GS1 Barcode Explained: The Universal Language of Products

Update:  May 27, 2024
GS1 Barcode Explained: The Universal Language of Products

In a rapidly moving world where consumer interests are upheld, a GS1 barcode is the holy grail for seasoned business owners and curious customers alike. 

Barcodes—these striped little wonders—are found everywhere and are among the most familiar product identifiers we have today. But what if we told you the power they hold is just the beginning? 

We’re talking about barcodes that comply with GS1 standards, speaking a universal language that completely changes the way businesses operate. 

Read on and delve into the what, who, and whys of GS1-powered magic, and discover an advanced QR code generator with logo to get you started in this fascinating time of innovation.

What is GS1?

GS1, short for Global Standards 1, is an internationally recognized non-profit organization that reinforces the use of global barcode standards.

They are the world’s most widely adopted supply chain standards and also the official supplier of GTINs (Global Trade Item Number), EANs (European Article Number), and UPCs (Universal Product Code).

Working closely with small and large business networks, GS1 sets a comprehensive framework for uniformly identifying and sharing products, locations, and more. 

They play a crucial part in keeping information consistent and transparent across the supply chain process, translating, capturing, and carrying information efficiently.

Understanding the GS1 barcode

How does a GS1-powered barcode work? 

This depends on the barcode type you’re looking into—1D barcodes (e.g., UPC, EAN) or 2D barcodes (e.g., dynamic QR codes or Data matrix). 

One-dimensional barcodes have limited data capacity, are visually recognizable as linear, with vertical lines and gaps in between, and need basic laser scanners to read the bar width and spacing. 

These codes typically have a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) encoded in the barcode symbol, which specifies the company from which the specific products are sourced. 

In contrast, two-dimensional barcodes can hold information beyond what GTINs can store, including batch numbers, expiry dates, lot numbers, and even URLs. They consist of complex shapes and are read by image scanners. 

GS1 digital links, in particular, are QR codes that follow a standard structure called a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) syntax. The data consists of a domain, primary identification key, key qualifiers, and data attributes. 

When a QR code is scanned, a resolver translates the encoded information and its unique product identifiers to provide relevant data to the appropriate sectors. 

According to GS1 US, the versatile GS1 QR code will replace the barcode by 2027, poising the business world for a future of new and improved consumer experience and supply chain tracking. 

The different types of GS1 barcodes

Types of gs1 barcodes

When deciding on joining the elite club of Global Standards 1, consider all your barcode options and choose the one that best matches your needs. Here are some of the barcode types GS1 US has to offer: 


A Universal Product Code A (UPC-A) is a specific type of GS1 certified UPC barcode composed of 12 digits that help identify a product and its manufacturer. It is the most popular and widely used type of 1D barcode across North America. 

These digits can be broken down into a GS1-assigned company prefix, which recognizes who is responsible for manufacturing or distributing a product. 

Then, there’s the item reference, which acts as a specific product’s unique identifier. Finally, there's a check digit that ensures proper scannability. These codes are especially common in grocery stores and other mass-market retailers. 


Universal Product Code E (UPC-E) is another linear barcode that allows GTIN-12s to be applied to small packages where a UPC-A may not fit. 

It appears more narrow since it uses a zero-suppression method to condense the GTIN-12 into 8 digits. 

These codes are used globally and are usually seen in small retail items like on the packaging of cigarettes, chewing gum, or cosmetics. 

EAN 13

The EAN-13 barcode, also known as European Article Numbers, is the 1D barcode equivalent of the GS1 US UPC-A barcode. It is most commonly recognized in Europe and used globally for basic product identification. 

As the name suggests, these barcodes contain 13 digits: the GTIN itself, a check digit, and sometimes other information that is specific to a region. 

You will likely find these codes primarily on retail items crossing point of sale (POS) but also in other industries, such as healthcare, libraries, e-commerce, and manufacturing. 

GS1 128

The GS1-128 uses a string of GS1 Application Identifiers (AIs) to store attribute information such as batch or lot number, best-before date, quantity, weight, and more. 

This barcode excels in logistics applications, encoding either a GTIN or Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) on logistic labels, cases, and pallets. 

QR code

Gs1 QR code parts

There are many different types of QR codes you might have seen in your local coffee shop or train station. But with GS1 standards, the extent of these squares goes beyond cashless payments and access to digital maps.

The GS1 numbers in digital link QR codes serve as unique identifiers to distinguish all products, make them traceable throughout the supply chain, and provide extensive product information directly to consumers. 

A GS1 US-led initiative called “Sunrise 2027” marks a milestone shift towards two-dimensional barcodes at point-of-sale (POS); many countries are already introducing a GS1 QR code in response to growing customer demands.

Data matrix

This is another two-dimensional GS1 barcode that can store a large amount of information while still fitting in limited-space items, making it ideal for healthcare products like medical instruments or pharmaceuticals.

Aside from healthcare, the data matrix is well-used in construction and consumer packaged goods (CPG), as these are designed to withstand the wear and tear of handling before purchase. 

While data matrix barcodes are similar to QR codes in their versatile applications, QR codes are more widely used for marketing and information sharing, while the data matrix is more common in industrial settings. 


EAN-8 are 1D barcodes that adhere to GS1 guidelines to make up for full UPC-A or EAN-13 barcodes when they cannot fit on small packaging with limited space. 

As they consist of an 8-digit GTIN, they are used on small retail items, such as cosmetics (e.g., lipstick, mascara), stationery (e.g., pencils, erasers), and small hardware (e.g., screws, bolts).  

ITF 14

An ITF-14 has a more distinct appearance than your standard UPC or EAN, as it is enclosed in bearer bars, which are thick bars that protect the barcode image inside and improve scanning accuracy.

These barcodes are commonly used on tertiary or transit packaging of products, such as cases, cartons, or pallets, that are more involved in general distribution (movement of products through warehouses) than point of sale.

Why use GS1-powered product codes?

Purpose of a gs1 barcode

Refines inventory management

As each GS1 code is globally recognized, it helps inventory management by creating an understanding among everyone in the supply chain about a product's details, regardless of language or location. 

Businesses can also track individual items or entire shipments throughout the process. The codes reveal real-time information, allowing for better product forecasts, fewer stockouts, and an increased response to changing demands. 

Secure supply chain tracking

With GS1, products across the supply chain can be traced back to their origins and followed throughout their journey, reducing the chances of a shipment being diverted or redirected. 

In addition, codes associated with GS1 have the advantage of linking to GS1 Global Data Synchronization (GDSN), a data pool that synchronizes logistics, label details, and digital files with trading partners worldwide. 

Verifies product authenticity

GS1 standard barcodes indirectly combat counterfeiting by establishing a strong sense of trust and the groundwork for advanced traceability. 

When consumers scan a product’s GS1 code, they can see where a product is from, its specific ingredients, the manufacturing process, and more.

Cuts costs significantly

Since tracking stock levels at every stage is made easy with GS1 product codes, overstocking, and understocking are no longer an issue. This means storage space doesn’t go to waste, and fewer sales are lost. 

Because these standardized codes allow for accurate data capture, they lessen the risk of manual mistakes, thus saving on time and labor costs. 

Richer product information

GS1 product codes open doors to a world of data organized in a standardized format. 

This means you can automatically collect information like a product’s name (including its brand and type), nutritional content, allergen details, ingredients list, packaging specifications, and more. 

Real-world applications of a GS1 standard barcode

Industries using gs1 barcodes


GS1 codes, specifically data matrix barcodes, are applied to prescription medications so that healthcare professionals can easily identify each drug. This ensures the right medication is given to the right patient at the correct dose. 

This also rings true for electronic medical records, as care providers can access a patient’s complete medical history in seconds, giving them a comprehensive look into adverse drug reactions and allergies. 

What do GS1-standardized barcodes mean for healthcare? It means less room for errors, efficient identification of medical supplies, and a safer patient experience.


A GS1 digital link QR code or 2D barcodes are gaining popularity and expanding their applications in the retail landscape. Customers can access product-specific information immediately with a smartphone camera. 

These codes not only provide interactive shopping experiences for consumers but also lessen the amount of text printed directly onto product packaging, leading to a cleaner design and reducing printing costs. 


How do QR codes work in manufacturing? As we already know, GS1 2D barcodes can hold significantly more information than 1D barcodes, going beyond the basic GTIN. 

The wealth of data in these codes makes them perfect for comprehensively tracking products along the manufacturing process all while maintaining quality control. 

How to kickstart your QR code journey using a QR code generator with logo

Not sure how to generate a free QR code for the first time? With an advanced QR code maker, you can jump into the fascinating world of QR codes and explore their smart applications in five simple steps: 

  1. Go to QR TIGER and log into your account, or click REGISTER if you don’t already have one. 
  2. Select the QR code solution that aligns with your needs (e.g., URL, File, vCard) and enter the necessary information. 
  3. Choose Static QR or Dynamic QR, then click Generate QR code.
  4. Customize your QR code with different colors, patterns, and eyes until you're satisfied, and upload your brand logo to promote brand recognition. 
  5. Test-scan your QR code to check if it’s working properly, then click Download to save it. 

Pro-tip: Still new to QR codes? Check out the various free templates online for clean and professional-looking customizable business cards, posters, menus, and more. 

The GS1 advantage: More than just a barcode

At the heart of an efficient supply chain lies GS1-powered barcodes that act as the quiet conductors orchestrating the seamless movement of products. 

GS1 barcodes can do this because they speak a universal language understood by anyone, anywhere in the world, and they have the remarkable power to hold large amounts of product-specific information. 

You could even view them as the invisible strings connecting manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and finally, consumers at the point of sale (POS). 

With QR TIGER, an advanced QR code generator with logo integration, you can get a taste of what this incredible technology has to offer and include your business in the exciting shift to global collaboration.


What is the purpose of GS1?

GS1, a non-profit organization, sets the standards for identifying products, services, locations, and assets worldwide. 

Its goal is to offer a universal language that improves supply chain tracking, transparency, and communication. 

What is the difference between a GS1 barcode and a normal barcode?

GS1-powered barcodes adhere to globally recognized barcode standards, where anyone can understand the encoded information and have the potential to hold additional details. 

Regular barcodes, on the other hand, can be created by an individual company, may not be universally readable, and can only include a basic product identifier. 

Who needs a GS1 standardized barcode?

A GS1 standardized barcode is especially useful for businesses trying to sell their products to major retailers or online markets. 

Those who want to expand their business will also need these barcodes to ensure universal communication across different sectors and partners. 

What are GS1 guidelines?

GS1 standards are detailed instructions for GS1 codes and other product identifiers to ensure that information is universally carried, translated, and understood. 

Brands using QR codes
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