode.  UPC is simply short for Universal Product Code and they work for any type of retail product – whether you are selling cosmetics, beer, apparel, or pop tarts.  To reiterate, 99.999% of all retail products use the standard 12-digit UPC barcode.


Books and magazines, however, do use a different type of barcode.  Books use what is called a Bookland EAN barcode which you can only obtain from the Library of Congress’ website:  Magazines use another type of code called the Bipad code.  These you can only get from


But, to reiterate,  unless you are selling a book or a magazine, the type of barcode you are going to put on your product is the UPC Barcode. 


Perhaps the second most common type of barcode used in the retail world is the 14-digit GTIN code (aka the Global Tracking Identification Number).  They also commonly go by the name SCC code (Shipping Container Code) or MCC code (Master Case Code).  But GTIN, SCC, and MCC codes are all the exact same thing.  To be even more specific, they are all technically called the  ITF-14 code (which stands for Interleaved Two of Five).  For ease of understanding, simply use GTIN, SCC, or MCC and know that they are all the same thing.


GTIN barcodes are generally for master cases of your product that get shipped to warehouses.  The warehouse will scan the GTIN/SCC/MCC code on your shipment and then break it down into your individual products (that have UPC barcodes on them) for placement onto retail shelves.


It is also a little known fact that UPC barcodes will also work just fine for shipping containers that are sent to warehouses.  The reason why businesses use GTIN codes is that in general they are free and UPC barcodes need to be purchased. 


Lastly, another very common code you will see on retail products is the QR code (aka Quick Response code).  These are the square, alien looking codes restaurants are now commonly asking you to scan to load their menu on your phone.   The purpose of QR codes is simply that you can scan the code and it will launch a website inside your phone’s browser.  However, QR codes are not used for inventory tracking.  Inventory tracking is the sole domain of UPC barcodes and GTIN/SCC/MCC barcodes.


Hopefully, this article has shone a little bit of light on the age old questions of “What Type of Barcode do I need?” and “Are All Barcodes UPC?”


Best of luck with your product launch!

– Erik Quisling

Erik Quisling is the Founder and CEO of Started in 1999, has been featured in both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and has helped more than 100,000 businesses bring their products to market with barcodes.
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