Integrated Business Communications Alliance

IBCA Guidelines for Product ID, Labels and Shipments

Supply Chain Foundation Guide

  1. Introduction – Information flow in the supply chain, How to use the documents
  2. Supply Chain Overview and Benefits
  3. Organizing The Labeling Project
  4. Understanding The GS1 System

Label Implementation Guide

  1. Implementing a GS1 System Labeling Project
  2. Implementing Serial Shipping Container Code
  3. Bar Code Print Quality

Contemporary Knowledge:



IBCA Label Implementation Guide (LIG)

5.  Implementing a GS1 System Labeling Project (rev December 2011)

This chapter uses terms and concepts presented in Chapter 7 and Chapter 3 and it further assumes that the preparation steps outlined in Chapter 4 have been completed. If you are not familiar with the GS1 System and bar code printing, you may want to read Chapter 3 & Chapter 4 before continuing with this chapter.

This chapter explains how to label consumer units with the GTIN-12 and / or intermediate packs with the GS1-128. Chapter 6 deals with implementing a Serial Shipping Container Code project.

On the surface, the request to implement these projects appears to be simple … get the bar codes shown below on your products and your intermediate packs and shipping containers.

In practice, however, the request initiates several sub-projects.

The first step of these sub-projects is understanding what the customer is asking for. Some companies want the GTIN-12 (encoded in a UPC-A bar code) placed on individual items but are not asking for the GTIN-14 to be encoded in an originally referenced ITF-14 or GS1-128 (formerly UCC/EAN-128) bar code. Step 1 then is to confirm what the customer is asking for:

  • The GTIN-12 number only. Covered in this chapter.

  • GTIN-14 number only (Note: this would be very unusual). Covered in this chapter.

  • Both the GTIN-12 number and the GTIN-14. Covered in this chapter.

  • The Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC). Read Chapter 6

  • Conformance to the ANSI MH10.8 Label Standard.

Once the scope of the request is understood, several additional sub-projects can be defined:

  • Get a GS1 Company Prefix (see Section 4.8).

  • Assign UPC-A Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN) to all products. (Since this would be held in a data file it will be a 14 digit global trade item number (GTIN) See section 4.2

  • Assign GTIN-14 numbers (14-digit) to all intermediate packs and shipping containers.

  • Modify database and software to recognize the new numbers.

  • If necessary, layout new graphics on packaging, making room for bar codes.

  • Print and apply the UPC-A bar codes with GTIN-12 numbers to all products

  • Print and apply the ITF-14 or GS1-128 bar codes with GTIN-14 numbers to all intermediate packs and cartons.

  • Communicate these numbers to your customers.

5.1 Assigning GTIN-12 numbers to all products (refer to the documents provided with the GS1 Company Prefix)

The GTIN-12 is assigned by the manufacturer to each of its products. The 12 digit item number is a subset of the 14 digit GTIN. So, if you have not yet assigned any 12 digit GS1 numbers, then start with a 14 digit GTIN for each item. The relationship is explained in section 4.2. And demonstrated in section 5.4 below. To assign this number to your products, follow these steps:

  • Make a list of your consumer units (inventory keeping units) and assign each one a unique, all-numeric Item Reference Number. Note: If your GS1 Company Prefix is six digits in length, you will assign five-digit Item Reference numbers and you may assign up to 100,000 unique numbers. If your Company Prefix is eight digits in length, you will assign three-digit Item Reference numbers and you may assign up to 1,000 unique numbers. Depending on the member company’s estimate of Item Reference numbers needed, the Company Prefix may be between six and ten digits in length.
  • Create the GTIN-12 base number (eleven digits) by combining the UCC Company Prefix you were assigned by the GS1 with the Item Reference Numbers you assigned to each consumer unit in Step 1 above. The combination of GS1 Company Prefix and Item Reference number will yield an eleven-digit number.
  • Complete the creation of the GTIN-12 by calculating the check digit (See Appendix 3) and adding it as the 12th (right most) digit.

As a rule, these numbers should be assigned arbitrarily, without attempting to reserve blocks of numbers for special colors or sizes or assigning any significance whatsoever to the number. Building so-called "intelligence" into numbers frequently causes more problems than it solves.

5.2 Getting a Company Prefix from the GS1

Contact GS1, formerly the Uniform Code Council (UCC), to get a Company Prefix. The GS1 Customer Service Department in Dayton, OH assigns the Company Prefix and maintains a database assuring that no other company is assigned the same number. Applicants should access the GS1 website at and apply for membership online.

5.3 Assigning GTIN-14 Numbers

The GTIN-14 is a 14-digit number assigned by the manufacturer to each standard packaging level unit above the consumer unit. To assign this number, follow these steps:

  • Make a list of the different standard intermediate packs and shipping container for each consumer unit identified above.

Note: Many companies do not ship their products in standard configurations. In these cases, it may be necessary for the project team to establish standard shipping configurations for all its consumer units (or just the ones shipped to the customers asking for the SSCC) in order to assign them GTIN-14 numbers.

  • Assign Indicator digits to each different standard packing configuration. Use the numbers 1 through 8. The Indicator of "0" can be used in special situations where the shipping container is also the lowest unit of sale, i.e. a bathtub. The Indicator Digit is the first, or left most, digit in the 14-digit GTIN-14.
  • Add a leading zero to the eleven digit GTIN-12 base number of the product in the intermediate pack or shipping container, i.e. If the GTIN-12 number for the product is 098756100013, strip off the last digit (3) and add a zero to the front. The UPC-A base number becomes 009875610001.
  • Create a 13-digit number by combining the Indicator digit assigned in step 2 with the GTIN-12 base number calculated in step 3.
  • Complete the 14-digit number by calculating the check digit as the fourteenth, or right most, digit in the 14-digit GTIN-14.

5.4 Preparing the database and application software

Using the GS1 System does not mean abandoning present numbering systems. Usually it means adding the ability to cross-reference the new numbers to the old. The table below illustrates this:

  • Column A … Record Number… is for reference purposes only.
  • Column B … Full Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)… is the new term for the 14-digit data structure to identify trade items (products and services) with the GS1 System.
  • Even though the GTIN-12 number is only 12 digits, it is stored in a 14 digit, all numeric, right justified, zero-filled field to make it consistent with the GTIN-14 number format. Padding the number with leading zeros does not change the check digit calculation.
  • Column C … Original UPC Number … is now the GTIN-12 number of the item.
  • Column D… Old # … is the company’s "old" internal product number (and may still be the current product number).
  • Column E … Description … is the description.
  • Column F … Quantity … is the quantity of "Consumer units" defined by the left most number in column B.








14 Digit Product Code (GTIN)

Original UPC-A Number

Old #






SC 12345

1 Single Red Pen





SC 12345

1 Single Red Pen





SC 12345

1 Single Red Pen





SC 45346

Red Pen 5-Pack





SC 45346

Red Pen 5-Pack





SC 45346

Red Pen 5-Pack


Line #1 is a single "Consumer unit" Single Red Pen. Lines 2 & 3 are the same product in different standard shipping configurations. Note that the first three line items have the same Original UPC-A Number in Column C.

Also, note the Indicator digits (Indicators 3 and 5 respectively) in the left-most position of the GTIN-14 column in lines 2 & 3. These indicate different package quantities of the same consumer units. When the GTIN-14 for line #2 is scanned, the inventory will be adjusted (incremented for a receipt, decremented for a shipment) in the amount of 50 Red Pens with the Original UPC-A Number 098756100013.

The GTIN-14 is precise and it will work better with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions because the quantity is explicitly tied to a specific number. Transmitting the GTIN-14 alone will communicate product and quantity information.

Line 4 is the same product in a 5-Pack container instead of a single item package. It is assigned a different GTIN-12.

In the example above, the following actions were necessary to add the ability to recognize the GTIN-12 number:

  • Add two new fields to the data base. One for the GTIN-12 number and the other for the GTIN-14.
  • The UPC-A bar code is formatted as 12 digits, all numeric, right justified.
  • The GTIN-14 is formatted as 14 digits, all numeric, right justified, zero filled.

The next step is cross-referencing the new field to the old item number. The objective is to enable the existing business system to locate the proper database record when either the Original UPC Number or the new, GTIN-14 is entered.

Note: The numbers might be key entered or bar code entered but the system won’t necessarily know the difference. For the sake of accuracy, some programmers design their programs to force bar code entry of critical data elements because scanning bar code is more accurate than manual key entries. However, this is not the rule and it is totally optional. In most cases, the computer will treat bar code data entry the same as keyboard data entry.

Companies without their own computer departments should contact their primary software vendor to determine their present system’s capabilities to cross-reference several numbers to the same inventory record. It is important to recognize that the changes that need to be made have nothing to do with the technology of reading bar codes. The changes are related to cross-referencing several numbers to the same inventory record. The fact that the number may be entered via a bar code scanner is totally irrelevant. The question for the primary software vendor is: Can your system cross-reference several numbers to the same record? Bar code has nothing to do with it.

Once the system has the capability of cross-referencing several numbers to the same inventory record, the applications that will need to accept either the old numbers or the new numbers will need to be identified and modified accordingly. This usually falls on the shoulders of the company IT (Information Technology) or computer department or the company’s primary vendor of its business system software. The affected applications / modules would probably include:

  • Order entry
  • Order picking
  • Inventory Adjustments
  • Shipping Verification
  • Invoicing

Alternately, instead of getting the present software vendor to modify their program, third-party programmers could write a custom program to accomplish the same thing but this approach should be considered very carefully. If the primary information system is updated or revised by the vendor, the custom program may not work with the new version. Generally speaking, it’s safer to get the primary vendor to make the necessary adjustments and commit to keeping the program capable of cross-referencing several numbers to the same inventory record.

5.5 Printing and applying GTIN-12 numbers in the UPC-A symbology

Once the numbers have been assigned and the computer system can recognize the new numbers and the old, bar codes representing these numbers will need to be printed and applied to the company’s items and, if specified, intermediate packs and shipping containers.

See Chapter 7 … Bar Code Print Quality for a detailed explanation of printing alternatives.

The project team will need to decide how the UPC-A symbols will be printed and it will also need to establish quality control procedures to verify that the bar codes are printed and applied according to the specification.

UPC-A symbols can be printed directly on packaging with offset, flexographic or silk screen technologies. They can also be printed on labels and applied to the product manually or with automatic label applicators.

The decision to use one print method or the other is based on a variety of factors including volume of labels / symbols needed, the packaging’s compatibility with direct printing methods, the company’s ability to forecast its requirements ahead of time and the company’s willingness to assume responsibility for the quality of the symbol in every respect.

See the discussion on bar code print quality in Chapter 7.

Generally speaking, direct printing on packaging is the least expensive for very large quantities. Printing labels in-house requires less lead time and allows quick response to unexpected label requirements (usually at a higher per unit cost).

5.6 Printing and applying the GTIN-14 number in the ITF-14 or GS1-128 Symbol

If the customer is requesting the GTIN-14 number on intermediate packs and shipping containers, methods of printing and applying these will also need to be selected and procedures to verify quality will need to be written.

See Chapter 7 … Bar Code Print Quality for a detailed explanation of printing alternatives.

GTIN-14 numbers can be directly printed on corrugated cartons using the Interleaved 2 of 5 (ITF-14) symbology. Direct printing methods save the cost of labels which can be significant over a year. Label costs vary with quantity, label materials and label size but a 10 sq. in. label (2.5" x 4") would cost between 1˘ and 2˘ in quantities of 100,000 or more. Cartons can be direct printed off-site, usually with offset printing technologies or on-site using ink jet technology (at a likely higher per unit cost).

The GS1 has revised its specifications allowing the GTIN-14 number to be encoded in GS1-128 symbology instead of ITF-14. When using this new format, the 14 digit number is preceded by the Application Identifier "01" which tells the computer the bar code contains the GTIN-14 number. See Appendix 5 for a complete list of Applications Identifiers (AI’s).

The GS1-128 symbology cannot be reliably printed directly onto cartons because of unpredictable ink absorption rates. Choosing this symbology and format usually means choosing labels instead of direct printing.

One final point, although the GS1 has defined this method of communicating the GTIN-14 number, not all companies are accepting it. Check with the customer before selecting this symbology and format.

Print quality is especially important when printing directly on corrugated cartons because ink spreads at an unpredictable rate on different lots of corrugated cartons. If the ink spreads too much, the bars become too wide and the spaces too narrow. Bar codes printed directly on to corrugate should be checked periodically with an ANSI/CEN/ISO-capable bar code symbol quality verifier.

On-site printing alternatives include thermal transfer, laser, impact printers, and possibly ink jet printers.

5.7 Communicating the GTIN numbers to the customer – data synchronization

Your company may already have procedures in place to communicate your existing numbers to your customers but if your database structure is different or if the customer needs a specific structure or file format, some type of field mapping will be necessary. Although some people still use hard copies of catalog information or send files on CD, the direction is clearly to use the Internet to send and receive information. The best methods enable information to be transferred in real time.

Regardless of the transfer method, companies must understand which element of information is contained in each position in the record. Companies in your industry have developed a model Standard Item Record (SIR). The model defines each element of information and represents it in an Excel spreadsheet.

Not only is it necessary to communicate the SIR to your customer(s), it’s also a good idea to submit printed samples of your printed bar codes to the customer to make sure they can read them. Some customers insist on this anyway. Considering the cost implications and possible negative impact on customer relations if they can’t read the bar codes you send them, it’s a good idea to get the customer to respond in writing, stating their acceptance of the sample. It’s important to remember, however, that ongoing print quality inspections will be needed at your end to assure that printing systems continue to produce high quality, in-specification symbols.

5.8 Summary List of Tasks and Milestones

  • Determine what your customer(s) is / are asking of you, i.e. understand the specification.

  • Get GS1 Company Prefix from the GS1 Organization. The Company Prefix is part of GS1 membership.

  • Make a list of all your "consumer units" and assign GTIN-12’s to each one.

  • If you are being asked to mark intermediate packs and shipping containers with the GTIN-14 and ITF-14 or GS1-128 bar code symbologies, make a list of all your standard packaging configurations for each consumer unit and assign a GTIN-14 number to each one.

  • Cross-reference the new GTIN-12 code to your old numbers in your computer database and modify applications to recognize / accept the new numbers or the old numbers.

  • Decide how you want to print each type of bar code, i.e. how you want to print the UPC-A symbology at item level and how you want to print the ITF-14 or GS1-128 symbol at higher levels of packaging.

  • Design label formats for each customer. Do this yourself or have an outside vendor do it as an item of their contract. Note that your customers may have specified label formats themselves.

  • Submit sample bar codes to your customers for written approval.

  • Print and apply bar codes to your items and higher packaging levels.

  • Communicate these numbers to your customers.

  • Develop and implement quality control procedures to assure that your print quality and bar code placement remains in specification.



IBCA  Phone: 215.489.1722  Email:

© 2013 Integrated Business Communications Alliance