The European Article Number (EAN) was renamed the International Article Number, although it continues to use the same abbreviation. Its use as a type of barcode is prevalent in Europe as well as in various countries in other parts of the world. The purpose behind its creation was to enable quick coding and decoding of data about retail products.

What is EAN?

The EAN standard functions as a numbering system and a barcode symbology. It aids in identifying specific retail products, manufacturers, as well as packing configurations. Since the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) standard from the GS1 organization includes the EAN standard, referring to EANs as GTINs is possible. They may also be encoded in other GS1 defined barcode symbologies.

The use of EAN barcodes is common for product identification and billing at retail points of sale. They might also be used for other purposes such as accounting and wholesale ordering.

The 13-digit EAN-13 standard is used most commonly. It comes with a three-digit prefix that represents the registration country or a special product type. When an EAN-13 comes with “0” as a prefix, the following 12 digits are the product’s Universal Product Code (UPC-A). Prefixes of “45” and “49” are indicative of the use of a Japanese Article Number (JAN).

The EAN-13 standard includes four parts.

  • The first three digits are the country/region GS1 prefix.
  • The manufacturer code is variable in length.
  • The product code is variable in length.
  • The last digit is a check digit or a checksum character.

The corresponding table lists GS1 prefixes for some popular countries.

000 to 019 - The United States and Canada

400 to 440 - Germany

490 to 499 - Japan

500 to 509 - The United Kingdom

940 to 949 - New Zealand

489 - Hong Kong

EAN-8 barcodes are not used as commonly as EAN-13 barcodes. They were introduced for small packages, where using EAN-13 codes is not feasible.

The two-digit EAN-2 standard and five-digit EAN-5 standard provide supplemental barcodes. They are found placed toward the right of an EAN-13 or a Universal Product Code (UPC-A). Their use is common in periodicals and weighed products.

Organization in Charge of EAN

GS1, formerly known as EAN Association, is responsible for developing and maintaining different EAN standards. It has over 110 offices the world over.

History of EAN

EAN-13 was built on the Universal Product Code (UPC-A) standard developed by George J. Laurer in 1970. The European Article Numbering (EAN) Association, an international not-for-profit standards organization, was founded in 1977. Headquartered in Belgium, the association had 12 founding members, all from Europe. They then worked in launching the GS1 identification system to improve efficiency in their supply chain systems.

In 1990, EAN signed a global international agreement with the Uniform Code Council (UCC). Its presence then expanded to 45 countries. Together, they launched the Auto-ID Centre in 1999 and the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) in 2004. The organization increased its presence to more than 90 countries by 2005, by which point it started using the name GS1 globally.

Example Codes

Here are EAN-13 identifiers of some popular products.

  • 4 969929 234490 – BOSE SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker
  • 8 053672 358667 – Ray-Ban Men's 0RB2447 round sunglasses, black & silver/green
  • 8 001086 764710 – 12-volt Audi R8 Spyder Ride-On, matte black