What is an EAN code

The EAN code is one of the most widely used product identification tools in the retail industry worldwide. Primarily serving as an upgrade to the UPCs, these barcodes are the backbone of every successful international product shipping operation, especially in Europe.

If you’re looking to expand your business overseas and need an international inventory management solution, this guide is for you. You’ll walk away today knowing what EAN code is, how to use it, where to buy it, and learn how it compares to other standardized barcodes.

Ean Code Scan

What Is an EAN Code?

If you Google “EAN Code,” you might be surprised to see some websites refer to it as the “International Article Number.” No, you didn’t enter the wrong search term, this is just the more modern name for the barcode. Originally, EAN stood for European Article Number, but as more and more countries around the world started using it, it took on the moniker “International.” However, it’s still referred to by the acronym EAN.

Retailers, suppliers, manufacturers, and sellers around the world use the EAN code for a variety of purposes:

  • Wholesale ordering
  • Retail points of sale (POS) scanning
  • To reduce human error during product processing
  • Accounting
  • Creating a standardized system that replaces handwritten information and labeling
  • Searching and finding specific items

EAN codes will, in most cases, find their place on the packaging of the product a company wants to standardize or sell. These barcodes are usually scanned and read by computers.

Scan EAN code with phone

Parts of the EAN Code

Every EAN code has two components: a barcode graphic and a string of 13 consecutive numbers. If you’re familiar with the UPC, you might notice that the only difference between the two is that UPC has a string of only 12 digits. However, the EAN standard works much better for international trade than the UPCs.

The EAN barcode sequence begins with a “start code” and ends with an “end code.” These codes include black and white bars of a one-unit width. The 13-digit string of numbers and the bars encoding these numbers are placed in between the start and end codes. Each digit from 0 to 9 has a corresponding bar with a specific width and pattern, making it easy for a scanner to differentiate and read the code quickly.

With that in mind, if you’re looking for a first-class smart scanner and mobile computer built with maximum readability capacities, Energy Electronics is the official distributor of Sonim RS60 and RS80 mobile handhelds with integrated scanners.

In general, the EAN has four parts:

  1. The first two or three digits are the Number System or the country code. Industrial countries get a two-digit code, while the less developed ones receive a three-digit one.
  2. The next five or four digits represent the Manufacturer Code or prefix. Together with the first part, these two always are part of the first seven digits.
  3. Next is the five-digit Product Code. This code is assigned by an EAN coordinator working for the manufacturer, and it serves to identify a specific family of products.
  4. Finally, the last number is known as the checksum. This is a number at the far right of the barcode used to verify the EAN number accuracy.


There is also a less common eight-digit EAN-8 barcode version to fit small packages. Finally, another variation, EAN-2, works as an addition to EAN-13 and can often be seen on magazines or periodicals indicating the issue number.

As we already mentioned, the barcode graphic has the primary purpose of being read by computers. If the barcode is too damaged, the person handling the product can then enter the “backup” plain number code manually into the system. The good news is that several more sophisticated scanners, such as the Sonim RS60, are capable of scanning even worn or damaged tags, which eliminates the need for manual input in those situations.

Scanning EAN Code

Does Everyone Need an EAN Code?

Not at all. If you sell online, it doesn’t mean you have to label your products with the EAN code. This barcode is mainly for businesses selling physical products within Europe. So, if you plan on expanding trade to Europe, you need to make sure all products shipped there have their unique EAN number.

Once you start using these codes, the value of your products is going to increase. Without this label, it would be much harder for consumers to find your specific product. By improving the way, a customer locates your product, you automatically appear more accessible.

Also, selling on Amazon or Google is becoming more difficult without proper EAN or UPCs on all products.

scanning barcode on product

How to Buy EAN Codes?

By now, you should have a clear understanding of whether or not you need an EAN code. The question now is where to buy them?

There are plenty of resellers online from whom you can purchase EAN codes. However, the only legitimate vendor is the GS1, a barcode standard-setting company operating since 1974. It’s the only place where you as a company can obtain fully personalized EANs.

To get barcodes from them, you need to register first and become a member. There’s a joining fee and a one-time charge, as well as an annual license fee you’ll be charged every year. In return, the company allocates EAN codes unique to your business with your manufacturer ID.

If you check their pricing list, you’ll see they sell EAN codes in bulk, which is acceptable for businesses selling large quantities of products. But what happens if you only need a couple of EANs? At this point, you may want to consider purchasing from a reseller. These are companies that purchase bulk EANs from GS1 and then resell to customers in the amount they need.

Purchasing from resellers does come with a few drawbacks, including the risk of fraud and purchasing EANs without your manufacturer ID inserted in them. To avoid manipulations, here are some tips when choosing a reseller:

  • Don’t buy from websites that offer meager prices.
  • Look for a government-registered business.
  • Make sure there’s an email, a phone number, or a physical address of the reseller available.
  • The reseller should have their own website. If their online presence ends at auction sites, you may want to steer clear of them.

Many retailers such as Amazon, Macy’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, and others may require products to have a GS1-issued barcode, so if you plan on selling with them, it’s worth investing in the original codes.

Tip: If you plan on using GS-1 barcodes for your organization’s internal communication system, you don’t have to pay a fee. The GS1 has a list of prefixes you can use under “Restricted Circulation Numbers (MO defined)” on this page.

Steps to Purchasing EANs

  1. Decide on the number of EANs you need. This is also the step where you’d sign up for a GS1 company prefix is required.
  2. Create unique product numbers for each item and identify the package types.
  3. Define how the items will show EANs and whether you’ll use them for warehousing purposes or for selling the products.
  4. Obtain accurate EANs for your products. You can start at GS1 US Data Hub.
Woman printing UPC Codes from printer

Printing EAN Codes

The printing process is vital when it comes to any barcode implementation. You must ensure maximum quality for the codes to be scannable by multiple devices. If you neglect this step, you risk printing ineffective or unscannable barcodes.

There are seven keys to printing a high-quality barcode:

  1. Determine the purpose of the barcode.
  2. Consider customizing the code to fit on smaller surfaces or matching the brand personality.
  3. Be cautious of the factors affecting scannability.
  4. Determine the printing material – paper, plastic, or fabric.
  5. Select the right printer.
  6. Optimize the PC and Printer Settings.
  7. Test the barcode to make sure it works.

A general rule of thumb is to keep the barcode within 80% of its nominal size. You don’t want to make a lot of alterations; ideally, keep the barcode intact. Also, there are dozens of graphic formats for printing, but make sure to print the EANs in the .eps format.

When it comes to positioning, you want to place the barcode on the side of the packaging. The bars should run in the same direction as the ink during the printing process. If there is some spillover, it will affect the bar length, but preserving the width is crucial for barcode readability.

Overall, there are many factors to consider when ensuring excellent barcode readability:

  • Proper color contract
  • No smudges
  • Good barcode visibility
  • Quality printing material and equipment

If the packaging for your product is already printed, you may print the EANs in the form of stickers. This way, you can simply stick the code to the packaging or to a product that comes without a package. You may consider this solution as well if you’re working with a small number of products.

There are many different printer types, but the best ones for printing EANs or other barcodes on paper are direct thermal printers. These printers are handy and straightforward for printing barcodes one at a time.

barcode being scanned

Using EANs on the Product

Firstly, not all products will need an EAN. If you don’t plan on selling in Europe or selling items from the crafts and arts category, there’s no need for barcodes. You can sell on places such as Amazon after applying for a brand registry.

For products that do need EANs, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. Many retailers become confused about the number of EANs for a specific product. To make things easier, just think of EANs as fingerprints. No two are alike. Accordingly, every product you sell needs to have its own unique barcode.

Let’s have a look at a few examples. Say you’re selling dresses that come in different colors and sizes. The small-sized white dress will have its own EAN, and so will the medium-sized blue one or the large-sized yellow one. If two dresses have the same color and size but a different pattern, you can probably guess they’ll each need a separate barcode.

Also, if you’re selling pallets, boxes, or packages, each lot should have a unique code. A six-pack of bottled water should have a different barcode than an eight-pack of the same water manufacturer. The same logic is applied to 12-ounce, 16-ounce, and any other container size.

EAN Code Pros

  • Greater product traceability, safety, and reliability
  • A high-density barcode that encodes large amounts of information on a small surface
  • Easy to decode information with a scanner without using advanced scanning devices
  • Enhanced supply chain efficiency
  • Suits fast-moving items
  • Self-checking mechanism with the checksum

EAN Code Cons

  • Not the most budget-friendly equipment
  • Instable print quality
  • It doesn’t encode alphabets or special characters, only numbers
  • Small damage tolerance that makes it harder to scan
  • The character limit also limits potential uses
  • Potentially time-consuming labeling process
printing barcodes


EAN and UPC are both standard barcodes in the retail industry. The UPC is the original product that first saw the light of the day in 1973, while the EAN is its more modern version. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any physical differences between the two. Both codes’ graphic design consists of the same black and white bars with the same spaces between them. Also, they both are made of a barcode and numbers, the only difference being in the number of digits featured.

The Universal Product Code has 12 digits belonging to three categories: manufacturer ID, item ID, and a checksum. The EAN, however, has one more number that goes at the beginning before the manufacturer ID, and it represents the country code.

We already mentioned EAN is the UPC’s international version, so each country using it will have a dedicated number. For the U.S. and Canada, the country code is 0. If your business is in one of these two countries, the UPC will do the job. Many retailers may still use old inventory systems that only let them input 12-digit UPCs rather than the 13-digit strings.

If you’re doing business overseas (mainly in Europe), however, you’ll have to go with the EAN barcode. Since 2005, most retail scanners can read both codes, and scanners in most other countries can read UPCs, but not all American retail scanners can read EANs. The best way to decide which code is right for you is to talk to your intended retailer directly and ask which format they accept.

Codes Are Important

For e-commerce to be effective, there should be a robust standardization in place. That’s precisely what the GS1 is doing with its set of barcodes suitable for international trade, such as EAN-13. Once again, if you plan on expanding your business to Europe, this code is a must, and you can purchase it through GS1. For companies selling only in the U.S and Canada, you’re good to go with just the UPCs.

Hopefully, after reading today’s guide, you have a clear understanding of what EAN code is, what it is used for, and where you can purchase one.

To learn more about the best scanning devices available, reach out to an Energy Electronics sales representative or browse our selection of premium devices.