All About QR Codes


Get your QR Code on. They are fun, cool, and cutting edge. By Scott Fresener.

You’ve probably seen those little box “maze” graphics in ads but maybe didn’t know what they were for. Or you might have heard the term QR Code (sometimes called a QR Tag) but again, what the heck is that? If you don’t know, you have not been keeping up with the latest trends. QR Codes are the rage and are only going to get bigger.

Note: click on images to enlarge them.

What are QR Codes?

They are small 2 dimensional maze like graphics that are designed to be scanned with smart phones (iPhone, etc.) that have special bar code or QR Code reader software. Figure 1.

Figure 1

Phone Apps for reading a QR Code are abundant and often free. When you aim your phone at one of these either in an ad, in the newspaper, or even a large billboard, the image you scan can take you to a website, show you text, deliver a vCard for your address book, dial the phone, load a YouTube video and much more! Figure 2.

Figure 2

The information is embedded in the mystery code. This is the barcode world gone wild. Wow! How simple. How magical. But wait….. what if you print one of these images on a T-Shirt?  OK, it’s being done now but it seems to be one of the best kept secrets.

Unlike traditional bar codes that are considered 1D or one dimensional because you read them only along the width – the QR Code is a square that is read for both the width and the height information.

Where did they come from?

A QR Code is a matrix code or two-dimensional bar code created by Japanese subsidiary of Toyota called Denso-Wave in 1994. The “QR” is derived from “Quick Response” because the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed. Denso-Wave chose not enforce the patent on this technology and the QR Codes are now used around the world.

There are other “me to” codes including Microsoft Tags, plus others like JetTags and Data Matrix. But, QR Codes seem to have a huge lead and are what this article is about.

QR Codes are commonly used for inventory management in a wide variety of industries. More recently, the inclusion of QR Code reading software on camera phones has led to a wide variety of new, consumer-oriented applications, aimed at relieving the user of the tedious task of entering data into their mobile phone. The addition of QR Codes on business cards is also becoming common, greatly simplifying the task of entering the personal details of a new acquaintance into the address book of your mobile phone.

Where do you start?

First, you need to find a service that will generate a QR Code for you. There are dozens if not hundreds of them online. The neat thing is you simply go to one of these free websites, type in the details and the code is generated right there on the computer monitor. Figure 3 & Figure 4. Again, the details could be your website, your phone  number, a link to a video about your company, etc.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Figure 4

Here are a few QR Code generators that are free to use:

Actually, the first thing you need to do is download a QR Reader APP for your smartphone. The easiest way to find an APP for your phone is go to where you currently get apps for the device. Figure 5.

Figure 5

The app I use on my iPhone is Shop Savvy. It appears to be one of the leading apps for a wide variety of phones. Of course its main mission is to read barcodes and tell you the price and where you can get an item cheaper….. but that’s another article. Figure 6.

Figure 6

Here are a few sources for QR Readers:

All of these sites generate the code for you right there with a click of the mouse. You can see the code on the screen and you can download the files in a variety of formats. Once you have generated the code on your computer, simply open the scanning app and then aim the phone at the image on the monitor to test it. In a couple of seconds your phone will load a web page, dial the phone, or much more depending on what you entered. If the code works the way you hoped then download the file and you are off to the races and ready to incorporate the image in a design, create a new design or promotion – or, come up with your own grand marketing plan.

What are the rules?

The rules are pretty simple. The smartphone reader needs to read the image and see all the squares. If the image is not clear or is not flat then the phone may not be able to read the QR Code. Older smartphones have lower resolution cameras so you need to take into account the lowest possible denominator.

Keep information short

The more text or information in the QR Code, the smaller the squares become. Although the standard says you can use up to 4,296 characters but, if you do the squares become very small and hard to read.To test this just enter a lot of text in a code generator and see how small the squares get. Most sites recommend using less than 300 characters. This means if you are going to present text then keep it short. Figure 7.

Figure 7

If your website link is very long use one of the Tiny URL sites that shorten a web address. See

To have a little fun, take your smartphone and scan the various images used in this article to see if they really work.

Keep the image high contrast and high resolution

The truth is you don’t have to have these images in black and white. But, the code/maze has to be in darker colors so the QR Reader can differentiate the difference in color. That means you can’t print the image in white ink on a black shirt without putting down a base of white (simply “invert” the image for the film output and then put white ink in the screen and print on a black shirt. The “maze” will be the shirt color. Many of the QR Code Generator sites offer to let you chose a foreground and background color.

But, the key in generating a code is to have it as high a resolution as possible. This is no different than traditional printing – if you take a low resolution JPG image and enlarge it 1000% it is going to get rough.

All the code generations sites I tested allowed you to choose a resolution but none really offer high resolution (for T-Shirt size images). The key is some sites offer an EPS file format which is vector based meaning it works in Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator.

This is great because not only can you output the final image as high resolution but you can also color the image because each small square is an object that can be manipulated – just remember to use darker colors with contrast. Figure 8.

Figure 8

How to use QR Codes

You can get creative when using QR Codes. The obvious use is to print it on a shirt. But, what do you expect the QR Code to do? Have it just go to your website? That’s OK but could be boring. How about having it go to a special web page that thanks the user for taking the time to scan the code and offers a discount.

Scan the T-Shirt in Figure 9 to see what I mean.

Figure 9

Simply type in QR Codes as a web search and you will get hundreds/thousands of pages with ideas and suggestions.

Other issues

When you generate a QR Code, most generators will ask you for the amount of error correction. To be safe take use a higher setting. It may talk a little longer to scan the image. You will also notice if you compare the output of one generator over the other – for the same information – that the QR Code will look different. My guess is it depends on the amount of error correction settings.

And, the area around the QR Code is called the quiet area. Some QR Readers need a larger quiet area – also called a margin. This is only important if the QR Code is going to be placed next to or in other graphics. Give the image room to breath when mixing it with another design element. Figure 10.

Figure 10

Make the graphics a complete statement

To make it a little easier for someone to understand, think about at least putting your name above or below the code or your web address. Most codes are placed on printed pieces where you can see who the company is. With the code alone on a shirt I think you are losing the marketing/branding opportunity to show your name without the user having to scan the image.

Track the number of scans

There is now an entire sub-culture helping you track how many times your codes are scanned. These services charge by the month or year. I have not used any of these services. One I found in researching this article is  Figure 11.

Figure 11

What can you do with QR Codes?

Currently you can do the following actions with 2D QR Codes:

  • You can browse to a website.
  • You can bookmark a website.
  • You can make a phone call.
  • You can send a short message.
  • You can send an e-mail.
  • You can create a vCard (v2.1 or v3.0) with coordinates to add a contact to your device.
  • You can create a meCard to add a contact to your device.
  • You can create a vCalendar event to add to your calendar.
  • You can create Google Maps URLs.
  • You can create Bing Maps URLs.
  • You can create raw geological coordinates.
  • You can create market:// URLs for searching for publishers or packages on Market app for Android.
  • You can create special youtube:// URLs for YouTube app on iPhone.
  • You can fetch and encode the latest tweet of a Twitter user.
  • You can overlay a Twitter profile image over the code.
  • You can create a mobile URL to tweet on Twitter.
  • You can initiate a chat to a particular Blackberry PIN on Blackberry Messenger.
  • You can connect to a WIFI network on Android devices.
  • You can read plain or free formatted text on your device.

Not all online QR Generators offer the above depth of uses. Figure 12 shows a drop down box from the website which seems to have a pretty complete list.

Figure 12

Be the first!

That won’t happen on a large scale. Companies like Café Press, Zazzle and a lot of others already offer shirts and products with QR Codes on them. Figure 13 & 14. But, don’t let that stop you from doing your own thing and jumping on the band wagon. With creative marketing let your customers know you can now do this – even by simply embedding a QR Code in a standard image. Just make sure to TEST the code after you have screen printed it!

Figure 14

Figure 13


Have fun with QR Codes. They are cutting edge (even if they were invented in 1994). They are cool, fun and they show your company is on the cutting edge. Use them to promote a special, drive traffic to a landing page on your website, or more. Offer it to your current customers as another Special Effect. Scour the web for ideas and get started using QR Codes in your marketing campaign.

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