GTIN vs UPC: The Barcode Battle You Didn’t Know!

gtin vs upc

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UPC and GTIN are pivotal barcodes in product identification. 

While UPC, a 12-digit code, is primarily used in North America for product-specific identification, GTIN is a global identifier with variable digits (8, 12, 13, or 14) that can represent products, services, and shipments. UPC is a subset of GTIN, making GTIN a more versatile choice for businesses operating internationally.

In this article, we delve into the key distinctions and applications of UPC and GTIN, exploring how these barcodes are vital tools for regional and international businesses.

To learn more about barcoding technology today, please visit our barcode learning centre

What are Universal Product Codes?

What do you mean by UPC Code

Universal Product Code, often abbreviated as UPC, is a 12-digit barcode predominantly seen on items marketed in the U.S. and Canada. Serving as a distinct product identifier code, it assists retailers in pricing items during checkout and streamlining inventory management. 

Universal Product Code is of two types – Universal Product Code-A and Universal Product Code-E.

UPC-A is the 2-digit barcode standard. It’s the most common form of UPC code. 

UPC-E is the condensed version of UPC-A, containing only 6 digits. UPC-E omits zeros and other unnecessary numbers for products with limited label space.

Check out our thorough guide on what is a UPC code to learn everything you need to know about UPC barcoding technology.

What is a Global Trade Item Number?

GTIN, or Global Trade Item Number, is a unique identifier used globally for products, services, and shipments. Part of the GS1 system of standards, its digit structure can vary (8, 12, 13, or 14 digits) to encompass various product identifiers, including UPC and EAN. It ensures standardised product identification across international markets.

Types of GTIN

GTIN is of four types.

  • GTIN-8 
  • GTIN-12
  • GTIN-13
  • GTIN-14


An 8-digit identifier, formerly known as EAN-8. It’s used for smaller packages where a full GTIN-12 or GTIN-13 might not fit.


Equivalent to UPC-A, this 12-digit number is primarily used in the United States.


Formerly known as EAN-13, it’s a 13-digit product identifier standard used mainly outside of North America.


Used for identifying multi-packs or cases of products. It’s a 14-digit number that often includes a packaging level indicator.

UPC vs GTIN - What's the Difference?

Differences between GTIN and UPC code
Number of Digits
Fixed 12-digit structure
Variable: Can be 8, 12, 13, or 14 digits
Geographical Usage
Predominantly North America
Global application
Scope of Identification
Strictly product-specific
Broad: Can identify products, services, shipments, and other assets
A subset of GTIN
Encompasses various identifiers, including UPC, EAN, and other regional codes

Let us take a deeper look at the differences between GTIN and UPC.

Number of Digits

UPC barcode always comprises a fixed 12-digit structure specifically designed for product identification. 

On the other hand, GTIN can vary in digit count, ranging from 8, 12, 13 and 14 digits, offering flexibility based on the type of product or service being identified.

Geographical Usage

UPC is predominantly used in North America, serving as the primary barcode for products in this region. 

In contrast, GTIN has a global application, recognised and used internationally, making it suitable for businesses operating across different continents.

Scope of Identification

While UPC barcodes are strictly product-specific, identifying individual items at the point of sale, GTIN has a broader scope. 

GTIN can identify products, services, shipments, and other assets, providing a more comprehensive identification system.


UPC is essentially a subset of GTIN. This means that while every UPC is a GTIN, not every GTIN is a UPC. 

GTIN encompasses various product identifiers, including but not limited to Universal Product Codes, European Article Number, and other regional codes. It can also be used to identify items in ITF-14 and GS1-128 barcodes, making it a more inclusive identification system.

Similarities Between UPC and GTIN

Four similarities between UPC and GTIN code

Barcode Representation in Both

Both UPC and GTIN can be encoded into barcodes. These barcodes, when scanned, provide instant access to product information, facilitating easy inventory management and point-of-sale transactions.

Refer to the following guides to learn more about barcoding technology. 

Numeric-Only Barcodes

UPC and GTIN are numeric-only barcodes, meaning they consist solely of numbers 0-9 without alphabetic characters. This numeric nature ensures a standardised format that is easily readable by barcode scanners and systems worldwide, facilitating quick and accurate product identification.

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For in-depth insights or assistance, connect with us via the live chat widget below. 

Common Purposes in Product Identification

Both UPC and GTIN codes serve the fundamental purpose of product identification. They provide unique codes that help businesses and retailers distinguish one product from another, ensuring accurate tracking and sales.

Significance in E-commerce and Inventory Management

In the digital e-commerce age, UPC and GTIN hold paramount importance. They aid in product listing on online platforms, ensuring products are easily searchable. Furthermore, they play a crucial role in inventory management, helping businesses keep track of stock levels and sales patterns.

Importance of UPC and GTIN in e-commerce: A Business Perspective

Importance of Universal Product Code

UPC provides a consistent method for distinguishing products in the retail sector, giving each item a unique code, streamlining recognition and reducing potential errors. 

This barcode system has revolutionised retail operations, enabling quick scans at checkouts, improving transaction speeds, and enhancing the overall customer experience. Beyond sales, UPCs are instrumental in inventory oversight, allowing businesses to track stock efficiently, strategise restocking, and gauge sales patterns. 

In the realm of e-commerce, UPCs are pivotal, with many online platforms requiring them for accurate product listings, facilitating user searches, and ensuring streamlined online inventory management.

Importance of Global Trade Item Number

As a universal product identifier and data carrier, GTIN offers global standardisation, ensuring consistent product identification beyond regional confines, thus promoting smoother international trade. Beyond just products, its versatility extends to identifying services, shipments, and more, offering businesses a unified system for diverse needs. 

In the e-commerce realm, platforms like Amazon value GTIN for its authenticity, enhancing product visibility and consumer trust. Furthermore, GTIN is integral to supply chain management, facilitating tracking from production to sale, guaranteeing punctual deliveries, precise inventory oversight, and streamlined recall procedures when necessary.

How to Choose Between UPC and GTIN?

Geographical Market

UPC might be the most suitable choice if your primary market is North America, given its widespread regional acceptance. 

On the other hand, if you aim for a broader international reach, encompassing markets in Europe (for Europe, EAN barcodes can also be considered) and beyond, GTIN would be a better choice.  

Product Range and Versatility

UPC is suitable for businesses focused solely on products. 

However, if your offerings extend to services like software subscriptions, repair services, or shipments such as bulk cargo or palletised goods, GTIN’s adaptability becomes a preferred option.

E-commerce Platforms

Many international online marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba, often require GTIN for product listings, especially for certain categories like Electronics, Apparel, and Health and beauty. If you aim to list products on such platforms, GTIN becomes necessary. 

On the other hand, UPC codes will be adequate for platforms more specific to North America, such as Walmart Marketplace or Jet.

Future Expansion Plans

If your business aspires to expand globally, even if you’re operating only in North America, adopting GTIN from the outset might be prudent. This proactive approach can streamline future transitions and reduce the need for rebranding or relabeling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a Product be Assigned Both a UPC and a GTIN Simultaneously?

Yes, a product can be assigned a UPC and GTIN. 

While a UPC is technically a subset of GTIN, a product typically carries one primary identifier. However, the same UPC can be represented as a GTIN-12 within the broader GTIN classification.

Are there Associated Costs When Obtaining UPCs or GTINs for Product Identification?

Yes, businesses usually need to purchase UPCs and GTINs from the GS1 organisation, and the cost can vary based on the number of products and the country of registration. 

How Do I Create UPC and GTIN Barcodes?

To create UPC and GTIN barcodes, you have two primary options. You can utilise free online barcode generators, which offer immediate results but might miss out on advanced functionalities. Alternatively, there are paid barcode generator software that provides a comprehensive and dependable solution.   

Among the top recommendations is the BarTender Software by Seagull Scientific. This software not only ensures accurate and secure barcode generation but also offers a comprehensive suite of features tailored for label designing and printing. 

To learn more about BarTender software, refer to our guide on understanding BarTender software or get in touch with us via the live chat widget below. 

How Do I Convert My Existing UPCs to GTINs for International Sales?

UPCs can be incorporated into the GTIN system by adding appropriate prefix numbers, making them suitable for international sales without needing a new identifier.

Do All Online Marketplaces Require GTINs for Product Listings?

While many international platforms prefer or mandate GTINs, requirements can vary. It’s essential to check the specific guidelines of each marketplace before listing.

How Often Do I Need to Renew or Update My UPC or GTIN?

Once you’ve obtained a UPC or GTIN for a product, it’s unique to that product forever. However, membership with GS1, the issuing organisation, might require periodic renewals.

Is There a Visual Difference Between UPC and GTIN Barcodes?

The visual representation (barcode) might look similar. Still, the encoded information, especially the number of digits and company prefix, can vary.

Check out our guide on how to visually identify barcode types for more information.  


In conclusion, the comparison between the UPC bar code and GTIN reveals two powerful tools in product identification.

UPC, a 12-digit code primarily utilised in North America, excels at providing precise product-specific information within a specific region. On the other hand, GTIN, the Global Trade Item Number, offers a more expansive approach with variable digits, accommodating products, services, and shipments on a global scale.

In an increasingly interconnected global market, understanding the nuances of UPC and GTIN is paramount. Businesses must carefully weigh their needs and aspirations to select the barcode that aligns with their objectives, be it regional efficiency or international reach. Both UPC and GTIN, in their own right, play pivotal roles in the intricate tapestry of modern commerce, ensuring products are accurately identified and seamlessly integrated into the global supply chain.

We hope this article was useful. 

Thanks for reading! 

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