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Increasingly necessary for independent retailers, preferred by most retail chains, demanded by the major retailers. Barcodes, which are only a method of allowing machines to read numbers, are the cause of more headaches, heartaches, stress and angst (particularly with designers) than most other issues put together. There really is no reason why they should.

The Uniform Code Council (UCC) in North America, and the European Article Numbering Association (EAN), now known as GS1 (UK), provide a system for “the use of unambiguous numbers to identify goods, services, assets and locations worldwide” In the case of Greeting Cards this will be an EAN-13 barcode for most of the world, and a UPC-A barcode in North America, although, to quote from a UCC document, 'since 1st January 2005 all US and Canadian companies must be capable of scanning and processing EAN-8 and EAN-13 symbols at point-of-sale'. If you are planning North American sales it would be wise to check as some outlets still do not comply.

To be able to use EAN barcodes you must first register with GS1. You will be allocated a Company Prefix which will always form the start of your EAN-13 barcodes and uniquely identify them as yours, you will have 1,000 EAN-13 barcodes available to you. The annual cost of joining GS1 is around £119 plus one off joining fee of £109.

If you intend printing the EAN-13 barcode onto the reverse of your card, one or more of the following will have to be considered;

  1. The surface of the card material (is it smooth or dimpled? for instance)
  2. The colour of the card in the area you wish to print the barcode
  3. Colour of the barcode
  4. Barcode ‘magnification’
  5. Space available

It might be that printing a barcode on your card is not possible for technical reasons, or perhaps it spoils an otherwise perfect presentation. In this case you can print your barcodes onto self adhesive labels and affix them to the outside of the ‘cello’ bags, and these labels could of course incorporate other details such as ‘Blank Inside’ etc.

The GS1 website is the barcode authority, however for helpful user-friendly details the Barcode Advisory Service offers free assistance.