How to Read a Barcode: An Easy Guide

Most people look at barcodes and see nothing more than illegible lines and numbers. While barcodes may seem complex, they are not hard to understand, but that is only if you know how to read a barcode.

A barcode is just a pattern containing a series of numbers with information about products and their manufacturers. You can find them anywhere on advertisements, on websites, in retail stores, in book shops, and so on.

For consumers and sellers, being able to decipher barcodes is a useful skill. If you do not know how to read barcodes, do not fret. Here is a simple breakdown of what kinds of barcodes exist and how to read them.

What Are the Different Kinds of Barcodes?

Several kinds of barcodes are used for different purposes. The primary purpose of most barcodes is to keep track of and manage the product they represent.

CPC Binary codes are used in automated mail sortation. Data Matrix codes have multiple applications, but they are most commonly found on print media such as magazines, labels, snail mails, and the like.

The most simple and widely used barcodes are the following:

  • UPCs: Universal Product Codes are the barcodes you find on products you buy both online and in stores. Retail manufacturers and businesses use these barcodes worldwide in order to keep track of their products. If you look at a UPC barcode, you will find twelve numbers denoted by twelve vertical black and white lines.
  • QR Codes: This stands for Quick Response Codes. These are non-linear codes used for storing any kind of information whether that is a website address, business contact information, a link to an application, and more. They do not show vertical lines like UPCs, but instead, they form a square shape with black and white squares in the top and bottom corners (except the bottom right). You can usually find them in advertisements.
  • ISBN: International Standard Book Numbers, as can be inferred from the name, are codes used for both paperback and online book retail worldwide. ISBN codes follow the manufacture, shipment, and sale of books. Publishers have to register themselves with the International ISBN Agency to obtain an ID number for every book they publish. The ID number is converted into the ISBN pattern: a series of vertical black and white lines similar to UPCs.

How to Read a Barcode?

There are two ways to read a barcode. You can choose to read it either electronically or manually.

Reading a Barcode Electronically

The most efficient and straightforward method is to scan a barcode and read it electronically. There are two methods in which you can do this.

  • Barcode Scanners

Most stores and retail brands scan barcodes via a scanner to track their orders. If you are a business owner, you need to familiarize yourself with scanners and how they work. You can easily buy a scanner on online stores like Amazon or eBay.

Most commonly used barcode scanners are relatively inexpensive, available for less than $100. Most recent models are wireless and can scan all three popular barcode types including QR Codes and Data Matrix.

In addition to buying the scanner, you will need to connect your computer or laptop to receive the information from the barcodes. We also recommend downloading software such as WASP, EZ Office Inventory, HandiFox Online, and BarTender to help you do this.

The scanner will scan the code and transfer the information to your computer, displaying it in either a Word or Excel file. Downloading the software, though, is better when you want to track your product shipments or want more in-depth customized reports.

  • Smart Apps

Scanners are not for everyone. They can be expensive (at least the top options for industrial scale use) and unless you need one for work, there are other alternatives available for barcode scanners and scanning software. For example, you can now just download a scanning app on your smartphone.

For iOS users, you can find plenty of free apps available on the App Store. These apps are compatible with iPhones, iPads, and even iPods. They can scan and make many different types of code including EAN-8, EAN-13, UPCs, ISSNs, ISBNs, Code 39, and Aztec Codes.

You also have the option of scanning through both back and front cameras. All of these apps are free of cost and highly recommended by users.

Similarly, there are plenty of options available for Android users on the Google Store. Some apps can even generate and read more than 80 different codes including QR Code, Denso Barcode, ECC200, Data Matrix, USS Code 39, EAN-8, EAN-13, UPC-A, ITF, and so on.

For all these apps, all you have to do to read the barcodes is:

  1. Click the scan option
  2. Hold your camera directly in front of the code
  3. The app will immediately scan and transfer the information to your phone whether it is a link tracking your order, a map location, a web address, contact information, or bank details.

Reading a Barcode Manually

Two-dimensional barcodes such as QR Codes are more complicated because they are non-linear, so it is easier to read them electronically. On the other hand, one-dimensional barcodes, such as UPCs and ISBNs, can be deciphered manually. For this, you just need to understand how barcodes work and what the numbers represent.

UPCs, as described above, have a sequence of twelve vertical black and white lines that represent twelve numbers. These numbers denote the manufacturer and information about the product price and listing.

The first six numbers on the barcode will tell you the GS1 Company Prefix. This is the identification number of the manufacturing company assigned by GS1, the global authority on the listing and management of barcodes.

The following five digits represent the product. All products are assigned special IDs that are linked with the manufacturer’s GS1 Company Prefix. The final number on the barcode is called the check digit, which is used to detect errors in the compilation of the other eleven digits. It is calculated from all the other numbers.

After you have identified the numbers, all you have to do is look them up either on your smartphone or your computer. You can just Google the numbers you have, and it will most likely connect you with the related information. Otherwise, you can go to the GS1 database or websites such as BarCodeLookup to check the manufacturer and listing of the product.


We hope this was a helpful guide on how to read a barcode. Barcodes are relevant to almost everyone whether they are customers or business owners. Either way, whether you choose to read them manually or electronically, barcodes are straightforward and simple to understand.


PriceCheckHQ Editorial Staff

PriceCheckHQ Editorial Staff

PriceCheckHQ Editorial Staff

Latest posts by PriceCheckHQ Editorial Staff (see all)

Login/Register access is temporary disabled