Not All QR Codes are Created Equal

QR codes, or quick response codes, are those two-dimensional barcodes you’ve seen everywhere from the backs of Ketchup bottles to business cards to advertisements in your favorite publication. If you’re new to QR codes, you may want to check out Karen Cover’s recent blog post titled “QR Codes: An Outsider’s Perspective.” Karen discusses the importance of targeting the right audience, but I’ve found that even developing QR codes is hampered by technical problems.

The matrix barcodes are a growing trend in an overall mobile marketing strategy, and while relatively new to Americans, the technology has existed since 1994 when it was created by DENSO WAVE in Japan. There are many resources online when it comes to creating a QR code for free—but “caveat emptor” (buyer beware). Consider that not all QR codes are created equal.

For example, I used to shorten the URL for so that it would be Then I created one QR code from each of the four top results I found by searching “qr code generator” on Google. Notice that each QR code pictured below is different, yet the constant is that each code has the same URL and a module configuration of Version 2 (25 x 25 modules).

Not All QR Codes are Created Equal

You’re probably wondering why four different QR code generators, with all of the settings the same featuring the exact same string of characters, produced four distinctly different looking QR codes. I was wondering the same thing, so I interviewed V. Michael Balas, the founder and CEO of VitreoQR, which has a partnership with DENSO. Mr Balas said,

Between DENSO’s patents, copies of which can be purchased for about ten bucks and the ISO 18004 document, a copy of which can be purchased for about $350, programmers believe that they have the entire recipe for building their own QR Code generators. When in actuality, all they have is a basic recipe that does not include all of the cooking instructions. Each and every open source QR Code generator is built upon someone’s ‘interpretation’ of these documents. With each cook comes a different result.

This explains why all QR codes are not created equal. Mr. Balas added,

The ISO specifications are hard and fast. By simply interpreting these documents the code writer has drifted away from strict compliance with the ISO specification and that accounts for the varying result one gets from using different QR Code generating engines. This is why using a free QR Code generator is a risky decision because that code may not be successfully scanned quite frequently, especially depending on which reader app is being used.

For those of you creating a QR code, remember that there are three factors that you cannot control – the device that scans the code, the operating system of the device, and the scanning application on the device. The best practice for creating a QR code that yields to the aforementioned factors is to produce a code that is fully compatible with the standard ISO/IEC 18004:2006 specification that Mr. Balas refers to. Generating a QR code that adheres to this specification will ensure a higher scanning success rate of the code. For more information on the ISO/IEC 18004:2006 specification, visit the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Here’s some tips if you decide to use one of the free QR code generators:

  • Create a mobile-optimized landing page that you want the QR code to direct users to
  • Use to shorten the URL of the mobile-optimized landing page
  • Use a free QR code generator to create a Version 1 or Version 2 code with a Level L Error Correction Capability
  • Export the QR code in high-resolution format if you plan to include it on a print piece, and remember to keep it at least 1.25 x 1.25 inches or 32 x 32 mm (excluding the quiet zone)

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  • Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the email and the link here.

    Your blog posts is really useful information, thanks for sharing – which is what I’m about to do now!


  • paolo says:

    Good,essential information that can help QR usage grow: thanks!
    I invite you to try Identity experimental service, which lets you group all your accounts into a unique,mobile optimized personal site, to be directly addressed with a personalized QR code. All comments are welcome! Thanks.

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