This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
Barcode labels are machine-scannable symbols that represent product codes such as UPCs and SKUs. Barcodes are used to identify and track your inventory and ring product sales. They identify and track inventory and product sales. Making and implementing a barcode system will help you access product details, view your stock on hand, and accelerate your checkout process—all with the click of a few buttons.
Use our free barcode generator to make barcodes for your new retail business:
Or, continue reading below to learn more about how to set up a proper barcoding system. We also walk you through the process in our video at the end of this article.
1. Create Your Product Codes
Product codes refer to the alphanumeric and symbolic sequences you assign to your merchandise to serve as identifiers. There are two major types of product codes: Universal Product Codes (UPCs) and internal stock keeping units (SKUs).
The best stock coding or numbering system for you depends on the type of business you operate and your inventory tracking needs. Here we will take a more detailed look at both product coding options and the uses of each.
Some products might come with a pre-attached UPC and barcode. You should leave this tag attached, but add and use your own SKU for all of your internal operations. Learn how to set up a SKU system.
Bonus: QR Codes
QR codes are a relatively modern addition to our collection of identifying product codes. QR, or “quick response,” codes are the pixelated black-and-white square graphic labels. You can scan QR codes with a mobile device to perform many tasks, including visiting a website, placing an order, and making a payment. A QR code payment involves digital payments made via the scannable graphic.
QR codes are different from UPCs and SKUs in that they don’t actually include an alphanumeric string. Instead, the “code” data is captured in the pixelated square graphic, readable by compatible mobile devices and scanners. You can use QR codes to identify products as well as a whole range of other tasks.
2. Make a Barcode for Each Product
Once you’ve set up your unique product codes, your next step is to input your codes into a system that translates them into scannable barcodes. With barcode scanners, barcodes will save you from having to type in individual product codes by generating them into scannable images.
There are three simple ways to make barcodes for your products. They include:
- Online barcode generators: Some websites will translate your product codes into a barcode that you can download and save for future use. Our free barcode generator is also an example.
- 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.
- Portable barcode printers: Handheld label printers let you key in a product code to make a barcode for your labels on the spot.
3. Print Your Barcode Labels
Now it’s time to find the best barcode label printers. As mentioned previously, portable label makers are a great way to make and print your barcode labels. Here we will look at other options for printing your barcode labels.
Laser & Inkjet Printers
If you’re creating barcode labels using a retail POS, an online site, or another software system, you can download your barcodes, convert them to a document, and use a regular printer and label sheets to print out your barcode labels. Both laser and inkjet printers are capable of printing a diverse spread of label sizes and types.
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 $230.
Avery is a great source for 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.
Thermal Label Printers
Thermal label printers use heat to melt a ribbon of pigment into the paper they are printing on to avoid any smudging or removing of ink. This way, your printer will never run out of ink and you can print infinite numbers of labels. These are a great option if you have to print labels often or at a high volume. They are also relatively inexpensive, starting at about $60 and going up to almost $1,000.
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.
As we mentioned earlier, some websites will generate labels for you. 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.
Shipping times are fast—usually arriving in three to five days—and it can be a great way to save time. Websites through which you can order labels are popular with manufacturers that need large quantities of labels but don’t want to fuss with printing labels themselves.
Video Tutorial: Creating Barcode Labels
For an in-depth video explanation and walkthrough for creating barcode labels watch this quick 5- minute video below.
How to Make a Barcode FAQs
Can I create my own barcodes?
Yes, you can create your own barcodes. Simply follow the steps in this post:
- Create your product codes
- Make a barcode for each product
- Print your barcode labels
How do I get a barcode?
You get a UPC from GS1 or your supplier, and you create your SKU numbers yourself.
Can you create barcodes in Excel?
Yes, you can create barcodes in Excel. You can follow a guide like this one from Smartsheet. However, there are many free online barcode generators that may be easier to use if you’re not versed in Excel. We have a barcode generator at the top of this article.
How do companies create barcodes?
Companies create barcodes by setting up a unique structure for assigning unique identifiers to each product they sell. UPCs come from GS1, while SKUs are set internally by each individual company.
How much does it cost to make a barcode?
It costs $250 for 10 UPCs. It’s free to create SKUs. After that, the only costs involved are printing the labels.
Do you need a barcode to sell a product?
No, technically you don’t need a barcode to sell a product. However, using barcodes makes it easier to track and manage sales, transactions, inventory, and more. It’s best to use barcodes when selling products.
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 quickly make a barcode for a singular event, 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.