QR Codes

What is a QR Code? Your Guide to QR Types & Definition

If you’ve ever heard of or seen a QR code, you may wonder what that is. QR codes, or quick response codes, are square codes that hold information you can scan. They have been around for years but recently exploded in popularity due to their contactless nature. If you’ve been to a restaurant or bar in the last year, you may have scanned one of these codes to see the menu, join a waitlist, or even pay. QR codes are certainly on the cutting edge of the contactless technology revolution and have completely changed the way businesses can accept payments. Read on to find out what scan codes are, how to scan a QR code, and how to use QR codes to change the way you do business.

What is a QR Code?

what is a qr code

A QR code is a, usually square, code of pixels that holds data that you can read and scan with common devices. These scalable codes are similar to a barcode you’d find on a product’s packaging.

Even if you weren’t quite sure what it was at the time, you’ve likely seen many of these codes in your day-to-day life. You can link any information you want to one of these scan codes, including websites, images, tickets, invoices, and more.

What does QR stand for?

So, what does QR stand for? “QR” stands for “Quick Response” because these codes can scan and process larger volumes of information instantly.

The QR code was invented in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota, Denso Wave, who needed a way to better track car parts during manufacturing. Traditionally, they would use standard barcodes to track parts, but they were slow. Barcodes take a lot of time and patience to scan properly (and often need multiple scans to read). As a result, the company invented QR codes to address these problems and improve efficiency.

What are QR codes used for?

QR codes are used in thousands of creative ways around the world every day. While they’re more recently picking up steam in the United States, they’ve been used for years overseas. Some examples of how they’re used include:

  • Touch-Free Restaurant Menus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many countries have adopted scannable codes as a way to offer touch-free menus in restaurants across the world. By linking a PDF to the code, businesses can offer customers a completely contactless experience.
  • ATM Transactions in Japan. To add a layer of protection to ATM transactions, QR codes are helping with two-factor authentication.
  • Marketing Initiatives in Indonesia. By using these codes on posters and billboards, traditional marketing media have become more interactive, bridging the gap between physical and virtual advertisements.

QR code vs barcode

You may be wondering, why would you want to use a QR code vs a barcode? To clarify, a QR code is a type of barcode. But compared to a traditional barcode that you’d normally see on the back of products in a store, where does a quick response code hold an advantage?

When comparing a QR code vs a standard barcode, a QR code is:

  • Easily Scanned. These codes are easier to scan than a traditional barcode. In addition, more devices can scan and read its information. A typical smartphone camera, for example, has this capability.
  • More Resilient. As you may experience at the grocery store, traditional barcodes are easy to damage and render unscannable. Because you can scan quick response codes two ways (top > down or left > right), they can sustain more damage (up to 30%) and still be readable.
  • Able to Hold More Information. The code can hold far more characters (and special characters) than a traditional barcode, which allows it to be useful in many more applications and environments.

How do QR Codes Work?

The QR code is usually made up of black and white squares that convey strategic information (though the colors and shapes of these markings can be customized). While it may look like television static to you, it’s read quite easily by most devices. It works much like a traditional barcode – these symbols create a coded message that your device understands and can easily translate into something meaningful to you.

What makes up a scan code?

A quick response or scan code has many different elements that make it universally readable by different devices around the world. Some of these elements include:

  • Positioning Detection Markers. Three corners of every QR code have positioning detection markers (usually the three biggest squares). These markings help your device orient which direction to read the code (if you have it upside down, for example).
  • Alignment Markers. This is a square within the code that allows the device to read the meaning, even if it’s skewed. For instance, if you’re reading the code on the side of a bottle or can.
  • Additional Aspects. These include: timing pattern, version information, format pattern, data and error correction keys, and the quiet zone. These aspects make up the rest of the quick response code. The main purpose of all of these is to solidify the code’s meaning, uniqueness, readability, data integrity, and resilience.

Static vs Dynamic QR Codes

Now that you have a firm grasp of what a QR code is at its core, let’s move on. There are two types of codes you can use: Static and dynamic. Let’s explore those next.

1. What is a static QR code?

A static QR code is just what it sounds like, one that always holds the same information. You cannot change it once it’s created. This is because all of the information is held within the code itself.

2. What is a dynamic QR code?

A dynamic quick response code, on the other hand, is editable after creation. This is because the QR code doesn’t actually hold the information directly. Instead, it uses a URL to redirect the user to the information you’ve asked it to share. Dynamic quick response codes are more popular for marketing and many business purposes.

How to Scan a QR Code

how to scan a qr code

You may now be wondering how to scan a QR code. We’ve touched on it briefly already, but the smartphone you likely have in your hand can scan this type of code using the built-in camera. To scan a quick response code, open the camera app and hover it over the square. A box should automatically pop up and ask if you want to open the linked information. This same process should work for your tablet’s built-in camera as well. It’s important to note you do not need to take a picture or video to read the code.

Mobile device vs scanner

One of the most appealing features of a QR code is that you don’t need a scanner to use it. While traditional barcodes usually need to be read by a laser (like a scanner in a checkout line), quick response codes do not. This makes them infinitely more useful in real-world situations.

How to Successfully Use QR Codes in Your Business

Now that you know how to use quick response codes and know what a QR code is, let’s talk about some ways to use them successfully in your business.

Easy payments

QR codes allow easy and touchless payments to be a reality in your business. You can display this type of code in person or online. This will allow your customer to scan the code on their device and bring up their unique bill, allowing them to instantly scan-to-pay using their smartphone.

Coupons or vouchers

Another exciting use of QR codes is to create coupons or vouchers that can be used in person or online. This allows customers to scan something like a poster or social media post to “clip” a coupon. This helps your business to bridge the gap between a promotion/advertisement and an ultimate purchase.

Boost brand awareness

By creating quick response codes for your business, you can create content that is easily interacted with and shared, boosting your overall brand awareness. By showing your customers how to use these codes to connect with your business, you’re likely to see overall brand awareness rise quickly.