How to Create a UPC Label: A Tutorial

A Universal Product Code (UPC) is one of the most recognizable symbols in North America. Commonly used on consumer products, the barcode is a series of vertical lines and a 12-digit number underneath. Learn more about format, compliance, and what it takes to create one.

What Is a UPC Barcode Made of?

The barcode is 12 digits in four sections. The first number is known as the Number System Character, the next five digits are known as the Manufacturer Number, the next five digits are known as the Item Number, and the last number is called the Check Digit.

You may also see the first six digits combined, known as a Company Prefix. Reading a UPC means understanding what the numbers stand for. For instance, a UPC that starts with a 3 means that it's a pharmaceutical item. One that starts with a 5 or a 9 is likely a coupon. UPCs that start with a 2 have to do with weight and are often used for food products. 0 – 1 and 6 – 8 are standard numbers that apply to most other retail transactions.

What Is the GS1?

The GS1 is the governing body for UPCs. Some companies will need to first acquire licenses and registrations from this body in order to create them. Whether or not you need one will depend on what exactly you do. For instance, small businesses that sell goods directly to consumers will likely not need to deal with the GS1, but it’s important to confirm this before making any assumptions.

Please note that while GS1 will charge a fee for their services, companies are not technically ‘buying’ UPCs from them.

What Products Need a Check Digit?

The Check Digit, sometimes called the Modulo Check Character or Checksum Character, is what alerts the scanner that something is amiss with the barcode. So if the UPC was incorrectly printed or there’s a digit missing from the Number System Character, then it will give the scanner user the chance to look into the situation and correct the problem.

How Should the Check Digits Be Calculated?

There is a formula as to how Check Digits need to be calculated, but you won’t need to memorize it, the GS1 lays out the details so that you can get the correct character for a product.

What Is the Appropriate Size for a UPC Label?

Ultimately, it depends on the size of the product. The most popular size is 1.5” x 1”, and it’s typically the default if you use a generator tool.

When formatting a UPC, it’s recommended that you pay attention to the aesthetics. You may need to increase the margin size at the top of the page if the barcode is right at the edge of the label when it's printed.

How Do I Print UPC Labels in Microsoft Word?

Microsoft Word/Office 365 can be a cost-effective way to get your labels printed for some companies. However, the process of creating labels in Microsoft Word can be time-consuming, particularly if you’re working with standard home equipment. We recommend having your labels printed by a professional who can save you time and potentially even money in the process.

Additional Tips

Here are a few final tips to getting your labels right:

  • Scanners can be designed to override things like missing numbers on a UPC. However, this is not recommended as it can lead to inventory confusion.
  • Resolution for UPC codes are pivotal to moving the process along. If a home printer smudges the ink or otherwise blurs the numbers, it can have an impact on the efficiency of sales.

Why Have a Professional Print UPC Labels?

White Graphics, Inc. knows that UPC labels are the key for many retailers to keep everything on track. As they run through inventory and ring up sale after sale, these 12-digits can move the process along without delay. Taking risks with their quality can cause delays for the consumer, mistakes in ordering, and revenue loss.

Instead of shouldering it on your own, use our UPC creator link to design your labels, and then let us output the labels.