A guide to QR codes

A guide to QR codes
29 November 2011 | | Creative Design, Marketing

Around October 2010, QR codes became a very popular tool to quickly link smartphone users through to web pages, provided the phone had a relevant reader installed. Capable of much more than just redirecting your phone to a website address, Quick Response codes have been around since 1994 and were originally used to track parts during car manufacture.

I’m sure by now you have seen these codes all over the place, but have you ever fully understood them or wondered how they can work for you and your business? The following article goes a long way to explain their many uses and when the best times are to use them.

This is a guest article contributed by Simon Goble.

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.

Mini Business Cards

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

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?

Driveway Code

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

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.


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

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.

Augmented Reality Building

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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