The secret of numbers

What the abbreviation EAN - which has been introduced as a GTIN in Europe since 1976 - actually means and what is behind it, presumably know only the initiates. Yet we know them all from the daily life, these endlessly long numbers. They are found on thousands of articles just below the barcode.

The old EAN stands for the "European Article Number" and the "European Article Number", the new GTIN is the abbreviation for the "Global Trade Item Number", and the barcode over it is the variant of the respective machine readable by scanning payment combinations.

Time saves money

They are depicted on packaging in order to identify the articles contained therein. Each number sequence is given worldwide only once, so that almost every product receives its own "thumbprint" or "identity card". On the other hand, they facilitate any storage on a colossal basis, since the digital possibilities also include automatic recording and data processing of incoming and outgoing goods.

Mistakes cost time and money

So that everything works smoothly, it is enormously important that the codes can be reliably decoded, so that the scanners are really easy to read. If they are not, there are errors. In this case, the numbers would then have to be entered manually - and this, in turn, causes further error potential in addition to the associated time loss.
Buyers of EAN / GTIN should therefore not save in the wrong place, and the codes themselves print themselves. It is better and safer to leave the implementation of the practical goods helpers to the professionals, such as graphic artists.

Mysterious numbers ...

In order to understand the procedure in full, we go back to the illustrations: In Europe, we know mainly the EAN- / GTIN-8 and the EAN- / GTIN-13. This means that the numbers concerned are either 8 or 13 digits. For the latter, the first three digits indicate the country where the code was purchased. - To that extent: Attention and caution! Even if, for example, the prefixes 400 to 440 are given for Germany, 760 to 769 for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and 900 to 919 for Austria, the figures do not necessarily say anything about the actual Manufacturer or country of origin of the article.

The next four to six digits are reserved for the global location number (GLN) or global location number, which identifies the complete company or operating description along with the address. Prior to 2009, this part was called International Location Number (ILN). This means that we are involved in a total of seven to nine posts, which together form the so-called base number. This is followed by a combination of numbers given by the manufacturer himself for his article and three to five digits. Last but not least, there is a check digit, which is used for data security.

Mysterious beams ...

The corresponding barcode is composed of 113 elements. These modules are all equally wide with exactly 0.33 millimeters or 0.0130 inches. These also include the so-called "rest zones" before the start sequence as well as the strokes. From the left, they are 11 module widths, on the right 7. So there are still 95 modules left for the actual barcode. This always begins with a 1-0-1 sequence. When implemented in colors, the line sequence on the left and right is "black - white - black".
In the middle we have 0-1-0-1-0, so "white - black - white - black - white".

There are only 81 elements for the EAN-8, and the rest zones, which are also called "brightfields", consist of 7 module widths.
In the composition the EAN- / GTIN-8 is similar to the EAN- / GTIN-13: The first 2 to 3 digits are valid in the country, followed by the 4 to 5 digits long article number - the company becomes thus in this case not coded -, and finally the check digit.

Short and cheap

The EAN / GTIN-8 is used as a short code for small products; when an EAN / GTIN-13 would be so long that it would occupy more than 25 percent of the space on the front of the package. Or if a company wants to spend as little to no money for codes. Because all EAN / GTINs that start with a "2" can be used without a license within a group. The Albrecht family provides popular examples for the EAN-8: ALDI SOUT encodes its products with 221X-XXXX, NORD with 290X-XXXX.
However, such EANs are no longer unique worldwide. Why such a type of numbering should not be applied if other business partners are involved. If you do not use a unique and / or unique EAN / GTIN for an article, the chance of confusion is very high. In the case of the so-called in-house EAN, which are only used within a discount store or internally for the house brands of a store chain, the eight-digit barcode with the initial digit 2 is only used on a defined space. In this respect, there is also little risk of confusion.

Pay for the emergency

These so-called plain lines, in which the 8 or 13 digits are mostly printed in a machine-readable font, such as the font OCR-B, however, fulfill the emergency purpose more. If the actual code in the form of the line structure is not recognized by the scanner, manual intervention can still be made by, for example, the cashier typing the number. But this should only be an exception. The rule, on the other hand, must be that the barcodescanner correctly captures the strokes above the numbers. If he can not do this, for example due to a mechanically caused damage, this is one thing. A completely different one, however, when a lousy print quality is present or otherwise sloppily or amateurishly worked.

Let the pros ran!

Professionals, however, know that the codes are subject to certain standards. For example EAN- / GTIN-13 have a size of 37.29 x 26.26 mm - including the left 3.63 mm and right 2.31 mm wide resting zones. The EAN- / GTIN-8 are 26.73 x 21.64 mm in size, including the two bright fields on each side of 2.31 mm each.

These sizes are, of course, variable in design wishes. However, only to a certain degree, because otherwise readability can no longer be guaranteed. If standard is 100 percent, the minimum format may be no more than 80 percent of it, and the maximum execution is no more than 200. If the height of the codes is to be reduced, this is possible - but not more than half the standard width. An EAN-13 code must be at least 18.65 mm high.

A tolerance range is also allowed for the bright fields. Since 2010, this has been 0.8 module widths. For EAN / GTIN-8 codes, this corresponds to approximately 11.5% of the rest zone, while for EAN / GTIN-13, a whole module width is allowed on the left.

Knowledge can never hurt ...

Clear definitions can also be found in the selection of colors with regard to the lines and their background. This is because the bar code of the EAN / GTIN code can only slightly reflect the light that is strong between 633 and 670 nm, with the result that red lasers are generally used for decoding. On the other hand, the background material is paper or other character carriers, which must even reflect the light sufficiently. In this respect, the most important rules are as follows: White, yellow, red and magenta may be used as background, but never cyan. For the bars, on the other hand, at least the use of cyan is valid, if not always - as is still usually used in black. Cyan, blue, green and brown are also possible. Inverse combinations are not allowed, that is, background and bar colors must not be reversed or exchanged.

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