Of Barcodes And Bees : How To Get Barcodes

Nope, I’m not barcoding the girls.  Technology has not gone that far, yet.  At least not at Brookfield Farm in Maple Falls, Washington.  But I am about to barcode four of our delicious raw honeys infused with flowers and spices, and two of our organic vinegars infused with raw honey, which we sell in the gourmet section of food stores.  This blog is about the Virgil-like descent into that technological, ummm, place of warmth, and the emergence from there with the object of my quest.  Hopefully, this will shed some light on the nagging question posed by many creative folks: “How do I get a barcode?”


Barcodes vary.  Europe has more numbers than in the US; you need an EAN barcode if you’re going overseas.  In the US and Canada we use U.P.C.s.  Pharmaceuticals have different needs. Books and magazines also have different needs. Music seems to be a toss-up, some sites say they need a special barcode, others say they don’t.  I don’t sell health care, the written word, or music, so I know not of these issues (check out http://www.upccode.net/faq.html#q13 for some enlightenment there). But if you have products that are not health related, publications, or, possibly, music, that you are trying to put in stores, you need a  UPC-A General Use barcode. (U.P.C. means Universal Product Code)

Important: There are some stores that will take only barcodes from GS1 (more on them below) Wal-Mart, The Kroger Company, and Macy’s are examples.  This is not my world, so I did not pursue the names of the other large companies.  But if these types of companies are your market, scroll down to GS1, pick up their web address and head over there.


public domaine image: Wikipedia of Barcode numbers for UPC-A barcode, which corresponds to "Book of Pure Logic" by George F. Thomson

12 digit barcode – public domain image

U.P.C. code has 12 numbers.  The numbers are meaningless until you assign them to your product.  YOU tell the merchant what the numbers stand for: company and product.  Of course you make sure that you’re saying the same meanings to each merchant to whom you sell, or it would be very confusing.  You need a distinct number for each product you sell (I need one for Ginger Infused Honey, one for Lavender Infused Honey, and so on).

The first numbers are your company (i.e. Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey).  These can be the first two or the first five.  The next numbers are your product (i.e. Ginger Infused Honey).  The last number is some sort of reference number, meaningful to computers.

THE SUMMARY: the two ways to get barcode:

Lease your barcodes from GS1 : http://www.gs1.org click on “Need A Barcode?”

Membership costs will be base on your company’s total gross sales and the amount of items sold.  The lowest (as of March 2011) is about $760.

Yearly dues: these are assessed based on your company’s gross sales and amount of items moved.  The lowest, as of now, is about $158 per year.

For these prices you get 100,000 barcodes (no you can’t sell them – more below)

Buy from A Reseller: http://www.laurerupc.com click on “Need A Few Barcodes?” for a list & information.  If you are a vendor, ask other vendors if they have gone down this road and what they have found.

1) Look for resellers who purchased their barcodes in the1990’s, which was apparently the last time people could buy barcodes.

2) Make sure, or as sure as you can be that: The barcodes you buy a) have never been used before and b) are not randomly generated numbers.

3) Some will sell you the number and an image you can reproduce.  Others just sell you the number, then you need to create the barcode for those numbers (more on that below)


What I’ve been told: George J. Laurer created Barcodes in 1973, to track inventory at grocery stores and other large stores.  But back in the early 1990’s barcodes were still not as ubiquitous as they are today.   Some large stores, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Macy’s created UCC (Uniform Code Council), now GS1. They would sell you barcode, lots of it.  After all they wanted everyone to use it so their inventories would be easier and less costly. Then, as barcodes consumed our world, they realized they could make a lot more money leasing the barcodes than selling them outright.  Hey, this is capitalist society – they, like us, are out to make money.

GS1 : They who lease

There is only one “big guy” in the world of barcodes: GS1. What follows is from a conversation with a very nice, helpful customer service lady.

What You Pay:

Payment is based on your company’s gross sales and amount of items you sell.  Minimum: $760 to get in, $158/year in dues

What You Get:

The 100,000 numbers (that’s the minimum); a certificate saying the numbers are yours; and a jpeg of the numbers.  Or you can just get the numbers and go to their “Driver” and have it print your barcodes for you.  There seem to be other on-line seminars and perks, but I did not pursue them.

They assign a definite number for your company

Membership gets you the use of their “Data Driver”, which allows you to put in product description, weights, measures, then produces your number.  You can print directly from the Data Driver onto Avery labels, or download the image from the site. It’s a .png with “very good resolution.”  The driver is made to work with Internet Explorer on PCs (not Safari or Firefox).  The nice lady says you can make it work with a Mac.  Some people say otherwise.

Theirs are the ONLY codes allowed for use in Wal-Mart, Kroger, Macy’s, and some other large stores.

Can You Sell Them?:

No.  But you can use them in other business YOU own.  So if you sell honey infusions and your husband has a company selling furniture (how did I come up with those, I wonder), and your son/daughter has a company selling seed packets, and all these are owned by you all together, you can all use the barcodes you lease.  If you want to share with a neighbor, you’ve got to buy their company.

What Happens If You Don’t Renew Your Membership?:

You lose the barcodes.  In fact another company may have once used the barcodes you get from GS1, according to the nice lady in customer service, long ago.  If that happens you whip out your certificate and show your buyer that the numbers are yours to use, and the buyer resets their computer.

THE RESELLERS:   They Who Sell:

“…there are several places where one can obtain a subset of a U.P.C. number issued to another company. GS1 US considers it is against their rules and inappropriate for a company to purchase a U.P.C. number from them and then resell subsets of the number to other people. However, the rules were not codified in their license agreement until August of 2002, and therefore, if a company sells a subset of a number they obtained prior to August 2002, there is little recourse available to GS1 US,” writes George J. Laurer, the inventor of the U.P.C. {barcodes} on his website, http://www.laurerupc.com.

Which all means that there are some companies that bought a lot of barcodes at the turn of the century, and they are now making money selling them to people who need barcodes.

The Positive: You can buy just a few and they are yours to own and use forever.

The Challenge: To find the companies that are legitimate.  Mr. Laurer’s website is a good source (http://www.laurerupc.com) He does not endorse any company, but he keeps an updated list with links of those who have good reputations, as well as those which seem suspect.  He asks for input from users to keep this up to date.

As you check out the different companies, read everything in detail, then call and ask again.  In the end the decision rests on research, evaluation, and trust.

What You Pay:

Expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $90 per barcode if you are buying only a few.  Prices often go down the more you buy.

What You Get:

At the lower end, you may just get the number.  At the upper end, you usually get the number, a guarantee that your numbers are legitimate, and an image that you can use to put on stickers or labels (.jpg, .tiff, .png are some that are provided by different companies.  If it’s only a .jpg, you want the highest dpi possible, then change it immediately to a .tiff (.jpgs lose quality quickly)

Can You Sell Them?:

Probably, they are yours to own.  But I didn’t ask.

Do They Ever Expire?:

No.  They are yours, forever and ever.


If you get the numbers only there are a few ways to generate your barcode:



Membership in GS1 includes a print driver.  You can input your codes and it will create .jpgs for your numbers that you can either print out right away or store in your computer.  The driver is designed for PCs, but the nice lady at GS1 said it could work with a Mac.  Others say “it aint so” – about the Mac compatibility.

“Point Of Sale” Equipment sellers.

These people do NOT sell barcodes.  They sell the equipment to print your own. You can buy the software, a printer, labels in rolls: everything you need to create and print your own barcode from the barcode numbers you’ve leased or bought.  The price seems reasonable (in the 700 dollar range gets you set up including labels).  However, to me, this seems more for companies that will have lots of products, and cases, and pallets.  Yes, each of these may need a barcode as your company grows.  Having the equipment gives you total control over your barcode creation process.  I spoke with a nice fellow, Matthew, at Barcodes Inc, http://www.posguys.com.  I found their webpage confusing, but Matthew called me when I wrote an email to them.  That’s customer service.

Resellers Who Also Print:

There may be a number of barcode resell companies who will also print barcodes from the numbers you own.  I came across one: Simply Barcodes”, https://www.upccode.net/order_form_conversion.php.  Prices change based on how many different numbers you need printed (i.e. from 1 to 10 are $25 each).  They’ll generate a file and email it to you.

Barcode Software For Download Purchase:

There are number of barcode programs you can buy on line and simply download the programs.  Google barcode software programs and they’ll come up.  “Barcode Magic” (PC only);  Easy Barcode Technologies (mac OS 10.5);  iWinSoft Barcode Maker; (Mac 10.4) and IBarcoder (Mac 10.4 and above) are just a few.  If you go this route, be sure to read the system requirements and run the demos that each site offers. The programs seem to run from $40 to into the hundreds of dollars.

Free On-Line:

Goggle “Barcode Generator Free” and you’ll find lots of folks who will make you a barcode image you can download for free?  Why?  I would guess that they are hoping to get lots of advertisers and/or they hope to get they downloader to buy other services they offer. The downside: the barcode you make might not work.  There were few guarantees I could see.  But then it’s free.

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR BARCODE PRINTING WORKS (before you print tons of them):

Barcodes need to be specific widths.  The heights are a bit more flexible. The good folks over at Simply Barcodes write “The nominal size of a U.P.C. symbol is 1.469″ wide x 1.02″ high. The minimum recommended size is 80% of the nominal size or 1.175″ wide. The maximum recommended size is 200% of the nominal size or 2.938″ wide. Width is much more important than height.”

This is because, as the nice fellow at LegalBarCodes.com explained, the scanners are reading the light reflecting back from the barcode.  If your barcode number is good, but your printing is bad, the barcode will not work.

There is a way to test if your barcode PRINTING is OK.  The following tests ONLY THE PRINTING, and was suggested by the helpful woman at GS1.  Print out your barcode on whatever media you are going to use: a stick-on label; a mock-up of your label; whatever but use the quality and the print media that will be on your final product.  Take your printed barcode to a box store or anywhere that has scanners for customers to use.  Zap your barcode.  Something should happen: a “bing”, a statement of “not in stock”, something.  If nothing happens, then your barcode has a printing problem.


Learn from the man who created barcodes in 1973: George J. Laurer

http://www.laurerupc.com > Need a few barcodes? 
UPDATE December 2010

This is the fellow who invented the barcodes.  His “Need a few barcodes” page is a great help and he keeps the information updated with a list of companies who he has checked out, for the good and the bad.  The page comes with links.

SUPPLIERS WITH WHOM I SPOKE(in alphabetical order) – the list is only a list, no endorsements:

Barcodes Inc, http://www.posguys.com — They Sell Systems.  They do NOT sell barcodes

GS1 (previously UCC):  http://www.gs1.org —    The “big guys” – They’ll lease to you

LegalBarcodes.Com :  http://www.legalbarcodes.com  —   a reseller

Simply Barcodes : http://www.upccode.net  —  a reseller

None of the above implies any approval or support or disdain for any of the companies and sites (Have I said this enough?  You can tell I was raised in LA, right?).  They are simply the companies to whom I corresponded or spoke on my journey though the mystifying land of barcodes.  Everyone I spoke to was helpful and friendly, and, of course, trying to sell their product.  But hey, I’m trying to sell mine too, so we are all in this together.

If you take this journey, just remember to keep an open mind, read closely, listen well, and ask many questions (I would not deal with any company if  I could not call and talk to a human).

All done now: here’s a photo that has nothing to do with barcodes.

Beehives beneath Big Leaf Maples at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

Summer Hives

I just thought a nice photo taken on a sunny, summer day would be nice to end on since this has been a very wordy blog post.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls Washington.  If you have stories of your barcode journey, or points to add please write.  I have mine now, but others who read this would benefit from all of our experiences and knowledge.

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