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How to Register Barcodes in South Africa

Jul 5th 2015 at 2:10 AM

Getting a barcode for your product can be a confusing experience if you have never done it before. Here we try and demystify what they are, how they work, and how you register barcodes for your company - it really isn't as complicated as you think! If you do have any further questions at all feel free to contact the author.

1. So what is a barcode?
In simple terms, a barcode represents a unique number which has never been assigned to your individual product. This allows the shop to charge the customer correctly as well as monitor how much stock is available in their inventory system. Bar codes come in two forms - EAN (European Article Number) and UPC (Universal Product Code). Most of the world, including Australasia, the Middle East and Asia, use the EAN format although the United States, Canada and some countries in Africa use the UPC version. The vast majority of modern barcode scanners however are able to read both. The safest option is of course always to check with your retailers if they have a preference.

2. Why are barcodes made up of black lines?
The black stripes which you see on so many retail items are actually just a font which a barcode scanner can read and 'translate' into a binary code, and which a computer can then process. The bars come in four different thicknesses, coupled with the width between the black lines. The scanner at till emits a beam of light, and then measures how much light is reflected back. This allows for the 1 / 0 binary code - least light, or most light reflected - to be read and processed. The number which is displayed below the barcode is not read at all, and is simply there to allow the code to be entered manually should the barcode become damaged in some way.

3. I am launching new products - how do I know how many bar codes I will need?
The retailers you are planning to supply your stock to need to know how many of each of your products is available. For example if you are selling a range of fruit juices - say orange, mango and litchi, and you are selling a 340ml can as well as a 1l box of each, you will require 6 unique Barcodes South Africa. This means that if your 340ml litchi juice is selling far better than the other varieties, that the shop can contact you to order more. If you are only selling one unique item then of course you need only a single barcode.

4. Do retail barcodes work on any type of product?
Mostly yes. Due to international standards set by libraries and book sellers you will require a different format of barcode for a serial publication - such as a newspaper or magazine - as well as for a once-off publication like a novel or non-fiction book. A serial publication requires an ISSN or International Standard Serial Number included in the make-up of the barcode, as well as a smaller add-on digit which indicates the issue number. A book requires an ISBN - International Standard Book Number - which forms the barcode itself. CD's and DVD's however can carry a normal retail barcode as well as food items, electronic goods, detergents and the like.

5. Are the Barcodes South Africa I buy completely unique to my product?
If you have purchased barcodes through a reputable reseller or directly through GS1 then you can rest assured that the number is entirely unique. Make sure you are supplied with a certificate or some other proof of authenticity, and it always a good idea to check that the company has testimonials available from previous customers. Keep in mind as well that GS1 does not update their search engine with the databases of barcode resellers - so their site will reflect a company likely based in the US, however your certificate of registration makes you the complete and legal owner of the barcodes for the lifetime of your product.

6. Why would I need to register with GS1 at all then?
The process of registering with GS1 can be a costly and lengthy process - especially for a small business trying to establish their cash flow and get their products onto shelves. There are a small handful of the very large international retailers such as Walmart however, who may require you to be a personal member of GSI - when you purchase through a reseller you are basically a member by proxy. All barcodes in existence are originally GS1-registered, and most shops worldwide are happy to accept resold barcodes. If your company becomes massively successful and you want to get your products into large international chains then becoming a member of GS1 starts to make sense. This means you will have to pay a registration fee, and lease your barcodes annually rather than purchasing them outright. You will also be required to go for training at a further expense and the process involves a lot of time and paperwork - so until you really need to become a member it makes a lot more sense to go through a reseller. If in any doubt of course, always check your barcodes for acceptance with any retailer before you do the full print run of your packaging! Bear in mind as well that GS1 does not offer to design the barcode images which you will use for your packaging, whereas most resellers will include high-resolution, print-ready barcode images along with your purchase price.

7. What information do I need to supply to get a barcode? Does my company registration have to be complete?
No. When you go through a barcode reseller you have the option to register your barcodes numbers under your personal or company name. Generally all that is required is a contact email address. Your company contact information and the like will be captured by your retailers when they load your products onto their system against the barcodes.

8. Do barcodes ever expire?
If you register with GS1, and fail to pay the applicable annual renewal fees - then you will have to pay the backlog to reactivate your barcode numbers. Barcodes which are purchased through a reseller are yours for life and the number may never legally be used for another product without your express consent.

9. How do I ensure that my barcodes will scan?
Generally there are two basic rules to ensure your barcode images are scannable. The resolution at which you print should be above 300dpi, and to be safe you should ideally not reduce the dimensions of the barcode to less than 80% of the original size - however the width of the barcode is more important than the height, so you may be able to make your barcode slightly 'shorter' than this if your product is very small or you have limited space available. There are sizing templates available online to assist you further. The standard size for barcode images is 37.3mm wide x 25.9mm high. You can also increase the size of the barcode up to around 200% if you so wish - for example if you need to cover up a larger space on your packaging.

10. Can my barcode be printed in other colours rather than just black and white?
You do have the option to do this, as long as you remember to keep a high degree of contrast between the background colour and the bars of the barcode. Because the light emitted by a scanner is red, red colouring will be scanned as white - this means a blue on red combination will scan, but a red on blue barcode will not. Other possible combinations include blue on yellow, green on red and black on yellow. Again always make sure to test an initial copy of the image with a scanner before printing all your packaging or labels.

We certainly hope you found this article useful! Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions at all.

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