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What’s in a barcode?

Barcodes are machine-readable containers for information. There are many types and formats of barcodes and all have their specific uses. Here are some commonly used barcodes for food products:


GS1 sets the standards and maintains a registry of everyone’s barcode numbers.

The most common GS1 provided number you will come across is the GTIN (also known as an EAN), a 12-digit number that uniquely identifies a product.

Some barcode formats extend the GTIN, commonly adding a check digit to the end to enable validation of a barcode read.


An EAN-13 barcode example

The EAN-13 barcode format is commonly used to identify a product to a Point-of-sale (POS) system, such as at a supermarket checkout.

It uses the GTIN number as a check digit to make a 13-digit number.


The ITF-14 barcode format is commonly used to identify products packed inside containers, such as a box of 54 sachets. It adds a digit to the front of the GTIN and a check digit to the end to format a 14-digit number.

The prefix digit provides the packing level from 0 to 9, it can be used for any purpose. e.g.

  • level 2 is ‘one box of 54 items’
  • level 7 is a pallet of 13 boxes of 54 items

There are two styles of ITF-14, with and without end bars. The use is decided by where they are being printed.

When printing directly to cardboard, they should be included. When printing to white labels, they should be excluded.

2D DataMatrix

The 2d DataMatrix code looks very similar to a QR Code. It is generally square and full of dots.

NotaZone typically uses this for serialised barcodes on products as it can contain multiple information fields and is easily distinguished from the EAN-13 code used for point of sale.

QR Code

QR Codes are commonly used to provide scannable links for people to use with mobile devices. These include web addresses, WiFi details, check-in forms etc.

They are easy to identify as the three large boxes at the corners. This helps scanners or cameras read the barcode in any orientation.


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