Everyone has seen a barcode. Many have even scanned them on their phones. But can you read a barcode manually?

If your business is one that sells a product in stores or online, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with how a barcode works. That includes knowing what all of the numbers on the barcode represent so that you can read a barcode manually.

How Does a Barcode Work?

Barcodes contain encoded information about a product using a series of black and white bars. Scanners translate the pattern of the bars into a line of text that provides information about a product. Barcodes identify the manufacturer and help keep track of pricing and inventory.

As a product retailer, you will use a Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode. This is the type of barcode most commonly found on products. It contains a series of black and white bars along with 12 numbers.

When you have a product to sell, barcodes can help ensure efficiency and productivity for your business. Through a barcode, you can better track your inventory levels and shipping information. Retailers can identify your product at checkout locations throughout the world, and can more easily reorder when low on stock. Barcodes also make it easier to find your products online.

Numbers on a Barcode

Manually reading a barcode is possible when you understand what the 12 numbers represent. The row of numbers found on a barcode is known as the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). The first six digits represent the GS1 Company Prefix, which is a unique identifier assigned to your business by GS1 US, the organization that established standards for barcodes. The prefix is used to identify your company around the world.

The next five digits identify the product being sold. Each product is assigned a unique number when associated with your GS1 Company Prefix.

The final number is called a check digit. This check digit helps ensure that your GTIN is created correctly. It is not randomly assigned, but is calculated from the previous 11 digits.

Reading a Barcode

When you have all of the numbers on a barcode, you can find out who the manufacturer is and what the product is. The easiest way to read a barcode is by using a scanner, either on your phone or at a store.

If you do not have a scanner available, you will need a computer to look up the numbers. By visiting the GS1 Company Database, you can enter the GTIN to determine the business and the product associated with the barcode.