Five QR Code Myths Dispelled

 In 101

QR Code myths abound, as do articles about them. Our concern is the mythology surrounding QR Code from a quality standpoint. For example, we recently saw—and commented on—an articleCustomized QR Code about a new graphics design technique that makes QR Code less obtrusive and more “harmonious” with the graphic it accompanies. The QR Code examples that accompanied the article blended into the advertisements so well, you might not even notice them. We had concerns about them from a quality standpoint—but if the reader might overlook them altogether, what’s the point of using a QR Code at all?

#1 The first of the QR Code myths is that they can be modified or customized to make them unique to a particular ad or brand. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics because of course QR Code can be modified graphically to make them more attractive. But where is the threshold of readability? What amount of modification can be tolerated before scanning is impaired? Although the ISO specification can tell you where the line is, the smart phone camera “scanners” are not ISO compliant and therefore the threshold of acceptability is unknown…and what is the point of a QR Code
that doesn’t work, no matter how beautiful or brand-identified it is?

#2 The second QR Code myth is about what it encodes. Because QR Code is so often used to represent a URL, lots of people believe that’s all it can do. Interestingly the inventor and owner of QR Code technology, Denso Wave, now part of Toyota, created QR Code to mark automotive parts. Originally QR Code was invented to track Toyota’s manufacturing supply chain.

#3 Related to this is the QR Code myth that it can be “hijacked” or redirected to a pirate site. This may again be a matter of semantics, but strictly speaking the QR Code cannot be “hijacked” or modified to contain different information or point to a different URL. Websites can be hijacked but the information contained in the QR Code is very secure because it is a static, printed image. And the structural technology in a QR Code makes it even more unlikely that a highly modified or customized QR Code could accidentally direct the user to an unintended destination. More than likely the adulterated QR Code would simply fail to scan.

#4 QR Code myths abound related to the quality of the printed symbol. Simple mistakes include failing to provide the necessary quiet zone around the symbol—yes QR Codes have quiet zones, scan0001_A_Conicelli_Horrible_1.4mmNR Croppedjust like UPC and Code 128. Another common myth is that QR Code can be printed in any color or color combination. Although QR Code is much more tolerant of color than UPC, there must be sufficient contrast differences between the QR Code symbol and its background for the scanner to be able to detect it. And what exactly is that contrast difference? Well, since smart phone cameras are not manufactured to an ISO specification, it is virtually impossible to predict whether or not a particular QR Code will work as intended on every smart phone that will attempt to scan it.

#5 The last of the QR Code myths is perhaps the biggest of them all—that QR Code is just a fad.  Of course it is a fad—but not as a data entry device. QR Code is without doubt a fad as a marketing tool, but all marketing tools are fads—that is the whole point. As a data entry device, QR Code is a pretty good tool, but not the only one, although many people refer to any 2D symbol as QR Code and any 1D barcode as UPC (and any photocopier as a Xerox machine, etc.).

 

John helps companies resolve current barcode problems and avoid future barcode problems to stabilize and secure their supply chain and strengthen their trading partner relationships.

Recent Posts
Showing 4 comments
  • Mukesh Gupta
    Reply

    The fact that smartphone cameras are not ISO complaint applies to the normal B/W codes also and under certain situations the normal codes might also not get scanned. I agree that there is no point of having a beautiful QR Code if its not readable but the fact is a nicely designed QR Code with contrasting color could be as much readable as a normal B/W qr code.

  • Mukesh Gupta
    Reply

    The fact that smartphone cameras are not ISO complaint applies to the normal B/W codes also and under certain situations the normal codes might also not get scanned. I agree that there is no point of having a beautiful QR Code if its not readable but the fact is a nicely designed QR Code with contrasting color could be as much readable as a normal B/W qr code.

  • Daniel Benjamin
    Reply

    I’ve got to disagree vehemently on point #1. While foreground/background color selection should always be as high contrast as humanly possible, you seem to be clearly saying NOT to add colors or embellishments to avoid the risk of an unreadable QR Code. I’ve got to object to that. There’s no reason at all not to add color, a gradient, or even an embedded logo. It certainly raises the technical bar a bit, but many generators do just that, automatically. Since, as you say, most QR Code scanning apps are not ISO-compliant (nor are most generators for that matter, the simple fact is that there’s no reason to assume that any of them will work properly, by that rationale.

    However, it is generally the case that, regardless of technical compliance, most generators work just fine. Most popular scanning apps work just fine. In fact, most work too well. I’ve done extensive contrast testing, and this technology is very, very robust, even over-engineered. In fact, QR Codes will scan even when unbelievably faintly printed and low contrast. Now, there’s never a guarantee that everything will work perfectly in every situation (even with black & white QR Codes). But, the risk is negligible. Use a dark color. Keep the background as light as possible. Dial up the error correction a notch, and toss in a tiny logo. No problem. It’s not blasphemous. Test it with a popular app or three and then relax. The point of the contest isn’t to put the most theoretically error-free and ISO compliant QR Codes into the wild; the point is to get as many scanned by consumers as possible. It’s not the factory floor, we’re discussing. It’s marketing.

    Color, branding, soft edges and interest is the way to make that happen: This will help differentiate the QR Code from any of a billion other QR Codes a consumer has seen and been slowly conditioned to ignore. One caveat, though, since your article includes a very bad QR Code implementation with a drop-shadow that ruins it: Shadows are generally not a very good idea: If one is employed, be very, very, very careful. A drop-shadow is offset, by definition, which means dark areas are being added in the wrong places. Bad idea. They’re fault-tolerant in the extreme, but adding extra data to every pixel is sure to make a mess.

  • Daniel Benjamin
    Reply

    I’ve got to disagree vehemently on point #1. While foreground/background color selection should always be as high contrast as humanly possible, you seem to be clearly saying NOT to add colors or embellishments to avoid the risk of an unreadable QR Code. I’ve got to object to that. There’s no reason at all not to add color, a gradient, or even an embedded logo. It certainly raises the technical bar a bit, but many generators do just that, automatically. Since, as you say, most QR Code scanning apps are not ISO-compliant (nor are most generators for that matter, the simple fact is that there’s no reason to assume that any of them will work properly, by that rationale.

    However, it is generally the case that, regardless of technical compliance, most generators work just fine. Most popular scanning apps work just fine. In fact, most work too well. I’ve done extensive contrast testing, and this technology is very, very robust, even over-engineered. In fact, QR Codes will scan even when unbelievably faintly printed and low contrast. Now, there’s never a guarantee that everything will work perfectly in every situation (even with black & white QR Codes). But, the risk is negligible. Use a dark color. Keep the background as light as possible. Dial up the error correction a notch, and toss in a tiny logo. No problem. It’s not blasphemous. Test it with a popular app or three and then relax. The point of the contest isn’t to put the most theoretically error-free and ISO compliant QR Codes into the wild; the point is to get as many scanned by consumers as possible. It’s not the factory floor, we’re discussing. It’s marketing.

    Color, branding, soft edges and interest is the way to make that happen: This will help differentiate the QR Code from any of a billion other QR Codes a consumer has seen and been slowly conditioned to ignore. One caveat, though, since your article includes a very bad QR Code implementation with a drop-shadow that ruins it: Shadows are generally not a very good idea: If one is employed, be very, very, very careful. A drop-shadow is offset, by definition, which means dark areas are being added in the wrong places. Bad idea. They’re fault-tolerant in the extreme, but adding extra data to every pixel is sure to make a mess.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.