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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to QR Codes

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QR Code Breakdown

This is a guest article contributed by Simon Goble.

QR or Quick Response Codes have been around since 1994 and were originally used to track parts during car manufacture. It is likely you have seen one, even if you didn’t know what it was, usually displayed as black and white squares in a grid pattern reminiscent of a crossword. Essentially QR Codes are a barcode capable of holding significantly more information (thousands of characters as opposed to tens).

Around October 2010 they became a popular tool to quickly link smartphone users through to web pages, provided the phone had a relevant reader installed. Creating your own code is fairly simple with a myriad of free to use generators available, though initially the various options can be slightly overwhelming.

So How Are QR Codes Used?

QR codes are a quick and convenient way to transfer information to smart phones (or any digital device with a reader). The information encoded might direct users to a website URL, add contact details, offer special discounts and much more. They are often seen in magazines and on posters and flyers, where details on an event or product can be transferred. More specialised uses involve supplying extra details on name tags and business cards (vCards or personalised webpages), television adverts that are continued interactively and ordering online from closed high street shops.

QR Codes have also been used as coupon codes, online tickets and in scavenger hunts. Reiterating the paper message is a frequent but uninteresting practise, it is often more effective to create useful and interesting applications that will get people talking. What follows are a few of the better examples.

First Bank Free Books & Puzzles

Posters at Denver International airport provide a great service for the unprepared traveler. Scanning different posters leads to crosswords, Sudoku puzzles and books.

Book Posters QR Code

Mini Business Cards

Using minicards means less space, but with the addition of a QR code any missing details can still be passed on.

MiniCards QR Code

Lego Poster

Using a product everyone loves is always going to be a winner, so what if that is the only really interesting part of it?

Lego QR Code

Driveway Code

No guarantee of ever being seen but if it ever shows up on online satellite views it will been worth it.

Driveway QR Code

Tesco Shopping Posters

Tesco put up a number of posters on the Seoul subway scanning the code below the item adds it to your online shopping basket.

Tesco QR Code Shopping


Scanning the code on this menu from a Radisson Edwardian Hotel will take you through to a video of the dish being prepared.

QR Menu Code

Resume / CV

A fantastic way to stand out from the crowd, scanning the code takes the user to a video of him giving his resume in his own voice.

QR Code Resume CV

Augmented Reality Building

When scanning this building using a custom app it overlays shop information and tweets from the businesses inside.

Augmented Reality QR Code

How Do I Create My Own QR Code?

There are plenty of free QR code generators out there. Generally the default settings will be fine for a quick and easy result and many of the options are fairly self-evident though they will sometimes appear under different headings. Nevertheless to ensure that any interested party has the best chance of using your code it is worth at least being aware of some of the more advanced options available.

Must Know QR Code Tips

  • Resolution –An important part of a QR code is the size as if it is too small some devices may have issues reading it. Across different generators Resolution is also referred to as Scale, Block size or Output.
  • Data Type – This defines what action the code will take when scanned, it is commonly used to show the user websites, plain text, phone numbers, Google maps and email addresses.
  • Redundancy/Error Correction – If a portion of the code becomes unreadable having using Error Correction during creation will mean the code compensates for lost data. There are varying degrees of correction offered (15% is the most common) though the larger the redundancy allowed for the greater the increase the grid size. At 0% any obstruction/damage to the code is likely to render it unreadable.

QR Code Phone

Worth Knowing QR Code Tips

Several other common options worth being aware of that are not necessary are;

  • Grid Size – This defines how many blocks the code will be made up from, the majority of generators automatically resize the grid to the minimum necessary for all data to be stored but a few have manual settings.
  • Colour – The contrast of the code is fairly fundamental to how it is read but as long as the code is a dark colour on a light background there should be no issues.
  • Output type – The file format of the output .jpeg/.png/.gif etc.
  • Shorten URL – To create a QR Code that uses a smaller grid you need to use the Shorten URL option this works by shortening the web address by redirecting though a third party (often the generators own) site.
  • Padding – Using the padding options will add a border around the edge of the code. Not of particularly useful but if you plan to feature online rather than print it can save some editing time.
  • Rounding/Radius/Shadow/Rotation – Some generators offer a number of visual effects to make the output a little less plain however high levels of customisation require a photo editing program.

QR Code Business Card

Recommended QR Code Generators

  • 2D Code has a comprehensive list of generators it details the basic options and any unique features included.
  • Kaywa (simple but great for getting a quick code made) and Unitag (has the most advanced visual options, great if playing around with Photoshop isn’t your thing), either of these will likely cover all your needs but it is worth trying a few out and finding one that suits you.

Tips When Making Your Own QR Code

  • Think about where it will be displayed, in some countries accessing the internet in subways is no problem but in it isn’t an option.
  • Don’t apply them to everything; the reader will want some value for taking the time to scan your code so make it worth their while.
  • Remember, the whole code needs to be scanned so take into account what distance you expect people will be scanning from.
  • Your QR Code is almost certainly going to be read using a smartphone so wherever it is directed should be at least functional if not designed specifically for a mobile device.
  • Testing is the only way to ensure your code is working properly it will be especially important if you have significantly edited the image.
  • Some generators redirect hyperlinks though their own site, however you can use this to track how many people are using your QR code.
  • Not everyone has a smartphone, not everyone will know what a QR code is and not everyone who has a smartphone will have a reader installed. Many people love QR Codes but a great number of others are currently oblivious to their existence.
  • The code will still be functional if visual effects can be used and especially if a high degree of error correction is applied. You can go as far as having a logo obscuring part of the code but still have the data loss compensated for.

Styled QR Code

How Do I Read The QR Code?

Every major device has a number of available readers, some such as Blackberry come with a built in reader, Android and iOS have a number of free and paid options available on their respective marketplaces. QR Reader for iPhone and QR Droid for Android and Google Goggle for both, are favourites.

Your Turn

Hopefully the thought of creating your own QR Codes is now less daunting. So do you plan on making your own QR Code? Are you already using them and have any tips? If have a unique idea for a QR Code use or want to plug your favourite generator, let us know in the comments.

This post was written by Simon Goble on behalf of moo.com. MOO loves design, offering custom Business Card Printing, unique MiniCards, Postcards, StickerBooks, Greeting Cards and more. You can visit their site at moo.com or follow them on Twitter @overheardatmoo.

30 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Christy Toney

    OMG, Thanks for posting this, I was so clueless!!! –ct

  • Allen

    This is a really great post. Right now I think there is a lot of confusion about how to use QR codes properly and this post is a great help. I think QR Codes are a fantastic new means of being able to promote a product or service and I can see a lot of businesses investing heavily in them in the future. Thanks for sharing!

  • Logo golf Balls

    Excellent article. We are always trying to explain to our customers how powerful and useful this technology is. Thanks for this posting as we will refer our customers to it for further explanation.

  • Escapade Carbet

    You can have interesting application of QR Codes in tourism. For a directory listing hotels or accomodation, it can be usefull to generate on the fly QR Code with contact information as a Vcard (Name, Phone, website, email). The customer can call later to book offline.

    You can see the result here (in french): http://www.escapade-carbet.com/actualites/les-qr-codes-envahissent-escapade-carbet/

    It uses QR Codes generated thanks to Google Chart Tools, mixed with PHP to colorize and add a watermark. The codes are displayed with lightbox effect to save space on the accomodation web pages.

  • Virginie Glaenzer

    Great article. If you want to dive deeper on this topic, here is a good start with a presentation on 2D barcode and tags from Microsoft.
    Hope it helps,

  • Tobias

    Here’s a suggestion for your list. Check out this Kickstarter project. The guy has an acrylic painting on canvas and embedded QR codes on it. When you can the code it launches an animated short story.


    Awesome post btw.

  • Web designing firm

    Nice creativity and good collection of illusion pictures application of QR codes are mostly used of customer care industry like hotels and tourism sort of. Must say that this is some of the best knowledgeable article i have read.

  • imPress

    What an awesome, comprehensive article about QR codes! I have previously come across some of the examples of QR codes you’ve shown (and I always get a kick out of that QR code + resume idea), but this is the first time I’ve seen that airport sign with the QR codes that provide bored travelers with a book to read. Definitely an interesting idea! I also like that the company included a standard URL at the bottom of the sign to be used by travelers who may have laptops but no smartphones. While QR codes have the potential to do really cool things, it’s a good idea to remember that not everyone has a smartphone yet, so providing people with options may allow a company to reach more people with its advertising.

  • Virtual Agents

    This is a very informative articles! You gave me an idea about QR Codes. You explain it clearly. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • Tauseef

    That is one resourceful post. I never knew qr codes can be so creative. I created my own just now!

  • Dual Creative

    Great article.

    QR are codes are only going to get bigger and will be seen about more. Have a look at http://www.squarecode.biz. This is QR codes taken to the next level. Once you have one the content for that one code can be changed again and again complete with full data via the control panel.


  • David Rankin

    thanks for an informative article. I am looking for tips on producing transparent QR codes to place over pictures without obscuring too much of the image area.

  • Morgan & Me Creative

    QR codes are hitting the world like a storm now. It’s surge popularity mainly has to do with the recent technological advancement of the smartphone and in-built cameras. It is without a doubt, very functional as well as great for creative uses too!

  • Courtney

    I have been using the QR Codes as a “tip the scale” marketing form in pursuing clients. When businesses are building a marketing campaign, they love new ways to get the message out. This was a brilliant article. When choosing a code generator, make sure the code will display the proper message you want viewed. There are 100′s of generators, but articles like this one can steer you in the right direction.
    QR Codes can add quite a few hits to your website every month and that is a good way to see how good the QR Codes work.
    Once again great article!

  • Andy Mabbett

    You missed one of the most innovative uses of QR codes (I would say that; I’m a contributor to the project), QRPedia, which uses QR codes and magic to serve mobile-friendly versions of Wikipedia articles to people- in their preferred language.

  • webdevelopergeeks

    Great Post!! I had some idea what is it as i have an android but i didn’t knew the places that they r used. Its amazing!!

  • sreeram

    hai guys… i want to do a project using qrcode but i am not clear with using this….can anyone help me pls……….

  • Courtney

    @sreeram – what is it that you are wanted to do? QR Codes are really self explanatory. The instructions are simple to understand.

  • hadas

    Does anyone knows how I can generate QR codes and then change them after being printed?
    I am interested in creating a product with a QR code and then have the users change it as they please…

  • applause

    It is certainly proving a great way to move between conventional print and web media. I wonder if 3D versions will arrive on the scene providing much greater information depth.

  • Card Swapp

    Set to release Dec 1 ,2011

    Card Swapp App


    It is going to change the way you use QR.

  • Johannes


    Superb article. If you want to change QR Codes after they have been printed, schedule messages across the year for one Code and control the QR Code you need to use services like http://www.squarecode.biz . See this video which explains QR Codes you can control: http://goo.gl/QHmpY

  • hadas

    Thanks for the help!! searching “Dynamic QR Codes” got me excellent results!

  • Logo Designers

    That’s great mate! I am still thinking of how I could use them for my marketing, so this is definitely helpful. Thanks

  • Philip

    Nice and useful post. Liked the patio code the best! – I think if smartphone manufacturers made QR Readers integral into the Camera feature of the devices the general public would be far more inclined to scan QR Codes? Not everyone can be bothered to download the QR Reading app…

  • John Noi

    Great stuff. Another great QR Code resource can be found on http://www.broadcastingonpaper.com. Lots of great tips to make your QR Code extra snappable and visually appealing.

  • Kovacs Levente

    There are a lot of use cases for QR codes, and new ones are popping up every day. However there is still a problem with this catching on. The lack of education. A lot of people don’t know what they are, and how they work.

    I am using QR codes printed on the back of my business card going to http://qrcardmaker.com It points to my public profile. I find it very useful because it’s not just a vCard or a phone number, but my profile holds links, URLs, vCard download… and also a photo of me :)

  • oracle jobs

    It is certainly proving a great way to move between conventional print and web media. I wonder if 3D versions will arrive on the scene providing much greater information depth.

  • casas san miguel

    That’s great mate! I am still thinking of how I could use them for my marketing, so this is definitely helpful. Thanks


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