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

The two barcodes consist of the same number of bars and spaces.

EAN is a superset of UPC.

In 1971, IBM created the UPC barcode and it quickly became a universal product identification symbol. George Laurer, who invented the UPC barcode, said that the UPC-A and the EAN-13 are mostly the same.

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.

What is the Difference Between UPC and EAN?

While UPC and EAN are similar in many ways, they do have some key differences.

Number of Digits

One of the significant differences is the number of digits that each barcode contains. A standard UPC code, known as UPC-A, contains 12 numeric digits, while a standard EAN code, known as EAN-13, contains 13 numeric digits.

Geographic Usage

UPC codes are predominantly used in the United States and Canada. In contrast, EAN codes are used worldwide, making them more universally recognizable. Businesses that are selling products internationally often use EAN to ensure global compatibility.

Accompanying Text Position

The accompanying human-readable text, which is found below the barcode, is positioned differently in UPC and EAN barcodes. This text representation of the barcode allows for manual data entry if the barcode fails to scan, ensuring that the data can still be accessed.

For UPC barcodes, the first digit is to the left of the barcode, the next 10 digits are under the barcode, and the last digit is to the right of the barcode. For EAN-13 barcodes, the first digit is to the left, and the next 12 digits are under the barcode.


Both UPC and EAN have variations. UPC-E is a shorter version of a UPC barcode, with 8 digits, useful when the packaging space is limited. EAN-8 is the EAN equivalent of UPC-E and contains 8 digits as well.

A quick comparison table

Barcode Types UPC-A EAN-13
Variation UPC-E EAN-8
Density Moderate density Moderate density
Character Set Numeric Numeric
Maximum Capacity Numeric: 12 Numeric: 13
Error Detection UPC has a modulo-10 check digit to detect error EAN has a modulo-10 check digit to detect error
Usage Scenarios Retail point of sale Retail point of sale
Region US and Canada Worldwide

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 Online Demo of Barcode Scanner.

A series on different types of barcodes

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