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Point of Sale barcodes and UPCs defined

Here is an overview of how we use barcodes and how a scanner interprets it. It also includes the standard formats, and the advantages of using item numbers.

A barcode is a series of coded lines that help identify a product. The scanner read these lines with several standard formats. Then, it converts the information it reads into a usable format (for example, item information entered on a sales receipt). QuickBooks Desktop 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 QuickBooks Desktop 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, the edges of the lines (sharp or smudged), or if a scanner is designed to read the particular size of the barcode. Very small barcodes can be generated, but special scanners can read 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, the item number creates 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's 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.

Can we enter the same alternate lookup for 2 different items?

Alternate lookups must be unique for each item for which they are defined. Same Alternate Lookup for different items may lead to inaccuracy in Sales and Inventory Tracking.

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 digitsIf you enter...Point of Sale will...
UPC-E6all 6 digitsexpand 6 digits to 13-digit form

the first 11 digits

Ex: 12345612345

all 12 digits

add the 12th digit (checksum) & leading zero

Ex: 012345612345

add the leading zero

EAN13all 13 digitsadd nothing
Other<13all digitsexpand the entry to a 13-digit form, if necessary
Other>13all digits

no change

Note: This ability is to support future UPC technology


  • Bar codes created in QuickBooks Desktop Point of Sale 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.

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