Don’t know what is a QR Code or how businesses use them? Don’t worry. In this exhaustive guide, we have covered the basics of QR Code technology. We update our page often so don’t forget to add us to your bookmarks.

What is a QR Code?

A Quick Response Code (or QR Code) is a popular type of a two-dimensional barcode. It encodes alphanumeric information. To decode this, you can use a QR Code scanner/application on a smartphone.

what is a qr code - barcode vs qr code

Japanese company, Denso Wave Corporation, developed Quick Response Codes in 1994. Their role was vehicle tracking and high-speed component scanning in the automobile industry.

Using QR Codes

Since 1994, QR Codes have come a long way. In the smartphone era, these square-shaped barcodes have found extensive applications. From inventory management, marketing & advertising, security, mobile payments, education, to personal use. Different industries are using QR Codes immensely. Statistics show how their use is growing day-by-day.

This 2D barcodes stores information such as webpage URLs, text, and contact information. You can view this information by ‘scanning’ it using an app on your smartphone. It’s easier than clicking a picture.

QR Codes are so easy to use that anybody can create and use them for their benefit.

Today, they are  commonly added to:

  • Business cards to allow people to save contact details
  • Class material to engage and teach children
  • Print advertisements to allow readers to visit the website, register for an event, etc.
  • Mobile payment applications to make transactions
  • Product packaging to allow consumers to get more information
  • Event or travel tickets to authorize and log entry

Best Practices of Using QR Codes

If you use Google Adwords for search engine marketing, you must have an SEM expert. The expert’s job is to optimize CTR for most conversion. Similarly, in offline-to-online marketing (QR Codes) you need to follow best practices. You need to always ensure that the QR Code:

  • Is accessible by your target audience
  • Is scannable
  • Has instructions (e.g., “Scan me to register”)
  • Is placed in an area with cellular network
  • Leads to mobile-optimized landing page

Here is a quick guide on QR Code best practices and How not to use these Codes.

Types of QR Codes

Say the content you want people to see is ‘target data’. Target data could be a website, a word in Spanish, or your phone number. Classification of QR Codes depends on how this data gets encoded. There are two categories of Quick Response Codes:

1. Static QR Code

In a static Quick Response Code:

  • Target data is encoded directly into the code, just like numeric data is encoded in a barcode
  • The more information is encoded the ‘denser’ the Quick Response Code will become
  • Encoding is permanent, which means that the target data can never be edited
  • It is not possible to track scanning activity

A Static QR Code can encode the following information in a structured format:

  • URL
  • Vcard (contact details)
  • Text
  • Wifi network access details
  • Pre-loaded SMS
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Calendar event
  • Bitcoin wallet address

2. Dynamic QR Code

A Dynamic QR Code is a better way of encoding URLs in a QR Code. This confers it greater functionality and flexibility. In a Dynamic Quick Response Code:

  • Target data can only be a URL
  • The target URL is not stored into the Quick Response Code. Instead, a short URL (usually provided by the QR Code service) is encoded which redirects to the target URL
  • It is possible to edit the target URL at any time without the need to reprint the square-barcode
  • It is possible to track scanning activity and get analytics
  • You can ‘activate’ or ‘deactivate’ the QR Code at any time

Note that this categorization is based on how data is stored in a Quick Response Code. Based on type of content, there can be many categories.

The number of QR Code types you can create depends upon the QR Code generator that you use. Different such generators offer different categories. For example, Scanova QR Code generator allows you to create up to 23 types of Quick Response Codes . This depends on what you want your audience to do – see a website, listen to an audio, or make a payment using Paypal.

Generating a QR Code

You need to know two things here:

  1. What do you want your audience to see
  2. The best QR Code generator for your needs

Depending on requirements, QR Codes can be generated in three ways:

1. One-by-one using an online QR Code Generator

The easiest way to generate a Quick Response Code is to use an online QR Code generator. You will get a dashboard where you can specify target data, type of QR Code (static vs. dynamic), and download its image.

what is a qr code - qr code generator

(Screenshot of Scanova Quick Response Code Generator)

Here is a useful to choose the best QR Code Generator for your requirements.

2. Integrating QR Code API with your own system

If you have a mobile application or an information system that needs to generate QR Codes on trigger, then you need a QR Code API. It will integrate with your system and generate a Quick Response Code on demand.

3. Bulk Generation Services

Some QR Code service providers give the option of bulk QR Code generation (or batch generation). This is needed in case you need (say) 10,000 Quick Response Codes each with a unique ID. You will send the data in a spreadsheet and the service provider will share the QR Code images.

Note that a customized QR Code attracts much more scans than a plain black-and-white one. If you’re a marketer and you want people to scan your QR Code, create custom QR Codes that go with your brand logo, color, etc.

Scanning a QR Code

This can be done in either of the two ways mentioned below:

1. Using a QR Code scanning application on a mobile device

If you own a smartphone that has a camera, you can decode a Quick Response Code. There are a number of QR Code scanning applications on all major app stores of iOS, Android, Windows, and Blackberry OS platforms. i-nigma is one such application that works well on both iOS and android.

Also, because of the popularity of QR Codes, some smartphones now have inbuilt QR Code scanners. Check if your phone already has one.

2. Using a handheld or fixed optical scanner

A handheld or fixed optical scanner, like the ones used to scan barcodes at retail stores, can scan QR Codes. These are used when the scanning volume is higher (ticketing or mobile payments).

How do QR Codes work

Every module (black or white unit block) or string of modules either represent data or a function. The illustration below depicts how a QR Code scanner decodes a QR Code:

what is a qr code - how qr codes work

Read more about: How QR Codes work.

Advantages over Barcodes

In technical terms, QR Codes have the following advantages over barcodes:

1. Higher Capacity

A Quick Response Code can store upto 7,089 numeric characters (without spaces) or 2,953 alphanumeric characters with spaces. Compare this with the capacity of barcodes-20 numeric characters (without spaces).

The higher capacity of QR Codes allows them to be used in various industries. From marketing, security, payments, and other solutions. Note that they can store web URLs unlike barcodes.

2. Smaller Size

Compared to a barcode, a QR Code can store more information in a smaller area of space.

what is a qr code - small size

This is helpful in inventory management as it is possible to print more QR Code labels in the same amount of space, saving printing costs. For marketers also, this feature is extremely helpful as they usually have limited real estate on product packaging or promotional material.

See what should be the minimum size of your QR Code.

3. Damage Resistant

This is one of the primary reasons of QR Codes’ invention. The automobile industry used barcodes on spare parts. But, the factory environment resulted in wear and tear of the barcode. This resulted in the barcodes being no longer scannable, causing delays and inefficiencies.

To avoid this, Denso Wave invented the QR Code. Quick Response Codes can tolerate up to 30% of damage or dirt i.e. remain scannable even if damaged upto 30%. This is possible due to error correction algorithms.

Damage resistance allows personalization of QR Code design

QR Code Generation tools take advantage of the error correction in QR Codes. They introduce ‘damage’ in the form of design i.e. image or logo in the center of the 2D barcode.

what is a qr code - design

(These QR Codes were designed using Scanova)

4. 360 degree Orientation

Unlike barcodes, a QR Code is scannable from any angle. It has ‘eyes’ in three corners. Eyes help the scanning device determine its orientation.

This is useful as users do not have to rotate the QR Code (or themselves) to scan the code. Scanning here is much faster compared to barcodes.

5. Kanji Encoding

Unlike barcodes, QR Codes can encode information in JIS Level 1 and Level 2 Kanji character set. This allows QR Codes to encode in total four encoding modes:

  1. Numeric
  2. Alphanumeric
  3. Byte/binary
  4. Kanji

This is to make it possible to encode single-byte languages (English) as well as double-byte languages (Japanese, Chinese, Korean).

These were the technical advantages of a Quick Response Code over a barcode.


If you are still reading, you have covered all the basics of what a QR Code is.

Next step:

How to create QR Codes like a pro

Learn to create visually-appealing and dynamic QR Codes for your campaigns to attract more scans.
CTA scanova blog

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