Product identification is an essential part of any business, logistics, or manufacturing supply chain. This is especially true as more and more online sellers add specific product identifiers to their listings on popular selling websites such as Amazon or Google Shopping. The GTIN Barcode is one of the most popular barcodes that serves as a global identifier of trade items.
In today’s guide, you’ll learn everything about this code. We’ll discuss what it is, what its encodings are, who uses them, and where to purchase them.
What Is a GTIN Barcode?
Companies worldwide commonly use the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) to identify their trade items. As defined by GS1, trade items are priced, ordered, and invoiced services and products in a supply chain. The GTIN code can identify any packaging level product type, including consumer units, inner packs, pallets, cases, and more.
With GTINs, there is also the possibility of identifying trade items with similar production characteristics such as production batches by the expiry date, lot number, and similar. For identifying unique items, one can use a GTIN plus a serial number.
This code is beneficial for companies because it serves as a common language for its trade partners worldwide to identify its products and communicate more efficiently. The GTIN is either encoded in a barcode or an EPC or RFID tag. Scanning this tag when receiving the items in a warehouse, administrating medication, or checking out at the grocery store allows companies to get accurate access to product-related information.
Where Are GTINs Used?
Wherever there is a need for a product or service identification, GTINs can help. These product identifiers have a wide range of applications across industries and product types:
- Physical products. These codes are easy to encode into Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags or affix to products for easy identification during transit in the supply chain.
- E-commerce. GTINs can also support internet applications and data sharing by serving as a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). Thanks to them, one can track virtual products such as downloadable music, e-books, and similar. Two basic data formats include LGTIN EPC (GTIN plus batch or lot number) and SGTIN EPC (GTIN plus serial number).
- IT systems. Purchasing, logistics, inventory management, analytics, reporting, you name it. The GTIN can identify products across all systems and databases. This way, there is a connection between systems that help boost operational processes and business analytics.
What Is the GTIN Structure?
All GTIN codes have two segments: a barcode graphic and a number string. The barcode has a set of black and white bars of specific widths, where every digit from zero to nine has its particular pattern. The number string is located at the bottom of the graphic and serves as a backup when the scanner cannot read it. This way, a person can manually insert the code number into the computer for easy item identification.
All GTIN codes begin with a “start” code consisting of two black bars of one unit in width with white space between them. Then numbers with corresponding bars above them are then presented before the “end” code (which uses the same design as the start code) is added.
There are four segments in each GTIN number string:
- Indicator Digit. This segment is only used in GTIN-14 and serves to identify packaging levels to define the product packaging hierarchy within the same product reference.
- Company prefix. This part is a unique manufacturer ID issued by GS1 that serves to identify a business. Without the company prefix, you can’t get GS1 identifiers, including UPCs, EANs, and other codes. GTIN-12 uses the same company prefix as UPC.
- Product reference. A GTIN coordinator working for the manufacturer assigns this number to identify particular trade items. Each product will have a specific product reference to differentiate it from other products from the same family.
- Check digit or checksum. This number is always at the far end of the number string, and it’s calculated from the preceding GTIN digits to assure data accuracy and integrity.
There are four different GTIN encodings with a string of 14, 13, 12, or eight numbers. They get their names according to the number of digits they encode.
- GTIN-14 – Used for wholesale shipments. It includes an indicator digit, 12 digits with a company prefix and product reference, and a check digit.
- GTIN-13 – Also used in EAN-13 barcodes. It also includes 12 digits, including a company prefix and product reference, plus a check digit.
- GTIN-12 – Can also be used in UPC barcodes. It includes 11 digits encompassing a company prefix, product reference, and one check digit at the end.
- GTIN-8 – Used when the label size exceeds 25% of the printed label area or 12.5% of the total printable area. The GTIN-8 is the only GTIN variation that can also be used in EAN-8 codes. It has seven digits with a GS1-8 company prefix and the product reference and one check digit.
Is the Price Information Included in the GTIN?
No. Including the price information in the GTIN code is not recommended. Any change or removal of the price on the code requires that a new GTIN code be applied, which can be extremely time-consuming.
You may wonder how the cashier tracks the product price then. When an employee scans a product, the internal system of that store instantly identifies the product (thanks to the GTIN) looks up the price in the database, and sends it back to the computer.
This way, retailers can change prices without bothering the manufacturers to change GTINs with every price change.
How to Buy GTIN Barcodes?
The safest and most legitimate way to purchase GTIN codes for your products is through the GS1. The GS1 is a non-profit global organization developing and maintaining supply chain standards across the world. They have been selling GTINs since 1974 and are your only solution for obtaining personalized GTINs.
What makes the GTIN personalized is a unique Company Prefix assigned to you once you register with GS1 and become a member. To do so, you need to pay a one-time joining fee, as well as an annual fee that renews each year. The GS1 will then allocate a specific amount of GTINs according to your needs.
You may notice they only sell a GTIN barcode in bulk, which is an excellent option for companies who deal with large numbers of products. However, this may not be the most cost-effective option for those with only a few items to sell.
If you belong to the second category, you may want to consider purchasing GTINs from resellers. These are companies that buy barcodes from GS1 in bulk and then sell them to customers in the amount they need.
How to Avoid Scam GTIN Sellers?
While this is a great option that can save you a lot of money, you should only make purchases with reputable resellers. Here are a few tips to help make sure you’re purchasing from a legitimate reseller:
- The reseller should have a fully functioning website with an e-mail address, a phone number, and a physical address.
- It should be a government-registered company.
- The prices should be in the range with other competitors and not suspiciously much lower.
Beware that by purchasing a GTIN with a reseller, you don’t won’t receive a personal manufacturer ID.
More and more retailers now require GS-1 issued GTINs for manufacturers to sell products with them. These include but are not limited to Amazon, Google Shopping, Home Depot, Costco, and others.
Finally, if you’re using GTINs for your organization’s internal system or inventory management purposes, there’s no need to spend large amounts of money. You can check this list of prefixes GS1 has reserved for internal use. You’ll find them under “Restricted Circulation Numbers (MO defined).”
Printing GTIN Codes
Printing GTIN codes of the best possible quality is an essential step in ensuring barcode readability. There are six steps to doing this right:
- Know the Barcode Purpose
Are you creating product labels? Do you need inventory stickers or shelf tags? Or maybe you’re going to sew the barcode on a shirt. Defining the purpose right away will help choose the suitable materials and printing techniques.
- Customize the Barcode
Barcode customization is essential when placing the GTIN on the product packaging. You can make a unique design to attract customers by using non-black colors for the bars or adding side graphics. However, always keep the original barcode version for future use.
- Pay Attention to Scannability Factors
Many factors affect barcode scannability, including poor color contrast, smudges, reduced visibility, altered height-width ratio, and more. Everything from the materials you use to the type of printer can impact barcode quality.
- Choose the Printing Material
You want to print the barcode on any solid surface with the proper use of materials and equipment. Most small businesses can benefit from face stock materials such as paper, plastic, and fabric.
- Choose a Printer
Choosing a printer depends on the cost and the barcode’s purpose. Ink printers are the cheapest option but should be your last option. Laser printers can only process non-thermal paper, just like ink ones.
- Optimize Your Devices
To get sharper images, consider slowing down your printer. For example, you can set thermal printers to four inches per second for best quality prints. Also, save the GTIN code as a .eps file to make it readable by machines. Ultimately, adjust the brightness or contrast settings of your image.
Using GTIN Codes on the Product
A hot topic regarding embedding the barcodes onto products is how many are enough for a single product. Fortunately, we’ve cracked the code for this issue, and the solution is quite simple.
If ever in doubt, use the equation of “one unique product equals one GTIN.” For example, if you’re selling cups in different shapes and sizes, each item needs to have a separate GTIN. A yellow round-shaped cup needs one code, and the same cup in the green color needs a new unique number.
You can then apply the same system to the packaging sizes. If you’re selling a package of five candles and a package of 12, each one needs a unique code. The same goes for different boxes, pallets, cases, cans, or other packaging types.
GTIN Code Pros
- A trusted solution for product identification
- Ensures brand protection
- Links back to your business
- Seamless information exchange
- Reduced labor cost and training time
- An integrated system that works everywhere
GTIN Code Cons
- Restricted to numerical data encoding
- Poor damage tolerance that impacts scanning ability
- It takes time to implement
- Costly scanning equipment
GTIN vs. UPC vs. EAN
All three product identification numbers serve a similar purpose – they help manage inventory, make sure your products are unique and make room for a speedy checkout process. It’s important to know that the GTIN codes are part of more extensive data structures, including the UPC and EAN.
There is no technical difference between the three, and if you’ll recall the previous sections of this article, GTIN-12 encodes the UPC, and the GTIN-13 does the same with EAN. All these codes are part of the GS1 system, and most countries around the world recognize them.
The European Article Number (EAN), which is a 13-digit GTIN, is used in most countries except the U.S. and Canada. The two countries mainly use the Universal Product Code (GTIN-12.) Note that if you already have a UPC, you don’t need an EAN. You can add a zero in front of the 12-digit UPC, and you’ve got your EAN code.
Choosing among different GTIN codes depends solely on the purpose of your business. If your trade takes place in Europe and other countries overseas, you should go for EAN. For U.S and Canada-based businesses, UPC is the best option.
Ultimately, you may want to contact the retailer you plan on collaborating with and ask them which barcode type they accept.
Know Your Codes
All companies that deal with large numbers of products and consider selling them to retailers should get a verified GS1 barcode. There are various symbologies in use depending on the purpose and the scope of one’s business: GTINs that encode UPCs, EANs, and more. GTINs do a great job at identifying most trade items, and it’s wise to invest time and money into their implementation.
After reading our guide, you should now have a clear understanding of what a GTIN code is, how it works, and where you can purchase one.