How to read the barcode label on a product

Written by laura roberts Google
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How to read the barcode label on a product
Use a pencil and magnifying glass to decipher a barcode. (pencil and barcode image by Anatoly Tiplyashin from

Since the invention of Uniform Product Code bar symbols in 1973, a sector of the public has been fascinated with the meaning behind the pattern of lines. By studying the numbers within a code, it is possible to identify both the country and manufacturer where a product originated. After practicing, you can also decode the barcode symbols into numbers.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • UPC codes
  • EAN codes
  • Pencil (optional)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)

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  1. 1

    Observe that a barcode label is constructed of both white and black lines in four different thicknesses. Refer to the numeric value of each kind of bar when reading a label. A white bar equals 0, the thin black bar equals 1, the medium bar equals 2, the next largest equals 3 and the widest equals 4.

  2. 2

    Note that the "101" symbol begins and ends all UPC codes--made up of a thin black line, followed by a white line and another thin black line. In the centre of each UPC code, observe the extra thin black lines extending down between the numbers in an "0101" pattern.

  3. 3

    Understand that each of the 6 numbers on either side of the centre has its own 4 line code: 0 (3211), 1 (2221), 2 (2122), 3 (1411), 4 (1132), 5 (1231), 6 (1114), 7 (1312), 8 (1213) and 9 (3112). Notice that on the left, the number patterns always begin with a white line, whereas on the right, the pattern is reversed, starting with a black line. This ensures a check against errors.

  4. 4

    Recognise that a 12-digit UPC code doesn't include a country indicator, since all UPC codes originate from the United States or Canada. Understand that European Article Number (EAN) 13-digit barcodes all include a 2-digit country code at the beginning of the label. This indicates where it was registered, although the product may still have been manufactured in another country.

  5. 5

    Understand that the first 6 to 10 digits of a UPC barcode indicate the manufacturer. Utilise that knowledge to note that different brands use the same manufacturer to create similar products under different packaging.

Tips and warnings

  • Notice that the sum of each numerical code is always 7.

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