About Barcodes, GTINS and More

For most GS1 Canada subscribers, the first thing they want to do is get a barcode. A barcode is a visual representation of a unique identification number that can easily be read by scanners, quickly and accurately. One of the most common identification numbers encoded in a barcode is known as a Global Trade Item Numbers or GTIN (sometimes known as a UPC or EAN) – the raw ingredient needed for generating barcodes.

GS1 barcodes are the only globally-recognized barcodes, enabling organizations to trade all over the world while maintaining full supply chain traceability.

More than six billion GS1 barcodes are scanned around the world every day.

What is a GTIN? What is a Company Prefix?

One of the most common numbers to be encoded in a barcode is a GTIN, the number you see printed below most barcodes.

A Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)

GTINs uniquely identify products down to very specific details. Every product has its own GTIN to ensure that it cannot be confused with another product.

The first part of most GTINs identifies the company that owns that GTIN and will be the same number for all of the GTINs they produce. This is known as a Company Prefix and some larger companies may own more than one. To get your Company Prefix, you will need to subscribe to GS1 Canada.

Why you need GTINs

Using GTINs helps save you time, opens you up to new trading partners and increases your product visibility to potential customers.

Increasingly, trading partners mandate that their suppliers have standardized product identifiers before they will agree to do business with them. In Canada, that means GTINs.

Standardized product identifiers help trading partners protect against counterfeit or duplicate products, gather essential information to drive their business and increase the accuracy and completeness of data in their product catalogues.

In Canada, if you’re using a globally standardized product identifier, you are using a GTIN.

How to get your GTINs to start creating barcodes

  1. Subscribe to GS1 Canada to get your GTINs and/or Company Prefix
  2. Assign GTINs to your individual products and supply product information.
  3. Create barcodes (if needed) for each GTIN. GS1 Canada does not currently provide artwork for barcode symbology. You can use a solution provider to get a barcode based on your GTINs.
  4. Apply your new barcodes to appropriate places on your product packaging


How many GTINs do you need?

How many GTINs or barcodes do you need?

Generally, you will need one GTIN for each of your products and another, different type of barcode for each packaging format, such as pallet or case.

You may find you need more GTINs than you thought.

You should also consider how many barcodes you will need as your business grows to ensure you have enough GTINs to cover any new products you launch or updates to your existing products.

GS1 manages several types of barcodes and each is designed for use in a different situation. Depending on what sector or product you trade in, you may need different types of barcodes. If you are unsure what kind of barcodes you need, please call GS1 Canada at 1.800.567.7084 or email info@gs1ca.org.

One of the most commonly recognized GTIN is the GTIN-12, usually encoded as a UPC-A barcode for products scanned at the point of sale, which can include inner pack sold as an individual unit.

For products at shipping case level, such as cases and pallets, you will need a different type of GTIN for shipping. One of the most common of these is the GTIN-14 (also known as SSCC-14) which contain two extra digits in front of the GTIN, one of which is the Indicator Digit to indicate packaging level.

It is very important to get these digits right. Some sectors that require additional application identifiers may prefer to use advanced barcodes such as the GS1-128, which is used in general distribution and logistics environments.

For more specific information about which barcodes to use, please consult the following guides:

  • GTINs – Global Trade Item Numbers. The number that is needed to get a barcode. The numbers that appear below a product’s barcode is that product’s GTIN.
  • Barcodes – The visual pattern of black parallel lines printed on products that represent a number in machine-readable formats.
  • Company Prefix – The unique code licensed to an organization by GS1 Canada that represents that organization. The left hand side of most barcodes is generally the manufacturer’s Company Prefix.
  • UPC/EAN – Universal Product Code/ International Article Number (formerly European Article Number), also known as GTIN-12 and GTIN-13 respectively.
    In general, UPCs are used within North America and are 12 digit codes. EANs are used outside of North America and are 13-digit codes.