QR codes - What's behind the well-known barcode type?

May 21, 2021

While traveling, on concert tickets, on an advertising poster, or in restaurants - there is probably no barcode that we encounter more often in our leisure time than the QR code. It can be easily scanned with any standard smartphone to retrieve information such as info texts, travel and contact details, or personal information. Learn why the two-dimensional QR code is particularly suitable for these use cases, how much information can be stored on it, and what advantages it offers its users.

What is a QR code? 

Before we dive into the more practical side of things, let's first take a look at the hard facts surrounding the QR code, which is, among others, described by the International Organization for Standardization and the Japanese Industrial Standards as ISO/IEC 18004:200, as well as JIS X 0510. It was developed in 1994 by the Japanese company Denso Wave, where Masahiro Hara and his team were responsible for developing the popular 2D code. The original use case here was the marking of assemblies and components in Toyota automobile production.

📌 What does the "QR" in the QR code stand for? - Quite simply, for "Quick Response."

As already mentioned, in the opening statement, this is a two-dimensional (2D) barcode composed of a square matrix of black and white squares. In three of the four corners, there is a unique mark that specifies the orientation. All data is represented in binary form through the squares, meaning only the digits zero and one are used.

A unique feature of 2D barcodes, and thus of the QR code, in particular, is the automatic error correction. Therefore, up to 30% of the code can be damaged without affecting the readability. This is one of the most decisive advantages of two-dimensional barcode types. Here, four different correction levels allow reconstruction between 7% (Level L) and 30% (Level H).

In contrast to many one-dimensional barcodes, the QR code can be printed with all standard processes. The only important thing here is sufficient contrast between the black and white fields. However, the code can also be printed in bright colors; the only thing to note here is that, like a halftone image, the code must have an even contrast. A company's logo can also be easily integrated here, resulting in a completely personalized QR code.

Just like the Data Matrix code, the QR code is also increasingly being engraved directly into the products via Direct Part Marking (DPM), which can then be conveniently and reliably identified throughout the entire life cycle. There are also no restrictions in terms of the print size: The QR code can be scaled as desired, given that the scanning device can capture the entire area of the code.

How many characters can be stored in a QR code?

📌 A QR code with the maximum symbol quantity (177 x 177 elements) and correction level L (7%) can store 7089 decimal digits or 4296 alphanumeric characters. In binary, the limit is 2,953 bytes.

By the way, the use of the QR code is license-free and free of charge. The specifications are available from the Swiss-based International Organization for Standardization. 

How is a QR code scanned?

In contrast to one-dimensional barcodes, two-dimensional codes place higher demands on the scanner used. Unlike 1D barcodes, the information is stored on two surfaces on different levels. Since modern smartphones all have a camera, they can easily be used to scan and decode QR codes. The situation is different with traditional hardware scanners: Only modern devices that read the two-dimensional codes optoelectronically can be used here.

What formats are supported by QR codes? 

Currently, a QR code can render the following formats:

Thus, this code type is suitable for versatile applications in the field of tourism, events, marketing, or in the marking of components in the automotive sector.

What are the advantages of the QR code?

Where are QR codes used? 

We have already briefly touched on the many areas of application of the QR code, but we would like to offer you a detailed overview once again here:

📌 If you would like to learn more about other types of barcodes, please look at our blog post on the most significant barcode types. You can test the Scanbot Barcode Scanner for free in our demo app.

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