Use EAN-13 and EAN-8

The EAN-13 and EAN-8 barcodes are used to mark packages with an item number. EAN-13 and EAN-8 can be read very quickly and are therefore used to mark packages that will be scanned at a checkout. EAN 13 is also used on outer packages.

EAN-13 is used to mark packages with an item number

The EAN‑13 barcode is used to mark consumer packages with a GTIN‑13 or a variable measure number.

EAN‑13 can also be used to mark an outer package with a GTIN‑13. If the outer package needs to be marked with more information than just an item number then the GS1‑128 barcode is, for example, more suitable.

Example of the barcode EAN-13.

EAN-8 is used to mark small packages with an item number

The EAN‑8 barcode is used in exceptional cases to mark small packages with an item number. The barcode is used to mark packages that have limited space for a barcode and will pass a checkout. EAN‑8 encodes a GTIN‑8.

Example of the barcode EAN-8.

Barcode size

A barcode can be printed in different sizes on condition that it can be easily read. A large barcode has wider bars and tolerances which means you can be more certain that it can be read.

It is particularly important that the barcode has a sufficiently large bar width if it might be read in a warehouse where the reading distance is greater that in a retail store.

The dimensions for EAN-13 and EAN-8 are specified in in the Barcode Size Guide.

Bar width

EAN‑13 and EAN‑8 are built up from bars and spaces of four different widths. It is critical that the bars and spaces have the correct width for the barcode to be readable.

The width of the narrowest bar in a barcode is called the module width. If a barcode is reduced or enlarged relative to the nominal size, the module width must be changed by the same proportion.

When the barcode is printed there might be some ink spread. To prevent the bars becoming too wide, it may be necessary to reduce the width in the print master so that they are correct on the finished item.


The height of EAN‑13 and EAN‑8 is measured from the bottom edge to the top edge.

Measure the height from the bottom of the lines to the top of the lines.

EAN‑13 and EAN‑8 are omnidirectional since the barcode consists of two parts, left and right. This means that the package does not need to be oriented especially in relation to the scanner in order to be read. This functionality is lost if the height of the barcode is reduced. The operator must then twist and turn the package which impairs efficiency. Always try, therefore, to give the barcode full height.

Always strive to have the barcode at full height.

If the package or the printable area is small it may be necessary to reduce the height. The smaller the package the less of a problem to orient it to make the barcode readable.

Light margins

There must always be a light margin to the left and right of EAN‑13 and EAN‑8 barcodes. The light margins are empty spaces to ensure that adjacent information, such as the package artwork, does not interfere with scanning. Remember not to place the barcode too close the the edge of the package since the scanner may interpret the edge as a bar.

To the left and right of EAN-13 and EAN-8 there should always be a margin of light.

Human-readable digits

The digits under the barcode must be sufficiently high to be readable. The distance between the top of the digits and the bottom of the bars must be at least one-half of a module width. The module width is the width of the narrowest bar.

Colour contrast between bars and background

The readability of a barcode comes from the contrast between dark bars and light background. Black bars on white background give the best contrast, but other combinations are possible.

The most common scanning method is to let a red beam of light pass across the barcode. The scanner sees the barcode differently from the human eye, in particular it sees red as white. It can therefore be difficult to judge contrast yourself.

Using a transparent red filter placed over the barcode gives an indication of possible colour combinations. To be certain that the barcode works you should have the contrast checked with special analysis equipment.

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