What is the Difference Between UPC and EAN?

What is the Difference Between UPC and EAN?

Are you wondering about what types of barcodes you should use for your particular usage scenario? Are you confused by the many similar barcode types? To help you differentiate the different barcode types, we have published a comprehensive guide to 1D and 2D barcodes. In this article, we will dive deeper into the differences between UPC and EAN.

upc vs. ean

Basic introduction

George Laurer, who invented the UPC barcode, said that the UPC-A and the EAN-13 are mostly the same. The two barcodes consist of the same number of bars and spaces. In 1971, IBM created the UPC barcode and it quickly became a universal product identification symbol. After several years, Europe also recognized the benefits of this symbol. Then the International Article Numbering Association (EAN) added a number at the front of the code to represent different countries. The number 13 in its name means that it can hold 13 digits. EAN is a superset of UPC. Therefore, any software or hardware capable of reading an EAN-13 symbol should also be able to read a UPC-A symbol. Definitely you will find more information at h-t.

A quick comparison table

Barcode TypesUPC-AEAN-13
DensityModerate densityModerate density
Character SetNumericNumeric
Maximum CapacityNumeric: 12Numeric: 13
Error DetectionUPC has a modulo-10 check digit to detect errorEAN has a modulo-10 check digit to detect error
Usage ScenariosRetail point of saleRetail point of sale
RegionUS and CanadaWorldwide


The most significant difference is the position of the digits of the human-readable text below the barcodes. The accompanying text enables users to use the results in case the software failed to scan the barcode.

Where should you use UPC or EAN

Since 2005, all retail scanning systems in the USA have accepted the EAN-13 symbol as well as the standard UPC-A. Today, most stores around the world have the ability to read information from UPC and EAN. However, some older scanning systems in the US and Canada can’t decode EAN barcodes. Therefore, we recommend that if you are in the retail business and only operate in the US and Canada, you are better off with UPC barcodes.

Take the Next Step

We hope this helps you to determine which barcode type you are going to choose. Now it’s time to read the barcodes. You can download Dynamsoft Barcode Reader to implement barcode reading functionality into your application.

After downloading the Dynamsoft Barcode Reader, you can start your free 30-Day trial and try our online demo.

A series on different types of barcodes

If you’d like to compare other barcode types, please check out our online barcode comparison tool.

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