Revolutionizing Product Identification

Marking 50 Years of UPC Barcodes

Transitioning to the Future with QR Codes and the GTIN Digital Link

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first UPC barcode scan, a technology that transformed product identification and inventory management, it’s critical to examine how this landscape is changing. While the UPC barcode has long been a staple of retail and supply chain management, the impending GS1 Digital Link effort in 2027 is expected to usher in a substantial shift. This article delves into what the GTIN Digital Link is, how it functions, and its potential to transform the way we interact with products.

The Birth and Impact of UPC Barcodes

A pack of Wrigley’s gum made history in 1974 when it became the first product to be scanned with a UPC barcode, ushering in a new era in product tracking and inventory management. This simple yet revolutionary technology enabled shorter checkout times, improved inventory control, and more efficient supply chain management. The widespread use of the UPC barcode altered retail operations, making it an essential all over the world.

The UPC Barcode Today

Fast forward to the present, UPC barcodes are ubiquitous, serving as the standard method for tracking products in various industries. They have stood the test of time, proving to be reliable and efficient. However, as technology continues to advance, the limitations of UPC barcodes are becoming apparent. They can only store a limited amount of data and require line-of-sight scanning, which can be restrictive in today’s fast-paced, data-driven business environments.

The Emergence of GTIN Digital Link QR Codes

The GS1 Digital Link initiative, set to launch in 2027, is set to usher in a new era of product identification. This program introduces GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) Digital Link QR Codes, which are designed to improve the functionality of traditional UPC barcodes. They can be scanned with any smartphone, making them more accessible and user-friendly.

Implications for Businesses

For businesses, the shift from UPC barcodes to GTIN Digital Link QR Codes is significant. It represents a move towards a more interconnected, digital, and data-rich environment. Companies that are currently reliant on UPC barcodes need to be aware of these changes and prepare for the transition.

Today, the top retail companies are uncovering the benefits of a dynamic barcode, enabling them to enrich their end consumers.

There is no reason small and medium manufacturers should hesitate to formulate a strategy on how to better interact with their clients. The explanation by PepsiCo sums up the capabilities.

Intelligent – Smart Packaging

Many of the larger global consumer product goods manufacturers are already relying on “smart” packaging to engage connected consumers and smaller companies should follow their lead. Today’s consumers are equipped with a barcode scanner (mobile phone) every time they walk into a store and are becoming more adept at scanning QR codes on products. The upside to early implementation is that companies can begin to form direct bonds with their end customers right now.

Packaging is defined as “smart” or “intelligent” if it allows connection to the smartphone and essentially gives each barcoded item its own unique digital product identity. There are numerous applications for smart packaging and the following are just a few examples:

  • Expanded Information (i.e. Nutrition, Certifications, Warranty)
  • Tutorials and Instructions
  • Brand Storytelling
  • Loyalty Programs & Email Signup
  • Product Registrations
  • Product Traceability (Origin, Expiration, Lot, etc.)

Digital Link Connecting GTINs to Smart Packaging

The GS1 Digital Link is essentially an innovative schema that enables encoded data within a barcode, such as a QR code, to contain both web addresses and potentially serialized GTINs. The algorithms behind the scenes can be very complex, but it is seamless to consumers and even companies using single digital link QR codes on their packages.

GS1 Digital Link Schema

Whereas the GS1 Digital Link is schema or format of the encoded data, a GTIN Digital Link is the complete web address / Identifier for a particular GTIN (i.e. UPC). As illustrated above, serial numbers and other item-related data can be included within a GTIN Digital Link.

How Will Automatically Provide GTIN Digital Links

We are excited to announce that in Q2 of 2024, subscribers to the (global repository and UPC management portal) will be able to seamlessly create Digital Link 2D barcode symbols as high-resolution .eps files.  As a part of the GTIN (UPC) setup process, users will have the option of including destination web addresses, and the portal will automatically generate the digital link plus digital barcode file.  This enhanced functionality not only future-proofs users’ barcodes but also enables them to make direct connections with today’s consumers. 

Implementing digitally linked QR Codes can be easily managed through the GTIN web portal, This portal is designed to enable current and future subscribers to easily create GTIN digital link QR codes. This feature simplifies the transition for businesses from the traditional UPC system to the more advanced GTIN Digital Link QR Codes. Companies can leverage this portal to generate QR codes that are rich in content and tailored to their specific needs.

SPECIAL OFFER – Since we believe that every company should take advantage of the benefits of on-pack QR codes, we are also offering every current GS1 Barcode client a free QR code to direct consumers to their corporate website.  

Please reach out to your assigned GS1 Barcode Consultant and they will be happy to assist with the complimentary QR code. 

Companies requiring additional information can call us at 800-662-0701 or email

Bar Code Graphics, along with technology specialists around the globe, helped contribute to the global documentation to help make this new initiative become a reality. We have created a tutorial website,, to help educate companies on this exciting new initiative. The transition from status UPC barcodes to Digital Link enabled QR codes has already begun. Retailers in both Europe and the US are beginning to upgrade their POS (point-of-sale) terminals to get ready for the 2027 Sunrise Date.

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