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Point of Sale barcodes and UPCs defined

This article addresses the information about how barcodes are used and interpreted by a scanner. It also include the standard formats and several advantages of using item number for bar codes.

Detailed Information

A barcode is a series of coded lines that help identify a product. The lines appear in one of several standard formats that are read and interpreted by a scanner. The scanner then converts the information it reads into a usable format (for example, item information entered on a sales receipt). Point of Sale can print bar codes and supports the use of bar code scanners to list items on documents make entries on item records. No special procedures are required to use a bar code scanner with Point of Sale. Some merchandise comes from the vendor pre-tagged with UPC (Universal Product Code) bar codes. If you record those UPCs in inventory, you can scan the UPC bar codes to list the items on documents.

Some things that might affect the reading of a barcode are the size of the lines and spaces, whether the edges of the lines are sharp or smudged, and whether a scanner is designed to read the particular size of the barcode. Though very small barcodes can be generated, special scanners are required to read exceptionally small or compact barcodes.

Every item has an item number associated with it in inventory. When you print tags from within the program using the default tag templates, it is the item number that is used to create the bar code. This allows you to print and scan barcoded tags for all your inventory items, whether or not they have UPC or Alternate Lookups defined.

Using the item number for bar codes has several advantages:

  • You can print bar-coded tags for any item in inventory and then list them on documents using a bar code scanner, even if you do not have a vendor-provided UPC code.
  • Item number bar codes are generally smaller than bar codes created from UPC or alternate lookup values, meaning they fit better on smaller tag sizes.
  • If a tag bar code is unscannable, it is quicker to manually enter an item number (also printed on the tags) than the longer UPC or alternate lookup. 

An alternate lookup is an optional, user-defined item identifier that can be used to locate and quickly list items on documents. The use of alternate lookups is well suited to retailers that do not tag their merchandise or to those that want to print vendor part numbers on purchase orders or other documents. This field can contain text descriptions, catalog/part numbers, alphanumeric entries (code 39), abbreviated names, or anything allowing you to quickly identify a unique item. Alternate lookups must be unique for each item for which they are defined.

The UPC field on an item record can be used to record UPC-E, UPC-A, EAN, or similar identifiers up to 18 digits. Point of Sale will convert UPC formats of less than 13 digits (such as UPC-A and UPC-E) to a 13-digit form using a standard conversion algorithm.

Note: Every UPC # recorded must be unique and contain only numbers. UPCs can be entered on an item’s record by any of the three methods described below.

Type of code # of digits If you enter... Point of Sale will...
UPC-E 6 all 6 digits

expand those 6 to a 13-digit form

UPC-A 12 the first 11 digits
Example: 12345612345
all 12 digits
add the 12th digit (checksum) & leading zero
Example: 0123456123458
add the leading zero
EAN 13 all 13 digits add nothing
Other <13 all digits expand the entry to a 13-digit form, if necessary
Other >13 all digits no change
Note: This ability is to support future UPC technologies)


  • Bar codes created in QuickBooks Point of Sale for Desktop are based on the item numbers, not the UPC.
  • Do not scan a Point of Sale-created item number bar code into the item UPC field.
  • If a vendor provides alphanumeric bar codes that are not true UPC codes, do not enter those codes into the UPC field. UPC codes have a required format, and other code formats are not accepted.
  • Consider using the Alternate Lookup field for these codes instead.

(Pro) You can use the Print Designer to customize your tags to print the UPC bar code if you prefer.

KB ID# INF12237
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