What is a UPC barcode and how to get one.

So as many of you might have stumbled across when creating your first Amazon Seller account, you must load all products onto your account by UPC, EAN, ISBN, or ASIN number. This is normally fine and dandy for those who are just reselling other people’s products, but it’s confusing for those of us creating our own products. This creates the obvious question:

How do you load your products onto Amazon without a UPC number?

Short answer: you can’t.

To avoid scams and duplicate listings Amazon now requires that every item have a UPC/GTIN number. I discovered this when trying to create my first product listing. The process of getting your own UPC numbers is a little confusing, so I figured that I would walk you through the steps that I took to get my first UPC codes.

Where do I get a UPC?

Like many designers, my only dealings with UPC barcodes were to place them on packaging that I was designing, so I didn’t know exactly how they worked or what you needed to get one in the first place. To avoid duplicate UPCs and not be a complete logistical nightmare, there is one organization that hands out UPC codes: the GS1 US.

What is the GS1 you ask? Well apparently it’s the global non-profit organization that handles all of the identification numbers for all products sold around the world. Think ICANN but for barcodes instead of domains.

UPC vs GTIN: The difference

UPC-A Barcode

If you’ve ever bought anything at a grocery store, you probably have some idea what a UPC barcode is. It’s that little set of lines with a number at the bottom that the cashier scans to ring up your item. Actually, the UPC barcode is a way for a machine to read your product’s “Global Trade Item Number” (GTIN).

The GTIN number is that identifies each unique item for sale. Think of it like a Social Security Number for each product you have. Every product has one and none of them are repeated. The GS1 keeps all of the data about each product in their vast database that retailers can reference for information about each individual product.

The UPC or “Universal Product Code” is the barcode that allows you to scan the GTIN and related information into your computer system. There are several variations of the UPC barcode, but the one that you see most commonly is the UPC-A barcode which is the one that we are concerned about.

How do I get a UPC?

The UPC is broken down into two parts: the Company Number and the Item Reference. The UPC is only 12 numbers long, so obviously it’s hard to fit all of that information into the barcode. Here is a quick reference guide from the GS1 website:



So the shorter your company prefix, the more numbers you have left to create barcodes from. So obviously, you would rather have a shorter prefix than a longer one, but of course shorter ones cost more… significantly more. They have lots of tools on the GS1 website to determine what length of company prefix you need. You can always upgrade later, so I went for the shortest one which set me back $250.


2017 GS1 Pricing


Ok, so I registered, now what?

The next day after I registered, I received my company prefix via email. The email was actually really helpful and had a step-by-step guide about what to do next.

Here is the helpful video that they send you (I recommend pouring yourself a glass of wine because it’s as boring as watching paint dry):

For the quick run down, here are the steps I took:

  1. I created an account with the link that they sent me.
  2. Log into the Product database
  3. Create a product from the Product tab
  4. Fill out the form and save draft
  5. Auto-assign a GTIN and save
  6. Optional: Create a barcode from the Barcode tab


And you’re ready to sell your product

Now you have your GTIN and UPC you can start selling on any platform you wish! I hope that this was a helpful guide for you. Let me know how the process turned out for you!


More Reading

GTIN Wikipedia


GS1 Guide to Creating Your Barcode