Bullsye barcode - how to read?

Barcodes, at first glance, are both confusing and incredibly long. But by breaking the barcode number down into smaller pieces we start the process of understanding the secrets to reading a barcode.

While a standard 12 digit barcode label doesn’t make for easy reading, the code does contain clues about what type of product it is, where the product is made and the company that makes it.

Here is a quick explanation from James May of how barcodes are interpreted by machines, and what the significance of each set of numbers on the barcode label is. Enjoy!

Local Barcode Labels

Barcodes that start with a 2 are products that are sold by weight followed by the next 5 digits that make up the manufacturer code. The remaing numbers are SKU data that the manufacturer uses to identify the item.

If the first digit is a 3, that means that the product is a drug or pharmaceutical product. When youre trying to read a drug barcode keep in mind that the rest of the barcode digits may not conform to standard barcode layout in that the manufacturer is not included in the code.

The last digit on a barcode label is called a check digit. The purpose of this is to ensure the barcode data is correct. this number is calculated based on the other numbers included in the barcode and is used to detect errors in the code.


For example, the final digit of a UPC barcode (used on retail products) is the check digit. Let’s say that our check digit is 4 and this is checked as follows:


1. Add the digits (up to but not including the check digit) in the odd-numbered positions (first, third, fifth, etc.) together (0+2+0+0+2+0=4) and multiply by three (4 x 3 = 12)

2. Add the digits (up to but not including the check digit) in the even-numbered positions (second, fourth, sixth, etc.) (1+0+0+0+3=4)

3. Add the two results together to find the sum. (12 + 4 = 16)

4. The check digit will be the smallest number required to round the sum to the nearest multiple of 10. (16 rounds up to 20; 20 – 16 = 4 = the check digit)

International Barcode Labels

Depending on where it was made, the country of origin portion of a barcode will consist of either two or three digits.

Here is a list of country codes that you are likely to find on the barcode label of imported goods, and the country that each represents.

00 – 13 USA & CANADA
30 – 37 FRANCE
40 – 44 GERMANY
49 – JAPAN
50 – UK
57 – Denmark
64 – Finland
76 – Switzerland and Lienchtenstein
471 – Taiwan
480 – Philippines
628 – Saudi-Arabien
629 – United Arab Emirates
690 – 695 China
740 – 745 Central America

You’d think that that was all there is to it, but if you’re looking at an EAN barcode label number, things get a little more cloudy.

The first few digits of an EAN number do not represent the country of origin, but rather the country that the company is registered in.

For example, a company may have its headquarters in South Africa. The EAN organization in South Africa has the code “600,” but all the products of the company may be manufactured in England. The English-made products would still have the “600” prefix code.