Barcodes & QR Codes

How Do I Barcode My Inventory?

A man works with barcodes at a small business.

Barcoding your inventory can save you time, money, and the hassle of manually tracking and managing your products. When used with inventory management software, barcodes help you get instant access to the status of your inventory, including descriptions, availability, cost, and location. How do you get started?

How to Barcode Your Inventory

To barcode your inventory, you’ll need to compose an inventory list and select one of two barcode systems: SKU or UPC barcodes. You can also use existing QR codes or generate custom QR codes instead.

Make a list of your inventory

Start by making a list of your products or services. Think about who uses each item or service and when or where they use it. Categorize and prioritize details for each item. Depending on your business, some examples include:

  • Brand/Manufacturer
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Size
  • Price
  • Material
  • Service

Select a barcode system

Before you select a barcode system to help track your inventory, think about how you’ll use barcodes:

  • Tracking inventory for internal use only
  • Providing wholesale products or services for resale (most retailers have barcode requirements)
  • Selling to multiple clients or customers

Your answers will help you determine if you need SKU or UPC barcodes.

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Types of Barcodes

SKU barcodes

A stock-keeping unit (SKU) is for internal inventory tracking. It’s an 8-to-12-character alphanumeric code that represents a physical product or an intangible product. Characters in the SKU represent details about your products or services. You can scan SKU barcodes into inventory management software to analyze product quantity, purchases, or sales. SKUs for intangible products help you access details, such as services rendered or units of time spent on consultations, estimates, service calls, or repairs.

You can find SKU-generating tools online. Or, create a coding system by designating a letter or number for each detail you want to capture.


  • Clothing: SH (shirt)
  • Color: G (green)
  • Service: R (repair), C (consultation)
  • Materials: 1 (aluminum), 2 (copper)

Get barcode software

Search online for barcode-generating software. The software will prompt you to enter data for each item. And it will translate the information into barcodes you can print and scan into inventory management software.

UPC barcodes

An inventory app being used on a laptop shows barcodes and QR codes being created, scanned and printed.

A universal product code (UPC) is for external use. Usually, there are 12 numbers in a UPC. Each UPC uniquely identifies a company and its product. If you’re selling products or services to other vendors, they will likely require a UPC barcode for each product. In the United States, only GS1, a non-profit organization, originates UPC barcodes and maintains standards for them. You can apply for a UPC company prefix and barcodes from GS1.

GS1 will help you determine the type of UPC barcodes you need and how many to buy based on these details:

  • Item description
  • Variations or sizes
  • Colors
  • Styles or varieties
  • Other variations

Visit the GS1 website for details on how to apply for and buy a unique UPC company prefix and barcodes.

Are you ready to get instant access to the status of your inventory? Inventory management software makes it easy. Features include:

  • Customize product descriptions, categories, and views
  • Set permissions and give access to other users
  • Track items across multiple offices or warehouses
  • Generate reports
  • Print barcode labels
  • Access data anytime, anywhere—from a desktop, tablet, iPad, or mobile device

You can save time on inventory tracking and spend it on other aspects of your business. Get a free trial of Sortly, a user-friendly inventory management tool, and start scanning your barcodes today.