Barcode labels help businesses track stock and access key product data easily. Learning how to make a barcode will help you see product details, stock on hand, pricing, and even complete a sale with a single barcode scan. You can make and print barcodes affordably using a point-of-sale (POS) system or barcode generators.
Here’s how to make a barcode in three steps.
1. Create Your Product Codes
To make a barcode, you need to have unique product codes that identify and track your products. Most businesses use either Universal Product Code (UPC) numbers or stock keeping unit (SKU) numbers to track inventory items and, in turn, make a barcode for their barcode labels. The best stock coding or numbering system for you depends on the type of business you operate and your inventory tracking needs.
UPC Barcodes vs SKU Barcodes
Type of Barcode
Where to Get
Product manufacturers & private label sellers
Global Standard 1 (GSI)
$250 for 10 UPC codes
Retailers & resellers
Make your own
UPC Barcode Numbers
UPC barcode labels are what you find on most products and are placed there by the manufacturer. To get UPCs, manufacturers register with Global Standard 1 (GS1) to receive unique 8- to 12-digit codes that identify and track their products worldwide.
If you make products yourself or sell private label products under your own brand, you should consider registering with the GS1 and getting UPCs. UPCs aren’t required by law, and you can certainly make and sell products without them, but there are many benefits to using UPCs, including:
- Helps protect your business’s brand from brand theft and product forgery
- Enables you to sell on Amazon―a valid UPC is required for items sold on Amazon
- Makes it easy for buyers to access information about your product online, such as product type, restrictions, or potential allergens, in the case of food items
- Can be used in a retail POS system like Square for Retail to track inventory and speed up the checkout
Internal SKU Numbers
You can also make a barcode for each of your products based on the internal inventory tracking or numbering system that you set up for your operation. These are called custom internal SKU numbers. SKUs are often used by retailers and ecommerce sellers who stock items from many suppliers and want to track products under a conventional numbering system.
Setting up your own custom SKU numbers offers many advantages over trying to track products using only manufacturer UPCs. SKU numbers allow retailers to create their own labeling system that makes sense to them for managing inventory, monitoring sales by department, and looking up products quickly. Retailers can easily create SKU numbers using their POS system.
Once you have your unique product codes set up, your next step is getting the codes into a system that translates them into barcodes that you can use to print labels.
2. Make a Barcode for Each Product Code
There are three simple ways to make a barcode for each of your product codes. These include:
- Retail POS systems: The inventory management tools in these all-in-one sales, inventory, and business management systems make it easy to create a barcode based on each item’s product SKU or UPC.
- Barcode generator websites: Some websites will translate your product codes into a barcode that you can download and save for future use.
- Portable barcode printers: Handheld label printers let you key in a product code to make a barcode for your labels on the spot.
Here’s a closer look at how to make a barcode using each of these three options.
Retail POS System
Many retail POS systems have built-in inventory tools that make it very easy to make a barcode from your product codes. If you manage inventory in any quantity, you should consider using a POS system such as Square for Retail. It simplifies barcode label printing greatly plus streamlines all of your business activities, including sales and checkout tasks, payment processing, staff management, store performance reporting, and much more. Check it out for free below:
Barcode Generator Websites
Several websites translate product codes that you enter into a variety of barcode images. Online Labels even does it for free. Simply select the barcode type, size, and enter code data.
As you can see above, you can select from several barcode formats. Note that these barcode variations generally work across all devices, inventory and POS systems as long as you select the same barcode type in your scanner and system settings. Free barcode generator websites are a handy way to create barcode images, but you still have to get them printed onto labels.
Online Labels and similar sites sell printed sheets or rolls of the barcode labels you create on their site, but that comes with a price. Expect to pay about $20 per 100 label sheets. For that, you get 700 of the same codes, printed on ready-to-use labels and they arrive in just a few days. This option is popular with manufacturers who need large quantities of labels but don’t want to fuss with printing labels themselves.
However, if you need just a few barcode labels and don’t want to spend any money, you can use this option. First, use Online Labels or a similar site to create your barcode as we did above. From there, you can download your barcode as a .jpg image and simply insert it into Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or another document creation program. Then, print your code onto inkjet or laser label sheets, which we cover below.
Portable Barcode Label Maker
If you need to track inventory in a retail POS or other inventory management system, a portable handheld barcode maker with a built-in label printer may be all you need.
A handheld barcode maker works just like it sounds. You type the code and label information into the device, like the one shown below, and it translates your code into a barcode. It even lets you customize the look of your label and add more information like product name or pricing, then prints your barcode and other information right onto a label.
Handheld portable barcode label printers like the one shown above cost around $90. You do have to purchase label rolls designed for the device, which adds costs depending on the quantities that you need to print. However, you can hardly beat the convenience and simplicity if you need to print a limited number of barcode labels on the fly.
If you are not using a portable label marker to print your barcodes, you will likely need a separate printer. For example, if you are printing barcodes from a POS or an online barcode generator, you will need a laser, inkjet, or thermal label printer.
3. Print Your Barcode Labels
If you’re creating barcode labels using a retail POS, ecommerce order management system or document software, you’ll need to use a printer and label sheets or rolls to print out your barcode labels. If you use the label generator website’s printing service or handheld barcode label printer, covered above, you won’t need this step.
You can use standard desktop inkjet or laser printers to make barcode labels on label sheets or use thermal printers that print barcode labels onto label rolls. Here’s a closer look at how you can use these types of printers to print your barcode labels.
Use Laser & Inkjet Printers with Label Sheets
You probably already have a laser or inkjet printer. If you don’t, you can pick up a basic model for around $50. If you need more features for your business, like a built-in scanner or fax, all-in-ones like the Epson Expression above cost around $200.
Whatever your preference, both inkjet and laser printers can print a huge variety of crisp barcode labels in many sizes, like these barcode warehouse bin labels made using Avery printer labels:
Label makers like Avery offer a huge selection of precut laser and inkjet label sheets that work with most POS and other inventory management systems. With them, you can print barcode labels to the exact size and quantity that you need.
Use Thermal Label Printers
Thermal label printers are inexpensive and a good value if you have to print barcode labels often or in volume. Thermal label printers print onto inexpensive thermal labels that usually come in bulk rolls. Another advantage of thermal printers is that they don’t use ink or toner. This way, you never find yourself unable to print labels because the printer ran out of ink.
Dymo and Zebra are top-rated names in thermal barcode label printers. Zebra, in particular, offers a variety of high-capacity label printers, including printers that incorporate radio frequency identification (RFID) smart label technology for wireless inventory tracking and theft prevention.
When determining how to make a barcode, businesses should first look at the tools they already have. If you have a POS system that offers built-in barcode generators, that is your best option. If you need to make a barcode for a singular event quickly, a free online generator would be your best option.
Most retail and ecommerce businesses would benefit from using a POS system to make barcodes. In addition to easily making and printing barcodes, Square for Retail gives businesses detailed inventory tracking from the moment the product is ordered to when it is sold. These management tools help streamline your entire operation. To check it out for yourself, sign up for a free trial below.