EAN13 vs UPCA Barcode – What is the difference?

UPCA barcodes are a 12-digit ‘subset’ of the 13-digit EAN13 barcodes. When the first digit of an EAN13 barcode is a “0”, the bars of both EAN13 and UPCA formatted barcodes are identical. The only real difference between the two barcode formats, in that situation, is the placement of the numbers below the bars. A barcode number can be encoded in either the 13-digit EAN13 format or the 12-digit UPCA format. Most barcode scanners worldwide are capable of reading either barcode format easily.

UPCA formatted barcodes are most commonly used in the United States. Everywhere else in the world tends to prefer the EAN13 format (the European Standard format). Almost all shops today accept both barcode formats. However, a small number of stores globally can only accept one barcode format due to their older inventory or barcode scanning systems. If you are selling your product in the United States, we would advise that you get a UPCA format barcode. If you are selling your barcode in the UK or anywhere else globally, we would advise that you get an EAN13 format barcode.


Further information about the formatting

The way a digit is encoded into every barcode is 7 blocks of either white or black, making up each digit. – A full set of digits 0-9 is called a parity. – Retail barcodes have a minimum of 2 parities, one for the left side and one for the right. – This is so they can be scanned upside down and still return the correct number the right way around.

Originally the 12 digit UPC system was created in the 1970s by George Laurer. – these work with 2 different parities – a left side odd parity and a right side even parity (each with 6 digits) – the parities for these can be seen in the attached.

Later, a 13 digit EAN-13 system was introduced as a superset of the UPC barcodes. These were deliberately designed to be used in conjunction with UPC-A barcodes. And hence, employed both the left odd parity and the right even parity of the UPC barcodes, but added parity (a left-even parity) which was to be used on a selection of the left-hand side digits –

The left and right-hand side of the EAN-13 barcodes are still divided into 6 digits each. So the initial digit determines which combination of the first 6 digits will use the newly created left even parity. Hence, in no EAN-13, the barcode is the first digit encoded in the barcode. However, it does determine the way the other digits are encoded.

– In the case of a leading ‘0’ as with our barcodes, the 0 determines that all of the initial 6 digits will use the left odd parity, meaning that the bars look the same as a UPC barcode would without the leading ‘0’ – As the UPC version also only uses the odd parity.

How do they scan?

Because the actual bars are the only part of the barcode that is scanned (i.e. the scanner isn’t reading the digits below the barcode), an EAN-13 barcode with a ‘0’ on the front can sometimes be confused by scanners as a UPC barcode without the ‘0’ and vice-versa. This is largely to do with what the scanner or software system is expecting to see. Often, this occurs when a barcode that is not linked on the system is scanned – The software has no point of reference for what format the barcode should be and, hence, assumes that it is UPC format. When the number is first added to the system in the 13 digit format and linked to the system in the system (generally how stores add the barcodes based on the information provided on their buyer form), it tends to scan appropriately EAN-13 format barcode.

Very few stores have had issues with this in the past. And when issues occur, they are generally resolved easily. If you are going to the Musgraves in Ireland, they prefer that you fill out your barcode in its UPC format on their buyer form (without the leading ‘0’) and state that the format is UPC – if this is done, they have no problems using our barcodes.


Please contact us if you have any questions about this.

You can purchase EAN13 format (or UPCA format) barcodes from us here. We usually supply our barcodes in EAN13 format, as this is the most common format in the UK. However, if you require UPCA format barcodes instead, that’s fine (just put your request in the “additional information” field when ordering).