What is An EAN Code? 

what is EAN code

Share This Post

EAN stands for European Article Number and was previously known as International Article Number. It is a type of 1D barcode symbology used in the retail industry to identify products throughout their life cycle. EAN barcodes contain product-specific information such as item numbers, prices, weight and more.  

EAN barcodes are one of the most popular and widely used barcode symbologies. In this article, we will dive deeper into what EAN barcodes are, their different types, their structure and more. We will also share the designing and printing requirements of EAN barcodes and the benefits they offer. So, let’s get started!

Refer to our article on what is a barcode to learn more about barcoding technology.

What Are EAN Barcodes - A Deep Explanation

What do you mean by EAN barcode

EAN barcodes are a type of liner barcode symbology comprising a series of parallel bars of varying widths and spaces, with each bar representing a specific character.

EAN barcodes are numeric-only barcodes that can encode numerical digits from 0 to 9. Their data capacity, i.e. the amount of data they can store, varies between 2 to 13 depending on the EAN variant used.

EAN barcode consists of a check digit that helps verify an encoded number’s accuracy. It is calculated based on a specific formula (Modulo 10) and is used to confirm that the data in the barcode has not been altered or damaged. Unfortunately, EAN barcodes do not have any error correction mechanism, meaning they can not be read if the barcode is physically damaged or distorted.

EANs are similar in appearance and functionality to UPCs. The major difference between the two is the geographical region in which they are used – EAN is primarily employed within Europe, while UPC is utilized in other parts of the world.

Initially, the Universal Product Code (UPC-A) was the format being used for product barcodes. However, as demand for product barcodes increased in other locations worldwide, a new variant was developed to meet the needs of global retailers – the EAN Code.

The EAN code is an extension of the original 12-digit Universal Product Code (UPC) system, established in the 1970s by George Laurer. EANs contain an additional number called country code added to the left of the existing UPC codes.

EANs and UPCs are defined in ISO/IEC 15420:2009 standard.

Why Do You Need an EAN Code?

EAN barcodes are important to retailers and supermarkets as they provide a quick and easy way to identify products.

EAN codes can contain information about the product, such as its brand name, item type, size & weight, colour, and any associated promotions or discounts. They help speed up store checkout time and reduce the risk of human error when entering data into systems. 

Furthermore, EAN codes enable companies to accurately record their inventory levels and sales data, which can be used for various business strategies.

How to Recognize an EAN-13 Code and EAN-8 Code?

Recognising an EAN-13 barcode and an EAN-8 barcode is quite simple.

Both EAN codes always start and end with two parallel, equal-height thin bars. These two parallel, equal-height thin bars are called the “start” and “stop” patterns, respectively. Both barcodes also have two parallel, equal-height thin bars right in the centre of the barcode that separates the left and right halves of the code.

Recognizing THE EAN-13 & EAN-8 barcodes

How Does an EAN Bar Code Work?

EAN barcodes are composed of a series of black and white stripes that contain information about the product, such as its manufacturer’s name, size or weight. Let’s take a look at how an EAN barcode gets decoded through a basic step-by-step process:

  1. First, cashiers or customers scan the EAN barcode of products at the point of sale with a device called a barcode scanner.
  2. The barcode scanner emits a beam of light that gets absorbed by the black bars and reflects from the white background of the EAN barcode creating a pattern of light.
  3. The pattern of light returns and gets captured by an optical sensor in the scanner. This captured pattern of light gets converted into electronic signals.
  4. These electrical signals are then sent to a computer. The computer analyzes and decodes the electronic signals and finds them in a database to obtain product-specific data, such as its manufacturer or price information for that particular product at that time.

Types of EAN Barcodes

Four types of EAN barcodes

Based on the amount of data a barcode can encode, EAN barcodes can be divided into two main types, EAN-13 and EAN-8.

Apart from the two main types, there are two more supplement codes, EAN-2 and EAN-5.

Features of EAN-13 barcode


EAN-13 is the standard version of the EAN barcode and is often referred to as an EAN code. The number “13” in its name refers to the fact that it contains 13 numerical digits (12 digits and a check digit).


EAN-8 is a compact version of the EAN-13 barcode. The number “8” in its name refers to the fact that it contains eight numerical digits (7 digits and a check digit).

EAN-8 is encoded in the same way as UPC-A, but with only four digits (rather than 6) in each half (left and right). It was created for products that do not have enough space to accommodate an EAN-13 code; for example, candy bars, small bottles of shampoo, pencils, cigarettes and chewing gums.

Features of EAN-8 barcode

Supplemental EAN Barcodes

Difference between EAN-2 AND EAN-5 barcodes

Supplemental barcodes are used to provide additional information about a product. They are generally placed on the right-hand side of the EAN or UPC barcode.

EAN supplemental barcodes are of two types, EAN-2 and EAN-5.


EAN-2 is a two-digit supplement to the EAN barcode. It is commonly used in periodicals such as magazines and newspapers to specify the issue number. However, it can also serve other purposes, such as indicating an age restriction or price categorization. 


EAN-5 is a five-digit supplement to the EAN barcode. It is generally used on books, weighed products (like food) and other similar items to indicate the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of that product.

EAN-13 VS EAN-8 - What’s the Difference?

Difference between EAN-13 AND EAN-8 barcodes
Number of digits
13 numeric digits
8 numeric digits
Bigger in size; used on larger products, such as books, CDs and other similar items.
Smaller in size; used on smaller products, such as candy bars or bottles of shampoo.
Contains – 1. Country code 2. Manufacturer code 3. Product item code 4. Check digit
Contains – 1. Country code 2. Data digit 3. Check digit

Structure of EAN Codes

In this section, we will break down the structure of an EAN code and explain the meaning of each component. We will study the structure of EAN-13 and EAN-8 barcodes.

Anatomy of EAN-13 Barcode

Detailed anatomy of EAN-13 Barcode

EAN-13 has 13 digits which are divided into four components.

  1. Country Code (sometimes called number system)
  2. Manufacturer Code
  3. Product Item Code
  4. Check Digit (also called a checksum)

Country Code

The country code identifies the country, geographic area or region from which the EAN code originates. It is the first two or three digits of the code. It is maintained by GS1.

GS1 has allocated two-digit country codes to industrialized nations, whereas three-digit country codes are allocated to less developed or developing nations.

Manufacturer Code

The manufacturer code is a unique number representing the original seller’s name. It helps identify the manufacturer of the product. The manufacturer code consists of four or five digits depending on the country code.

A manufacturer code is assigned by the corresponding numbering authority as indicated by the GS1 Prefix. In order to obtain a manufacturer code, the manufacturer must first apply for registration at the code centre of each relevant country.

Please note that without a manufacturer code, a company can not create and use EAN barcodes.

The country code and manufacturer code are always the first seven digits and make up the first part of an EAN barcode. The combination of country and manufacturer codes is also called a “Company Prefix”.

Product Item Code

The product item code is the unique code that identifies a specific product or family of products. It consists of five digits.

A product item code is assigned by an EAN coordinator who is working for the manufacturer. However, companies can also assign their own product item codes to their products (for internal usage only). 

Two product item codes can never be the same, even if the products are from the same manufacturers.

Check Digit

The check digit is the last single digit of an EAN barcode. It is used to validate and verify the accuracy of a barcode. It can be any number between 0 and 9. The check digit is sometimes represented by the letter X, which represents the number 10.

The check digit is mathematically calculated using the existing EAN digits (country, manufacturer, and product item codes). EAN codes use a mathematical formula called Modulo-10 or Luhn Algorithm to calculate the check digit.

Anatomy of EAN-8 Barcode

Detailed anatomy of EAN-8 Barcode

EAN-8 has eight digits which are divided into three components.

  1. Country Code (sometimes called number system)
  2. Data Digit
  3. Check Digit (also called a checksum)

Country Code

The country code is the first two or three digits of the EAN-8 barcode. It identifies the country, geographic area or region from which the code originates.

Data Digit

The data digits are the next four or five digits that identify the product briefly.

Check Digit

The check digit is the last single digit of an EAN-8 barcode. It is calculated using a mathematical formula called Modulo-10 or Luhn Algorithm based on the other seven digits.

GS1-128 barcode

GS1-128 (EAN128) - A Variations of EAN Code

GS1-128 barcodes are a type of EAN barcode used to manage information for logistic units. It is used in warehouse environments to ensure proper traceability and tracking of merchandise, allowing companies to capture the main characteristics associated with logistic and commercial units.

GS1-128 codes contain company information, readable lot numbers, and other data that help improve operational efficiency throughout the supply chain. 

GS1-128 barcodes have a large capacity for data encoding and can store up to 48 characters per symbol. These barcodes are capable of encoding all ASCII alphanumeric characters.  

How to Get an EAN Code?

There are two ways to obtain an EAN code, Free EAN and Paid EAN. Each of these options has its own pros and cons, making them both viable solutions depending on the needs of the business.

Let’s take a look at both paid and free methods to get an EAN. 

Free Method

EAN barcodes are public-domain technology, meaning anyone can generate them free of cost. As a result, there are a bunch of websites and companies offering free EAN barcode generators. All you need to do is fill in the required information, generate the code and print it out.

Paid Method

The second way to get an EAN code is to pay for it. With this method, you will need to register as a member of GS1.

Registering with GS1 will give you a GS1 Company Prefix (Country Code + Manufacturer Code). Next, you must identify the number of items you expect to create a barcode for and select the relevant package to receive the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

GS1 charges an initial and recurring annual fee to renew your registration and GTIN. The fees and charges vary depending on factors such as the country of operation, membership type and the number of registered items.

Free EAN vs Paid EAN

Free EAN barcodes have certain restrictions that make them unsuitable for certain applications. With free EANs, you won’t get any kind of validation or authentication for your product or its associated EAN code. This means your product may not be accepted by retailers or may be invalid in some countries.

Additionally, marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart only accept GS1-assigned EAN barcodes and will reject or unlist products if unauthorized free EAN codes are used.

On the other hand, paid EAN barcodes are bought from GS1’s official website, providing more assurance over the authenticity of the EAN code. When buying EAN codes from GS1, you get a unique company prefix and GTIN which allows for better recognition in various marketplaces.

At the end of the day, it all depends on what kind of application each business requires its EAN codes for. If it’s simply for internal operations, then free EAN codes may be a suitable option, whereas those looking to sell products via major marketplaces should consider purchasing paid EAN codes.

Advantages of EAN Barcode

List of eight points on advantages of EAN code

Here are some advantages of EAN codes.

  • Used across the world and are widely accepted, thanks to GS1 standards
  • Increased safety, reliability, speed, and efficiency of supply chains, saving time and effort
  • Helps in quickly retrieving product information and enhancing self-checkout procedures
  • No advanced scanning devices are required to decode the information. A simple barcode scanner does the job
  • The checksum digit provides a self-checking mechanism
  • Can encode a GTIN-13
  • Can be decoded even if the orientation of the code is at a 45-degree angle or upside-down; They can get scanned by omni directional scanners.

Disadvantages of EAN Barcode

List of five points on disadvantages of EAN code

Here are some disadvantages of EAN codes.

  • Limited space for encoding data which restricts its potential use in identifying complex items
  • Can only encode numeric data and not alphabets or special characters. 
  • Has a low tolerance for damage and distortion; any such damage will prevent EAN from being scanned by readers
  • Requires expensive equipment (like thermal printers for printing)
  • Time-consuming labelling process

How to Design an EAN13 Barcode and EAN8 Barcode - Things to Keep In Mind

Designing barcodes and labels is a critical part of any business operation. Our general guides on Best Practices For Designing Perfect Labels And Barcodes and Common Mistakes To Avoid When Designing Barcodes will be useful when designing barcodes.

However, when it comes to designing EAN13 barcodes and EAN8 barcodes, there are some strict GS1 standards and guidelines that must be followed for proper product identification. Here is a list of things to remember when designing an EAN barcode.

  • Barcode Size
  • Light Margins (Quiet Zone)
  • Human Readable Digits (sometimes called barcode number)
  • Special Rules

Barcode Size

Size of Barcode

The most important thing to consider while designing an EAN barcode is its size. EAN sizes are standardized by GS1 and are represented by “SC.” SC is also called ‘magnification’ and is measured in terms of percentage.

Before continuing with EAN barcode sizing, here are two key terms you must be aware of.

  • X-dimensions – Also called module width. It is the width of the narrowest bar in a barcode.
  • Symbol height – Also called module height. It is the height of the parallel bars in a barcode.

The module width and module height of EAN barcodes are only allowed to vary within defined limits. The default size of an EAN barcode is called SC 2 and has a module width of 0.33 mm and a module height of 22.85 mm.

An EAN code is allowed to scale down the module width to a minimum size of 80% (SC 0) or scale up the module width to a maximum size of 200% (SC 9). In addition, intermediate sizes between these two measures, such as 140%, are also allowed.

Likewise, it is also allowed to reduce the height of an EAN symbol to some degree. The minimum height for an EAN symbol must not fall below 10-15 mm to remain compliant with industry standards. This act of reducing the height of a barcode symbol is known as height truncation.

Here’s a table with all recommended EAN SC sizes.

Module Width
Module Height
SC 0 (80%)
0.264 mm
18.28 mm
SC 1 (90%)
0.297 mm
20.56 mm
SC 2 (100%)
0.330 mm
22.85 mm
SC 3 (110%)
0.363 mm
25.13 mm
SC 4 (120%)
0.396 mm
27.42 mm
SC 5 (135%)
0.445 mm
30.85 mm
SC 6 (150%)
0.495 mm
24.27 mm
SC 7 (165%)
0.544 mm
37.70 mm
SC 8 (185%)
0.610 mm
42.27 mm
SC 9 (200%)
0.660 mm
45.70 mm

GS1 Recommended EAN Size

Barcode Type
X-Dimension (mm)
Height (mm)
EAN-13 (on a consumer item)
EAN-13 (on an outer packaging)

Light Margins

Light margin for designing EAN13 and EAN8 barcodes

Light margins, often called Quiet Zones, are the empty spaces on the left and right margins of a barcode. This empty space helps a barcode scanner identify the barcode symbol and, thus, provides better scanning accuracy.

The table below shows the GS1 recommended light margin sizes for EAN8 and EAN13.

Barcode Symbology
Quiet Zone Left
Quiet Zone Right
At least 7 times X-dimension
At least 7 times X-dimension
EAN-13 (on a consumer item)
At least 11 times X-dimension
At least 7 times X-dimension
EAN-13 (on an outer packaging)
At least 11 times X-dimension
At least 7 times X-dimension

Human-Readable Digits

Human-Readable Digits of EAN code

Human-readable digits are numbers generally printed below or above a barcode symbol. These numbers correspond to the digits encoded in a barcode and help humans identify the code without needing scanning. Human-readable digits are a backup for barcodes in case they get damaged or distorted and cannot be scanned by a barcode reader.

Human-readable digits font size should be sufficiently large such that it is easy to read. GS1 does not recommend a particular font size for human-readable digits.

GS1 does, however, recommend the ideal placement of human-readable digits. According to the GS1 standard, the distance between the top of the human-readable digits and the bottom of the bars should be a minimum of one-half of a module width.

Special Rules for Designing EAN Codes

GS1 has some special rules for designing an EAN code for small cases and small consumer packages.

For Small Cases

GS1 recommends that when the height of a packaging case is less than 50 mm, the human-readable text should be placed to the left of the barcode (outside of the necessary quiet zone) rather than below it.

GS1 recommends that, for cases with a height of less than 32 mm, the EAN symbol should be placed on the top of the package to ensure it remains within the limits of the available space. This ensures that barcodes are accurately scanned and provides greater visibility.

For Small Consumer Packages

If the side of a consumer package measures less than 25 mm, particularly those with a very small base, GS1 recommends that the EAN symbol be placed on the bottom-right corner of the back.

If the package’s largest printable area is too small to accommodate the smallest permitted EAN symbol size, you are allowed to reduce the symbol height while retaining the same width.

How to Print EAN13 and EAN8 Barcodes - EAN Printing Best Practices

Four points to consider while printing EAN13 and EAN8 barcodes

Now that we have understood how to design an EAN13 or EAN8 barcode according to the GS1 standard, let us look at things to remember when printing EAN barcodes.

EAN codes must be printed with precision; the tolerance must be within the range of 1/100 mm. The minimum print resolution required for printing EAN codes is 203 DPI, but for best results, using 300 DPI is highly recommended.

Apart from the above requirements, the type of printer used also plays an important role in printing EAN codes. For printing EAN barcodes, it is always recommended to use a high-quality thermal printer.

Thermal printers are printing machines that use heat to produce an image on print media. They are reliable, cost-effective, and have fast print speeds. Thermal printers do not require ink or toner, making them ideal for large-scale printing. Refer to our guide on how thermal printer works to learn the science behind the working of a thermal printer.

At Triton Store, we provide a comprehensive selection of thermal printers from trusted brands like Honeywell, Zebra and TSC. Our vast inventory includes various printer models, such as direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers, barcode label printers, desktop printers and industrial printers, so you’ll have no trouble finding the right solution for your needs.

We’re committed to providing you with top-quality products at competitive prices, and our customer service team is always available to assist with any questions or concerns you may have. If you’re looking for an efficient thermal printer, Triton Store is the place to go!

Make Label Designing and Printing Easy With BarTender Software

Seagull Scientific’s BarTender software is the world’s most trusted label design and printing solution. Using BarTender, you can design, manage, automate and print barcodes, labels and tags quickly, accurately and efficiently.

BarTender integrates seamlessly with your business systems and existing infrastructure, making label design and printing easy. You can even connect multiple data sources simultaneously to create barcodes and labels, including data from a database, CSV file, date/time, or serialization.

BarTender software provides users with a comprehensive library of 400 preformatted barcode components that are compliant with 105 barcode symbologies and more than a dozen barcode standards. With BarTender software, you can easily create EAN-8 and EAN-13 with and without EAN-2 and EAN-5 add-ons. Please refer to our understanding BarTender software guide to learn more about this amazing software.

At Triton Store, we bring you BarTender software at unbeatable prices that you won’t find anywhere else. We have all four editions of the software available – Starter Edition, Professional Edition, Automation Edition and Enterprise Edition to meet your needs. Make sure to take advantage of this incredible offer and get your hands on BarTender today for the best value!

Contact us via the live chat widget below, or fill out a form here to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Always Need an EAN Code?

No, you do not always need an EAN code.

EAN codes are only required when you are selling a product

What Are the Situations in Which an EAN Code is Not Required?

EAN codes are not required when you are selling non-tradable items such as services. However, an EAN code will be necessary if the item is tradable and requires registration in an international catalogue.

Where is an EAN Code Usually Located?

EAN codes are usually located on the packaging of a product.

Is an EAN the Same as SKU?

No, EAN and SKU are different.

EAN is a type of barcode that stands for European Article Number or International Article Number, and it adheres to the global standard defined by the GS1 organization.

On the other hand, SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit. This code allows retailers to create their own codes without following a larger tracking scheme or global standard. With SKUs, retailers can control the size of their inventory and map product SKUs internally when changing manufacturers or wholesalers.

Can EAN Codes be Used in the US?

Yes, EAN barcodes can be used in the US.

In 1997, the Uniform Code Council launched a project called SUNRISE which mandated that from January 1st, 2005, companies in both the United States and Canada must scan EAN-13 barcodes and UPC barcodes at the point of sale.

Do Amazon and Other E-Commerce Websites Accept EAN?

Yes, Amazon and other E-commerce websites do accept EAN barcodes. It is a globally-recognized standard for product identification.

Can I Use UPC Instead of EAN?

Yes, it is possible to use UPC instead of EAN barcodes.

UPCs and EAN codes are two barcode formats that are standardized and used worldwide by retailers and manufacturers to mark goods.

UPC codes typically consist of 12 numeric digits, while EAN codes contain 13 numeric digits, which include the EAN country code.


EAN barcodes have revolutionized the way businesses track and manage their products. EAN codes are used to identify items easily. By leveraging EAN barcodes, businesses can streamline their operations while improving customer satisfaction with faster checkout times and accurate information about stock levels.

We hope this article has given you enough information about EAN codes to get started.

Thanks for reading!

Latest Articles

Learning Centres