The EAN-8 barcode is based on the EAN-13 specification for use in areas where standard EAN-13 codes would be too large. Developed in the 1970s, the European Article Numbering (EAN) system, also called the International Article Numbering (IAN) or Japan Article Numbering (JAN) system, was designed for the quick and accurate identification of retail products.
EAN-8 codes are numeric-only and contain a 2 or 3-digit country code along with 4 or 5 data digits and a checksum digit. For example, JAN barcodes use country codes ranging from 490 to 499 to indicate that products are of Japanese origin.
Wherever possible, EAN-13 is the preferred code methodology since its larger size offers higher-density data encoding. As a result, EAN-8 codes are typically used on smaller products which don’t have the size to support a full EAN-13 code. It’s also possible to use EAN-8 barcodes to encode GTIN-8 (Global Trade Identification Numbers) which are used as product identifiers under the GS1 System. Along with EAN-13, EAN-8 codes remain popular across the world for simple product data encoding.
EAN-8 codes are commonly written with two different bar heights. Both the left and right guard bars are higher than the encoding bars, in turn creating a small notch that’s often used to write human-readable numeric values. Many barcode writing programs offer the ability to change the height of these guard bars.
The EAN-8 barcode includes seven specific elements:
- A leading quiet zone, which should be a least the width of 10 narrow bars.
- The start character, also called the guard bar pattern, which consists of 2 narrow bars.
- Four symbol characters.
- The center guard bar pattern, which typically matches the height of the start and stop characters.
- Four more symbol characters, which include the checksum digit.
- The stop character or guard bars.
- A trailing quiet zone.
EAN-8 barcodes can encode 7 numeric digits and one check digit. Unlike most barcode symbologies which use only two bar and space widths, EAN supports four, allowing numeric characters to be encoded using only two bars and two spaces.
Common Use Cases
EAN-8 barcodes remain popular for product identification in retail, especially on smaller packaging. They are commonly found in supermarkets and are sometimes used to encode Restricted Circulation Numbers (RCNs), which are used to identify specific products that are only sold in single stores or store chains.