UPC Barcodes & Prefixes

What is a GTIN?

GTIN stands for Global Trade Item Number.  

A GTIN is a GS1 identification key that is used to identify a trade item which could be a product that you may sell or a service that you may offer in an online listing or in a brick-and-mortar store. It is a globally unique number that is used to identify your specific product or service.   

GTIN vs. UPC vs. Barcode 

UPC is a Universal Product Code which is often used synonymously with GTIN or a barcode.  Let’s clarify the key distinction between them.  In the GS1 System, there are data carriers and the data itself. In this example, data carrier is the actual barcode that contains important data, like the GTIN, for scanners to read. 

Here, we are showing the GS1 barcode type known as a UPC-A barcode.  This barcode is what is predominately used in North America at retail point-of-sale or checkout.  The data that the UPC-A barcode uses is called the GTIN-12.  It is called GTIN-12 because it is always made up of 12-digits and those 12-digits are unique to each of your products.  Since the GTIN-12 is commonly encoded in a UPC-A barcode, the term UPC is sometimes used in place of GTIN-12.
Barcodes from GS1 US provide an authentic way to uniquely identify your products and locations in the supply chain and in e-commerce.

UPC-A barcode | GTIN-12 Data

GTIN Structures 

GTINs have 4 different structures.  They can be 8, 12, 13, or 14 digits long.  All GTIN types are intended for global use.


GTIN-12 is 12 digits in length.  It is predominately used in North America and is intended to be scanned at point-of-sale. It is synonymous with UPC and is the only GTIN type that can be encoded in the UPC-A barcode.


GTIN-14 is always 14 digits in length.  It never starts with a zero as the first digit.  GTIN-14 is used to identify trade item groupings (e.g., case of a product or inner pack) and is NOT intended for point-of-sale use.


GTIN-8 is always 8 digits in length.  This is used predominately outside of North America and intended to be scanned at point-of-sale only for very small items.  


GTIN-13 is 13 digits in length.  It is predominately used outside of North America and is intended to be scanned at point-of-sale. It is synonymous with EAN and is the only GTIN type that can be encoded in the EAN-13 barcode.

How are GTINs used?

GTIN can be used in many ways and has two primary roles. 

  1. It has a physical role in that it is encoded into barcodes and then scanned at point-of-sale (POS), point of care, and/or general distribution to provide accurate data capture. 
  2. Its second role is in eCommerce.  Since consumers cannot see, touch, and feel items they buy on-line, the GTIN has a critical role in ensuring that the item listed is the one that is picked, packed, and shipped so that the consumer is not disappointed. The GTIN is also used to as a key to retrieve predefined information.  These can be things such as prices, product attributes, or other information that is shared with trading partners through the GDSN or used in EDI and GS1 XML transactions between trading partners (e.g., purchase orders, invoices, advanced ship notices, etc.)
What is a GTIN Checkout

In retail, a GTIN can call up the point-of-sale (price and retail category information. Take, for example, a lemon soda.  The brand owner assigns and marks the soda with a GTIN.  The brand owner then provides the GTIN and required attributes/info to the trading partner about the soda.  The trading partner then adds pricing information to the database.  When you select the soda off the shelf and bring it to the cashier, the item is scanned and the system can access certain information in the retailer’s database, such as the price.  Then the available units can be updated once the soda is subtracted from inventory.

Why get a GTIN from GS1 US?

GS1 is the global authority for the unique identification of products and companies, which serve as the building blocks for barcodes. GS1 US provides an authentic way to represent your products and services in stores and through major online marketplaces