A barcode is an optical machine-readable representation of data relating to the object to which it is attached. Originally barcodes systematically represented data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or one-dimensional (1D). Later they evolved into rectangles, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns in two dimensions (2D). Although 2D systems use a variety of symbols, they are generally referred to as barcodes as well. Barcodes originally were scanned by special optical scanners called barcode readers. Later, scanners and interpretive software became available on devices including desktop printers and smartphones.

Barcodes became commercially successful when they were used to automate supermarket checkout systems, a task for which they have become almost universal. Their use has spread to many other tasks that are generically referred to as automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). The very first scanning of the now ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC).

Applicable requirements are set forth in various European Directives that replace individual country safety standards. The Directives apply to products manufactured within but also exported to the European Union.



A UPC, which stands for Universal Product Code, is a 12-digit bar code used primarily in Canada and the United States. Retailers add UPCs to each item they sell in order to track their product inventory. UPCs can be used outside of North America, although some international retailers prefer EANs (European Article Number). It’s always best to check with your retailer in advance.


EAN originally stood for "European Article Number," but has since been changed to "International Article Number." The term refers to the bar code used by retailers outside of North America. EANs are added to products so that retailers can track their inventory. An EAN is essentially identical to a UPC except that an EAN contains 13 digits whereas a UPC has only 12. The extra digit makes up part of the country code and refers to where the bar code was registered. The country code has no bearing on where the product itself was manufactured. UPCs can be converted into EANs by simply adding a zero to the start of the number. Many North American retailers accept EANs, but if you know you are going to sell your product in Canada or the United States, it's a safer option to use a UPC.