To the untrained eye, all the different types of QR codes and other two-dimensional barcodes all look the same.
But there’s always more than meets the eye.
Behind each pixel and QR code pattern is alphanumeric information that a QR code scanner can only read.
And depending on the length and type of characters embedded in each code, the pixels and modules will also differ.
- What is a QR code?
- Types of QR code formats
- QR code vs. barcode: what’s the difference?
- Other types of 2D barcodes
- Why do business marketers choose QR codes over other barcodes?
What is a QR code?
A Quick Response (QR) code is a 2D barcode created by Masahiro Hara of Denso Wave, Inc. in 1994.
It was introduced to the manufacturers as an alternative to one-dimensional barcodes.
QR codes store more information and scan faster than the barcodes used in the product inventory.
It became a hit in the market due to its advanced features, all thanks to its 2D barcode technology.
To date, QR codes are not only used in tracking and managing products.
Various healthcare, education, business, and other industries use QR codes as well.
Types of QR code formats
Denso Wave not only developed the QR code. They also created several types of QR code formats.
Each type differs in storing capacity, size, and error correction level, which affects how each QR code type is used.
1. QR code Model1 and Model2
Both Model 1 and Model 2 look almost exactly alike.
But due to differences in their storing capacity and error correction level, anyone can spot their differences when given a closer look.
The QR code Model 1 is the original design. It has also become the basis of development for the succeeding QR code types.
And since it’s the first model, the QR code Model 1 still has lesser capacity than the second one.
It can store up to 1167 numeric characters, 707 alphanumerics, and 299 Kanji characters. It also has a lesser error correction and scannability.
On the other hand, the QR code Model 2 has better features.
The second QR code model can embed up to 7089 numeric characters, 4296 alphanumerics, 2953 binary bytes, and 1817 Kanji characters.
And because of the added alignment pattern, it’s easier to detect and read the QR code than in the prototype.
2. Micro QR code
You could tell from the name that this is a smaller version of the original QR code.
This means that it stores fewer characters or data and is smaller than a regular QR code.
But this type of QR code can still encode enough information.
In fact, it can encode kanji, 8-bit graphic character sets, alphanumeric characters, and other special characters.
And because of its condensed data modules, the micro QR code is commonly used in the production and inventory of small-sized items, including those in the machine hardware.
3. rMQR code
A rectangular micro QR code (rMQR code) is a rectangular version of the micro QR code.
Denso Wave considers this a space-saver type of QR code because of its narrow and strip-like appearance.
But despite its smaller size, the rMQR code is still highly scannable and can store 219 alphanumeric characters, 361 numeric, and 92 kanji characters.
Its storage capacity makes it an ideal alternative to the linear barcode for product inventory.
The rMQR code allows businesses to track their products and give out product details without consuming a lot of product label space.
Furthermore, medical and pharmaceutical companies use the rMQR for tool and equipment inventory.
The original QR code embeds information accessible to audiences simply by scanning the code with their smartphones.
While it benefits most industries, Denso Wave still saw a need for a QR code with an access restriction feature.
In came the Secret-function-equipped QR code (SQRC).
On the outside, it looks exactly like the original QR code. But behind the SQRC’s pixels and patterns is a reading restriction function that keeps unauthorized individuals from accessing the embedded info.
The SQRC holds two types of information: public and private data. It also requires a specific QR code scanner, not just your smartphone device.
When scanned using phones, the SQRC will display a piece of open-to-public-viewing information, which may have nothing to do with the embedded data.
But when scanned using an SQRC scanner, the device will display private information.
5. Frame QR code
Imagine a picture frame, but the frames are a QR code image. That’s what a frame QR code is.
The frame QR code has a space or canvas at its center to display an image or company logo.
You can also customize the canvas into various shapes and change the frame QR code’s colors.
This is Denso Wave’s take on a customizable QR code that elevates its user’s QR code experience.
QR code vs. barcode: what’s the difference?
Technically, a QR code is just a type of barcode.
Tricky? It’s like this: there are two types of barcodes — one-dimensional and two-dimensional.
And, two-dimensional barcodes are also divided into various types… with the QR code being one of them.
The one-dimensional barcode, or the Linear barcode, was first introduced to the manufacturing industry before the 2D versions.
But because of its very limited storage capacity (approximately 85 characters), product inventory and management companies demand another barcode that can store more than just what the 1D barcode could offer.
So, the two-dimensional barcodes were equipped with a larger storage capacity, a four-tiered error correction feature, and a patterned appearance.
And one of them is a QR code.
A QR code can store over 4,000 characters compared to the original barcode.
You can embed texts, numbers, and URLs using a QR code. This makes it an ideal tool for any modern digital campaign.
The 2D barcodes are also a very versatile tool since they can be deployed on physical and digital surfaces, is scannable using even a smartphone, and works very well with any industry and agency.
And here’s the best part — you can edit the embedded information and track the data scans of the QR code.
These are two things that aren’t available to all one-dimensional barcodes.
Other types of 2D barcodes
Aside from QR codes, there are also other two-dimensional barcodes that are note-worthy.
Each of them may be a bit too similar, but here’s a quick guide to knowing how you can easily recognize one from the other:
The data matrix code has an L-shaped finder pattern at its borders.
Its pattern recognition feature allows scanners to read the embedded data horizontally or vertically easily.
Since its launch in 1989, the data matrix code has come a long way.
It is now widely used in product labels, especially in food production, pharmaceuticals, and electronic parts production companies.
Users can embed at most 2,335 alphanumeric or graphic characters in various languages using this type of barcode.
Unlike the linear barcodes that need to be produced at a high resolution, the data matrix’s scannability remains the same even when displayed at a 2- or 3-mm squared dimension.
And because it’s more prevalent in the production industry, it’s more prone to physical damages such as scratches or tears.
This is why it has a higher error tolerance that allows scanners to still access the embedded data even with 25% damage in its appearance.
Popularized and exclusively used by the United Parcel Service (UPS), the MaxiCode is used to monitor and manage parcel shipments.
Its circular symbol that looks exactly like a bull’s eye target makes it stand out among the other two-dimensional barcodes.
While others are adorned with square-shaped pixels and finder patterns, the MaxiCode has its symbol surrounded by dot patterns.
To the untrained eye, they merely look like a cluster of dots. But when given a closer look, the dots actually form a hexagonal pattern.
Each cluster of dots plays a significant role in the scannability of the code. Among them are MaxiCode’s finder pattern, error correction feature, and data encryption area.
And compared to other 2D barcodes, the MaxiCode has a relatively smaller storing capacity.
Users can embed 93 alphanumeric characters and 138 numeric characters, which is just enough to encode a parcel’s address or location data, such as a country code.
And here’s another unique feature: a MaxiCode is highly readable even when printed in black on a white surface or in white over a black background.
Other barcodes’ scannability is gravely affected when printed or deployed as white on a black surface.
On the flip side, the MaxiCode has a fixed size of 1 inch by 1 inch.
Unlike the others, users can’t upsize or downsize this type of barcode.
As the name implies, a DotCode is composed of dots where the data, error correction, and pattern detection are encrypted.
But rather than compressing the dots into a square like most 2D barcodes known today, the DotCode extends sideward, creating a rectangular appearance.
And though its storage capacity is still unknown, DotCodes can surely encode 7-bit and 8-bit ASCII characters and other special characters allowing users to store bigger volumes of data.
To date, the tobacco and cigarette industry uses DotCode for product serialization and identification.
With DotCodes, users won’t worry about meticulous printing dos and don’ts.
In fact, you can print DotCodes with a high-speed inkjet or laser printer, even with less accuracy in the dot spacings.
This allows it to keep up with the fast-paced production of your goods.
The government sectors mostly employ the PDF417 code, especially in distributing post stamps, driver’s licenses, boarding passes, and visas.
Developed in 1992, the barcode got its name after its data formatting structure.
It carries a Portable Data File (PDF) within its four linear bars and 17 modules or units of codewords.
And because of its storage capacity, which is a bit larger than other well-known 2D barcodes such as QR codes and Data Matrix, the PDF417 code can hold large files, complex data, and photos, allowing it to take up larger space as well.
However, scanning this barcode isn’t as liberating as the others.
Due to its pattern, PDF 417 needs scanners to be parallel to its format. Any tilt in angle affects the scannability of the barcode.
The emergence of QR codes in Japan pushed 2D barcode creators in China to develop a code with greater storage capacity.
Designed in 2007, the Han Xin Code can store 4,350 ASCII characters and other commonly used Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters.
Its massive storage capacity makes it the best tool for the industrial sector, healthcare, and logistics industry, most commonly in China.
And just like every other barcode to date, the Han Xin code has finder patterns and pixels of modules strategically designed to make it highly scannable.
Compared to other 2D barcodes, which only have 2 to 3 finder patterns, the Han Xin code has four chevron-shaped finder patterns at all four corners.
This symbology makes it recognizable and easily read by scanners at a very fast pace.
One of the most recognizable 2D barcodes is the Aztec Code.
Though there is always a comparison between Aztec codes and QR codes, they are actually not quite similar.
The finder pattern at the center of this barcode, looking like the Aztec pyramid from a bird’s eye view, is not designed merely to live up to its name but to be easily scanned by the target audience.
Aztec codes are strategically designed so that they can be easily read by scanners. It is not sensitive to the angle and scope of scanning.
One only has to hover their scanning device at the Aztec code’s center to access the embedded data.
Furthermore, it was also designed to store as many as 3067 alphabetic characters, 3832 numerics, and 1914 bytes of binary data.
This is one of the biggest storage capacities of all the 2D barcodes.
Today, Aztec barcodes are often seen on railway tickets, patient bracelets, tax documents, and other government-run document distribution facilities.
Why do business marketers choose QR codes over other barcodes?
By adding QR codes to their marketing plans, businesses have found a way to make them better.
Because of its advanced technology, QR codes are a flexible and effective tool ideal for digitalizing marketing efforts of small-scale or large-scale businesses.
They can easily generate leads, retain existing customers, boost their website and social media traffic and engagements, and even double their revenues.
QR codes, especially the dynamic QR code, allow users to track the data scans, edit the embedded data anytime, turn on the email notification, and even set the password protection feature.
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