QR Code Explained
QR is a two-dimensional or matrix code that can encode up to 4,000 characters or 7,000 digits. The code is easily recognized by the characteristic three finder patterns in the corners of the symbol:
Those patterns are quite large, so the code needs more space than other 2D symbologies, at least with small amounts of data. Larger codes also feature one or more alignment patterns.
What does QR stand for?
QR stands for Quick Response. Intended for use in manufacturing and part tracking by the auto industry, QR's design prioritized fast and reliable scanning over smaller size.
What is QR used for?
Besides applications in warehousing and logistics the code is also widely used in ads, on billboards, on coupons and the like. Typical data content includes URLs, email addresses or VCards, coupon codes etc, see examples below.
QR is standardized. The relevant standard is ISO/IEC 18004-2006 and can be obtained from ISO.
QR maximum length
Like many other barcode types, QR features several compaction modes. The maximum capacity or length for given data is as follows:
The respective barcode generator will select the compaction mode that results in the smallest posible symbol; it is common to switch between modes within a QR symbol for mixed content.
QR Code data content
QR codes only encode textual content and are indifferent to the actual semantic meaning of the data. How the content is interpreted depends entirely on the scanner or scanner app. This is very different from codes like EAN 13 where the data format and content are regulated by a standards body (GS1).
However, over the past ten years, quasi-standards have been established that define how certain types of data have to be encoded. Some examples:
QR Code Error Correction Levels
QR employs a very robust error correction capability. In the highest setting a symbol can be recovered even if 30% of the area is destroyed or missing. However, better error correction also means a larger barcode.
Here's a QR code with the content "https://softmatic.com" with the error correction set to the lowest level ("L"):
Cranking the ECC level to the best setting ("H") results in a code that is almost 70% larger:
If we erase the center part like so, the code is still readable (try with the "Camera" app of your smartphone):
This feature is exploited with so called Vanity QR codes, where parts of the code are replaced with a company logo, emoji or other graphical elements:
That kind of manipulation obviously contradicts the whole purpose of the error correction and should be avoided in serious applications.
QR Black and White vs Colored, Styling
Per default, QR codes are created with square, black dots against a white background for highest contrast. Colored codes are acceptable and will scan without issue provided the foreground and background colors have sufficient contrast. Likewise, the individual "dots" of a code can have rounded or pointy shapes.
Here's an colored QR code with rounded dots:
An example with too little contrast that will not scan (or only with luck):
Note, that "inverted" (or negative) codes are in principle allowed but many scanner apps have problems decoding them. Test thoroughly before going into production.
Scanning QR codes
It is safe to assume that all recent smartphones support scanning QR codes with the built-in "Camera"-app. See this post about scanning QR codes.
Sample QR Barcodes
Sample QR code with letters and numbers mixed, "ABCabc123":
QR can directly encode accented and diacritic characters like german umlauts. Sample code encodes "ÄÖÜäöü":
Also supported is Unicode content, for example non-latin scripts like Japanese. Sample code encodes "ÄÖÜ日本語abc":
All codes have been verified to scan properly on Mac and Windows PCs and various smartphones. Check the settings of your scanner if the scan result is different or if the code doesn't scan at all.
QR codes can also be read with an online reader, here's the scan result from the previous QR:
Common problems when scanning QR with non-ASCII data:
Scan QR with a Smartphone
On iOS, the built-in "Camera" app can natively scan QR codes. On Android smartphones variety of barcode reader apps support reading QR, search the respective App Store. Our suggestion is the free Zxing Barcode Reader which reads QR and many other 2D and linear barcodes.
Create QR Codes with Logos, Icons in Photoshop
Our QR Designer for Photoshop CC creates QR matrix codes directly in your PSD file. Choose from a dozen styles, millions of colors and easily embed logos, icons or images in the code.
Create QR Barcodes in Illustrator, InDesign
Easy to use barcode plug-ins and extensions for Adobe InDesign and Illustrator. For more videos, see the Softmatic Youtube Channel
The Softmatic barcode plug-ins and extensions for InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop are available on the Adobe Exchange.
NEW Free Online QR Code Generator
Create your QR codes online and in realtime! Our free online QR code generator runs 100% in your browser. No ads and no registration required. Privacy guaranteed: No cookies, no analytics, no tracking.
QR Code Generator for Mac / WindowsSoftmatic BarcodePlus V5 creates QR codes and will export the barcode as PDF / SVG (resolution-independent vector) oder raster image (PNG, TIFF). The app will automatically format the data according to the specs to create the smallest possible symbol:
Create QR codes in bulkFor mass creation of QR, see Softmatic's bulk barcode generator, BarcodeFactory. Ideal for personalized 2D codes for tickets, event, mailings. Video shows generating bulk QR codes from email addresses: