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3 steps for basic bar coding

One of the most frequent questions GS1 Canada gets asked by new members is 'how do you create a GS1 bar code?'

It takes just a few simple steps to get started.

What you need to know first about bar codes

A bar code is an optical, machine-readable code traditionally in a pattern of parallel lines and spaces of varying widths, though they can now also be found in other geometric patterns. Bar codes are designed to communicate data. When placed on a product, a bar code is meant to communicate information about that product.

Only GS1 bar codes use special features, found within the GS1 System of standards, that ensure your bar code is unique and not confused with any other bar code.

There are many different types of GS1 bar codes. These include EAN/UPC, GS1-128, ITF-14, GS1 DataBar, GS1 QR Code and GS1 DataMatrix, which are, together, the most commonly used bar codes in Canada.

Follow the simplified instructions below to create item-level bar codes for your products

  1. Get a GS1 Canada Licence

  2. Before your company can begin using bar codes, you must create the numbers that will represent the bar code.

    The 12-digit string of numbers that is represented by the bar code and used to identify products is the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

    To create a GTIN, you must become a member with GS1 Canada and obtain a GS1 Canada Licence.

    To learn about GS1 Canada membership, click here

  3. Assign Identification Numbers to your products

  4. After receiving a GS1 Canada Licence, you are ready to assign a GTIN-12 number to your products.

    The GTIN (often called a UPC) is comprised of three components:

    1. Your GS1 Canada Licence number (6 to 9 digits in length).

    2. An Item Reference number that you assign to each product (2 to 5 digits in length).

    3. A Check Digit, which is a software-generated digit that verifies that the previous 11 digits are properly encoded. To calculate a check digit, visit,and click on the Tools tab for the Check Digit Calculator.

    4. Example:

      A 6-digit GS1 Canada Licence has the potential to create up to 100,000 unique GTIN-12 numbers by using Item Reference numbers 00000 to 99999

      Keep it simple: Start with 00001 or 001 and simply increase the number by an increment of one for the next product.

  5. Select a Bar Code Printing Method

  6. Once you create your bar code numbers (GTINs), it's time to print your bar codes and label your products. There is a lot of easy-to-use software and efficient hardware that can help you get the job done. Alternatively, there are also bar code solution providers that can help you with your print and labelling needs. Email GS1 Canada Membership Services at if you need assistance selecting the right option for you.

And now you're ready to go!
For more information on creating bar codes, including case-level bar codes, bar code types, colours, placement and verification visit 10 Steps to bar code implementation.