What is a QR Code?

A QR code is a type of bar code designed for use with smart phones and other devices that contain cameras. what is a QR Code!? QR or Quick Response Codes are a type of two-dimensional barcode that can be read using smartphones and dedicated QR reading devices, that link directly to text, emails, websites, phone numbers and more! You may have even got to this site by scanning a QR code!


QR codes are huge in Japan and across the East, and are slowly beginning to become commonplace in the West. Soon enough you will see QR codes on product packaging, shop displays, printed and billboard advertisements as well as in emails and on websites. The scope of use for QR codes really is huge, particularly for the marketing and advertising of products, brands, services and anything else you can think of.

Why should I care about QR Codes?

With as many as half of us now owning smartphones, and that number growing on a daily basis, QR Codes have the potential to have a major impact upon society and particularly in advertising, marketing and customer service with a wealth of product information just one scan away.

How is a QR Code different from a normal 1D UPC barcode?

Ordinarily we think of a barcode as a collection of vertical lines; 2D Barcodes or QR Codes are different in that the data is stored in both directions and can be scanned vertically OR horizontally.

Whilst a standard 1D Barcode (UPC/EAN) stores up to 30 numbers, a QR Barcode can store up to a massive 7,089! It is this massive amount of data that enables links to such things as videos, Facebook or Twitter pages or a plethora of other website pages.

How do I scan a QR Code?

If you have a smartphone like an iPhone, Android or Blackberry then there a number of different barcode scanner applications such as Red Laser, Barcode Scanner and QR Scanner that can read and decode data from a QR code.

The majority of these are completely FREE, and all you have to do once you install one is to use your phone's camera to scan the barcode, which will then automatically load the encoded data for you.

What can be encoded into a QR Code?

In its simplest sense a QR Code is an 'image-based hypertext link' that can be used offline – any URL can be encoded into a QR Code so essentially any webpage can be opened automatically as a result of scanning the barcode. If you want to encourage someone to like your Facebook page – have your Facebook profile page as the URL. Want your video to go viral – encode the URL in your QR Code. The options are endless.

In addition to website URLs a QR Code can also contain a phone number – so when it is scanned it prompts the user to call a particular number. Similarly you can encode an SMS text message, V-card data or just plain alphanumeric text. The smartphone or 2D barcode reading device will automatically know which application to use to open the content embedded within the QR Code.

Where can QR Codes be placed?

The answer to this is almost anywhere! QR Code printing can be done in newspapers, magazines, brochures, leaflets and on business cards. Further to this they can be put on product packaging or labels, or on billboards or even walls. You could even tattoo a QR Code on your body – now that would be an interesting take on giving a girl/guy your number in a bar!

You can use QR Codes on a website but they should not generally be used as a substitute for an old-fashioned hyperlink because obviously the user is already online and doesn't really want to fiddle around with their phone only to find a website they could have just clicked through to in half the time.

How can I make a QR Code?

What size does a QR Code have to be?

Generally speaking, the larger the QR Code, the easier it is for it to be scanned, however most QR reading devices are able to scan images that are small enough to fit on a business card for example. This of course assumes that the quality of image is good.

QR Code File Formats

You can use the following file formats when creating a QR Code:
PNG File
JPG File
SVG File
PDF File
PNG files work particularly well as they can be resized very easily, meaning that you can easily scale the QR Code depending on where you want to put it.

QR Codes for Marketing

If you want to use QR Codes for business or marketing purposes then you should consider that people have higher expectations from scanning a QR Code than they do simply clicking a link on a website. You should offer something special or unique to people that have taken the time and effort to scan the barcode. For ideas of what this could be, or just for more information about QR Code Marketing have a look at Piranha Internet who have successfully incorporated the use of QR Codes into several marketing strategies for their clients.

Also remember that many people won't know what a QR Code is or how to use it. Up until their use is more widespread you will need to provide instructions about what to do with a QR Code.

Who invented the QR Code?

Denso-Wave - a subsidiary of the Toyota Group - are attributed with the creation of the QR Code as far back as 1994. Originally it was designed to be used to track parts in the vehicle manufacturing industry, but its use has since grown tremendously.

Other 2D Barcode Formats

QR Codes are just one type of 2D Barcode, although they are probably the most popular. Other popular 2D Barcode formats are:

Microsoft Tag – Microsoft have their very own 2D barcode format known as a High Capacity Colour Barcode, or 'Tag'. The main benefits of this are that you can easily customise your tag – adding colour and making it match your brand. You can also "dynamically change your data source" meaning that you can change the URL that the tag directs to. The main drawback of Microsoft Tag is that they can only be read using Microsoft's own tag reader.

Data Matrix – This is probably the most similar format to the QR Code and is commonly used on small electrical components because it can be read even when only 2-3mm in size.

EZcode – This system is a little different in that the data is not actually stored within the code itself, but on the Scanbuy server. A code index is sent from a mobile device to the server, which queries a database and returns the information. The problem with such a system is that it is wholly reliant upon the Scanbuy servers.