There are a variety of barcode terms and jargon used in the barcode field that can confuse the best among us. Here is a cheatsheet to help understand what different terms and abbreviations stand for.

2D Barcodes

2D barcodes are also called Matrix Barcodes which encode information vertically and horizontally unlike the regular 1D barcodes. They can hold much more information than normal barcodes. QR Codes are the most common type of 2D Barcodes.

Asset Tracking Barcodes

These are sequential numbers usually encoded in Code-39 or Code-128 format barcodes. These help to keep track of what assets go in and out. These formats of barcodes are used in this way in libraries for lending out books as well.

Aztec Code

A type of 2D Barcode with an Aztec pyramid-like centre finder pattern (A pattern in the centre of the code used by the scanner to establish a centre point). These are used primarily for tickets of transport providers such as Eurostar.

Bar Height

The height of the shortest bars in a barcode. This refers to the bars only and does not include the number at the bottom.

Bar Width

Refers to the total width of all of the bars in a barcode. This excludes the quiet zones on either side of the bars.


An image used to contain a small amount of information to be easily read by a barcode scanner or cell phone app.

Barcode Registration

Barcode registration on online databases can increase the online profile of barcodes and ensure that the product information appears when cell phone apps scan the barcode. There is no mandatory registration database for barcode numbers.

Check Digit

This is an additional digit, also called a checksum digit, calculated using a special algorithm and added to the end of a barcode. This helps ensure the barcode is not accidentally keyed in wrong if one digit is incorrect.


This is a barcode symbology used mostly for asset tracking. It can only encode numeric data and has a high data density.


Code-39 is also used majorly for asset tracking. It can encode alpha-numeric data (letters and numbers) and has a low data density, so small goods should not be labelled because small barcodes of this type may be difficult for a scanner to pick up.

Company Prefix

Company prefixes are the section of a barcode number following the initial 3 digits that doesn’t change across a company’s entire barcode selection. The length of this is determined by how many individual barcode numbers the company owns (i.e. if they own 10,000 barcode numbers, then the company prefix needs to be shorter to fit within the 13-digit threshold).

Country Code

This refers to the first three digits of a retail barcode number, indicating which GS1 member organisation the barcode came from. A common misconception is that this shows the country of origin of the product when it only shows the country of origin of the barcode itself.

Data Matrix

This is a type of 2D Barcode used in engineering and manufacturing industries. It is used to locate individual components during the manufacturing process.


EAN stands for European Article Number. This is the 13 digit standard retail barcode used almost ubiquitously throughout the world. Only in the USA, they use UPC-A barcodes more commonly, although stores still accept EAN-13 barcodes.


The encoding is the information that the barcode is generated from. In the case of an EAN-13 barcode, this would refer to the 13-digit number.

GLN Numbers

Global Location Numbers are 13 digit numbers required by some stores as a prerequisite for trading. These unique numbers are used as location identifiers. These can be obtained through GS1 and some alternative suppliers.


GS1, or Global Standards One, are an international company that implements and enforces barcode standards. Barcodes can be purchased through them, though generally, an initial joining fee needs to be paid and annual membership fees.

GTIN Barcode

GTINs are Global Trade Identification Numbers. They refer to any barcode numbers used in retail as part of the GS1 system. In simple terms, it is just another term for barcode. These could be GTIN-13s (or EAN-13s), GTIN-12s (UPC-A) or GTIN-14 (ITF-14).

ISBN Barcode

International Standard Book Number Barcodes are the barcodes used on books. These start with 978 or 979 and are produced as barcodes using EAN-13 symbology, usually with text above.

ISBN Number

International Standard Book Numbers are 13-digit numbers beginning with a 978 or 979 used on books.

ISSN Barcode

International Standard Serial Number Barcodes are 13-digit barcodes converted from an 8-digit ISSN Number. This 13-digit code is encoded using EAN-13 symbology in a barcode used on magazines and other periodicals.

ISSN Number

An International Standard Serial Number is an 8-digit number supplied to creators of magazines and periodicals, which can be converted into a 13 digit magazine barcode.


ITF-14s or Interleaved Two of Five’s are barcodes created from an EAN-13 number (adding leading digit) to be used on the cartons of an EAN-13 barcode’s product. These are large barcodes printed on boxes of 6 or 12 of an item used only for stock tracking purposes and not for retail selling.

Matrix Barcode

This is another of the barcode terms used for 2D barcodes.

Maxi Code

This is a dotted 2D Barcode used by some postage services. While it can only encode small amounts of information, a central bulls-eye allows it to be scanned even when a parcel is moving quickly.


Parity is the way that a set of numbers (0-9) can be encoded to be read by a barcode scanner. Each number in the parity must be represented by a different combination of black and white spaces in barcodes. Each parity used in encoding one barcode number must be entirely different from all other parities used in the barcode symbology.


This is a type of 2D barcode used for identification cards and e-tickets. Transport providers often use these.

QR Code

Quick Response codes are the most common kind of 2D barcodes. First developed for Toyota, these codes are now used worldwide to encode various types of information. They are primarily used to link smartphones to URL addresses when scanned automatically.

Quiet Zones

Quiet Zones are part of the barcode specifications that refer to the white spaces on either side of the bars. These are required to be a certain size for the barcode to scan correctly and fit within the officially accepted specifications. Sometimes a ‘>’ is used to indicate how big the quiet zone should be.

SSCC Barcode

Serial Shipping Container Codes are 18 digit barcodes (with an additional 2-digit application identifier) used on pallets going into large retail stores. Each pallet requires a different SSCC code.


Symbology is the type of barcode or the way that the barcode is

encoded. This word is sometimes interchanged with the format. The symbology

is a combination of the parities used and in what order these are used.


UPC stands for Universal Product Code – a type of retail barcode used predominantly in the USA (although theoretically accepted worldwide). These 12-digit numbers are encoded in UPC-A symbology. These are effectively a subset of EAN-13 numbers.


If you don’t understand any of these barcode terms or we haven’t included something, do get in touch with us.