What is a QR Code: A Beginner’s Guide

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 is a popular type of a two-dimensional barcode. It encodes alphanumeric information. To decode this, you can either use a handheld scanner or even a QR Code scanning application on your smartphone.

In fact, many smartphones such as iPhone, Xiaomi, Motorola, and Samsung now have in-built QR Code scanning feature in their stock camera application.

what is a qr code 1D vs 2D

A 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, Quick Response Codes have come a long way. In the smartphone era, these square-shaped barcodes have found extensive applications.

Some of these include inventory management, marketing & advertising, security, mobile payments, education, and personal use.

Different industries are using them immensely. Statistics show that QR Code scanning was rampant across the world in 2018. And will continue to grow in 2019.

This implies that their use is soaring every day.

These 2D barcodes store information such as webpage URLs, text, and contact information.

To view this information, you simply need to scan the code using an app on your smartphone. It’s even 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
  • Prevent the spread of COVID-19 by making contact tracing, PPE kits, and vaccination better
  • Class material to engage and teach children
  • Hire suitable candidates for the HRs and even get a job for the jobseekers
  • Print advertisements to allow readers to visit the website, register for an event, etc.
  • Share live location for variolus use cases
  • Mobile payment applications to make transactions
  • Product packaging to allow consumers to get detailed product information
  • Make business processes such as sales and marketing better
  • Event or travel tickets to authorize and log entry
  • Make industries such as food and alcoholic beverages tranparent for the customers
  • Wedding invitation to make things easier for the guests
  • Invitation cards to help guests get the venue location on their phone’s maps application

The list doesn’t end here. There are, in fact, many crazy and innovative use cases of QR Codes.

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 the best practices. You need to always ensure that the Quick Response Code:

  • Is accessible to your target audience
  • Is scannable
  • Has clear instructions that tell the users what to do or what to expect after scanning it (e.g., “Scan me to register”)
  • Is placed in an area with cellular network
  • Leads to a mobile-optimized landing page
  • Is downloaded in a high-resolution format such as SVG or PDF for print media

Once you know QR Code best practices, you must also know how not to use them.

For example—avoid putting the QR Code in a place with no access to mobile internet or Wi-Fi.

Or make sure it is neither too small nor too large to affect the scannability adversely.

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, your phone number, or even an image.

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 directly in 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 encoded target URL at any time without the need to reprint the square-barcode
  • It is possible to track the scanning activity and get analytics
  • You can ‘activate’ or ‘deactivate’ the Code at any time

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

The number of categories of these 2D barcodes 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 more than 20 types of Quick Response Codes.

To decide which type of QR Code you need to create, think about what action do you want your target audience to take. For example, do you want them to:

1. See a website

2. See a text-based landing page

3. Listen to an audio

4. Make a payment using Paypal

5. Watch a video

6. Download a PDF

7. Follow you on social media

Once you decide what you want users to do, finalize the type of Quick Response Code you’ll create.

Generating a QR Code

Before you go ahead to create a QR Code, you must be clear about two things:

1. What do you want your audience to do

2. Which QR Code generator will suit your needs the best

A simple Google search on ‘QR Code generator’ will give you pages of results.

How do you then decide which service is the best for you? Will you compare all of them one-by-one?

Fret not! We’ve compiled a detailed comparison chart of the top QR Code Generators.

Once you decide on which service you’ll use, there are three ways in which you can generate QR Codes:

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

There are many online QR Code generators such as Scanova, that help you create a Quick Response Code.

All that you need to do is—specify the target data, select the type of QR Code (static or dynamic), and download its image.

You can even customize your Quick Response Codes by adding your brand color and logo.

It is a fact that customized Quick Response Codes attract much more scans than standard black-and-white ones.

Hence, if your use case is promotional (such as marketing), and you want as many people to scan your QR Code as possible, you must customize it.

Design a QR Code

(Screenshot of Scanova Quick Response Code Generator)

2. Integrating QR Code API with your own system

If you have a mobile application or an information system that needs to generate these 2D barcodes Codes, 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 generation (or batch generation).

This is needed in case you need (say) 10,000 Quick Response Codes each with a unique ID.

You simply need to specify the data to be encoded in a spreadsheet, upload it to the bulk generator, add a design to the QR Codes (optional), and make payment.

Once your batch is ready, you can download it.

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, as stated above, some smartphones now have inbuilt QR Code scanners. Check if your phone already has one.

2. Using a handheld or fixed optical scanner

You’ve seen scanners at the retail stores used to scan barcodes. Similarly, a handheld or fixed optical scanner can scan QR Codes.

These scanners are used when the scanning volume is higher in cases such as ticketing or mobile payments.

How do QR Codes work

Every module (black or white unit block) or a string of modules either represents 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

Here’s a detailed guide on how QR Codes work.

Advantages over Barcodes

In technical terms, 2D barcodes have the following advantages over traditional barcodes:

1. Higher Capacity

A Quick Response Code can store up to 7,089 numeric characters (without spaces) or 2,953 alphanumeric characters with spaces.

Compare this with the capacity of barcodes i.e. 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 Quick Response Code can store more information in a smaller area of space.

what is a qr code barcode size comparison

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 for 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 Codes.

They can tolerate up to 30% of damage or dirt. This means—they remain scannable even if they’re up to 30% damaged.

This is possible due to a property called error correction.

Damage resistance allows personalization of QR Code design

You’ve probably noticed QR Codes with an image in the center as a logo.

It is the error correction that creates room for these 2D barcodes to be personalized. How?

To accommodate an image in the center, QR Code Generation tools introduce ‘damage’  by removing some square modules from the center of the QR Code.

The image (or the logo) can then be accommodated in the space created.

what is a qr code custom design nike

(These QR Codes were designed using Scanova)

4. 360-degree orientation

Unlike barcodes, a Quick Response 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 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 them to encode in a total of 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
Infographic on what is a QR Code

12 replies on “What is a QR Code: A Beginner’s Guide”

This information was really helpful in my field of study. I was able to pick some few tips to help generate one to suit my purpose.

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