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. QR Codes encode alphanumeric information. To decode this, you can use a QR Code scanner or a QR Code scanning application on a smartphone.

what is a qr code - barcode vs qr code

Japanese company, Denso Wave Corporation, developed QR 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.

QR Code stores information such as webpage URLs, text, and contact information. You can view this information by ‘scanning’ the QR Code 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.

These days QR Codes 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 QR Code 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 QR 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 QR Codes:

1. Static QR Code

In a static QR 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 QR 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

Read more about: Static QR Codes.

2. Dynamic QR Code

A Dynamic QR Code is a better way of encoding URLs in a QR Code. This adds more functionality and flexibility to the QR Code. In a Dynamic QR Code:

  • Target data can only be a URL
  • The target URL is not stored into the QR 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 QR Code
  • It is possible to track scanning activity and get analytics
  • You can ‘activate’ or ‘deactivate’ the QR Code at any time

Read more about: Dynamic QR Codes.

Note that this categorization is based on how data is stored in a QR Code. Based on type of content, there can be many types of QR Codes. For example, Scanova QR Code generator allows you to create up to 23 types of QR 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

To generate a QR Code, you need to know two things:

  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 QR 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 the QR Code image.

what is a qr code - qr code generator

(Screenshot of Scanova QR 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. A QR Code API will integrate with your system and generate a QR 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 QR Codes each with a unique ID. You will send the data in a spreadsheet and the service provider will share the QR Code images.

For more information, see Bulk QR Code Generator

Scanning a QR Code

A QR Code can be decoded in two ways:

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

If you own a smartphone that has a camera, you can decode a QR Code. There are a number of QR Code scanning applications on all major app stores of iOS, Android, Windows, and Blackberry OS platforms.

Here is a list of the top free QR Code scanning apps for iPhone and Android. 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 QR 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 unlike barcodes, QR Codes can store web URLs.

Read QR Code Capacity detail.

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 more more QR Code labels can be printed in the same amount of print 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. QR Codes can tolerate up to 30% of damage or dirt i.e. remain scannable even if 30% of the QR Code incurred damages. 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 QR Code.

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. A QR Code has ‘eyes’ in three corners. Eyes help the scanning device determine the orientation of the QR Code.

This is useful as users do not have to rotate the QR Code (or themselves) to scan the code. Scanning in case of QR Codes 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 QR Code over a barcode. Read the 5 practical advantages of a QR Code.


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