Printing QR Codes: Everything You Need To Know

QR code

Welcome to’s guide to using QR codes in your printing…

QR code for smartphone

What are QR codes?

You’ve probably already seen dozens of QR, short for Quick Response, codes in everything from business cards and bus shelters to posters and ketchup bottles. They are a little 2D barcode square made of black and white blocks. They kind of look like a crazy b&w maze – or 1970s Space Invader – that’s been blown apart.

What can QR codes do?

QR codes are essentially a way to link the physical world with the digital universe. Think of them as a paper-based hyperlink to a website. Although QR codes aren’t restricted to paper, they’ve even appeared on pizzas and the bikini bottoms of beach volleyballers! Simply point your smartphone or tablet camera at the QR code and you’ll be instantly transferred to a website. That is, IF you’ve got a QR reader app installed, or built-in, to your smartphone or tablet. Instead of a website link, QR codes can contain different information like a phone number or SMS text message.

As a bonus, employing a unique QR code makes it easy for a business or organisation to track and analyse the results of a print marketing campaign. This is something that’s always proved tricky to achieve in the past.

Who invented QR codes?

Denso Wave, a division of Toyota in Japan, originally invented the QR code in 1994 to quickly track car parts around their factory production line. The advertising and marketing industries instantly saw the potential for applying QR codes in the wider world and the QR phenomenon soon spread across Japan and eventually overseas. Today, Japan still remains the world’s most prolific user of QR codes.

Which companies use QR codes?

In a word: everybody. Big brands including Adidas, Budweiser, Calvin Klein, Coke, Guinness, Heinz, Kellogg’s, Mattel, Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, Tesco, Universal Pictures and Volkswagen have all successfully launched multi-channel marketing campaigns that feature QR codes in them.

Many smaller firms are also taking full advantage of this technology to help attract and excite customers in new and novel ways. Maybe your local restaurant uses QR codes for each dish printed in their menu? These codes could automatically send your smartphone to a mobile website with additional nutritional information about the ingredients, video interviews with the chef, or the ideal wine choices for this particular meal. Does the bill also include a QR code for a special offer if you return to the restaurant within the month? Take another look around your neighbourhood and you may be surprised by the QR codes that you will find.

How do you create QR codes?

It’s a quick and easy process to create a QR code – it’s literally done in a minute. There are lots of websites that allow you to make them. Many are free. Others charge a fee for the extra services they provide, like the capability to track the success or failure of your QR code campaign if you’re not a Google Analytics warrior yourself. UK-based is a good place to start. Just search on Google for “QR code generator” or “QR code creator” to find more.

How big should the QR code be?

That depends on the scanning distance. Up close, with a flyer or magazine page for example, the size of the QR code square should be around 2.5cm. If the QR code is plastered on a billboard or the side of a building, it would need to be much bigger. We’re talking about 2 meters wide in that situation.

Also remember to keep the info in your QR code as simple possible to ensure it scans more reliably in all lighting conditions. As more data is packed into a QR code, the denser it becomes visually. Ideally, you should use a URL shortener like or for website links used in any QR code.

What’s the three golden rules for QR codes? can’t stress this first point strongly enough. NEVER use a QR code that sends the person to a website that hasn’t been fully optimised for viewing on a mobile phone and tablet. Remember, this is the gadget they’ll be using to read your QR code in the first place. Many marketing folk immediately ruin the chances of success with their own QR campaigns because they’ve forgotten this fact.

It takes a lot of effort for a person to scan a QR code in with their smartphone. If you can use your Facebook page or website address instead, then do it.

Finally, don’t put a QR code where it’s difficult or virtually impossible to actually scan them in. Otherwise, you could be seeing yours end up at in their wall of shame. This funny blog (justifiably) pours scorn on the QR codes that should have never seen the light of day.

What type of QR code works best?

QR codes that offer discount vouchers, special promotions or product information have consistently proven to be the most effective use of this medium over the years.

Are QR codes popular in the UK?

According to research conducted by digital marketing supremo in October 2011, over 19% of UK consumers have scanned a QR code.

Is there an alternative to QR codes?

Augmented Reality (AR) and Near Field Communication (NFC) are two technologies that offer far more functionality and interactivity between smartphones and print media. will be explaining – and showcasing – both of them in future blog articles.


  1. I’m not convinced about QR codes. I really want them to work, it would open up so many more marketing opportunities and could increase customer response massively! But it just seems like such a hassle for consumers to download an app to be able to scan them in the first place!

  2. I think there a great idea personally, its all about convenience and I think this really does improve convenience for users. So therefore it is a good and effective advertising tool when used properly. However I think its important to bare in mind not everyone has a phone equipped enough to be able to scan these and therefore they are isolated. Using QR should be combined with old style marketing tools so the whole market is reached effectively.

  3. Interesting post. However I am not convinced QR are more practical or effective with respect to more traditional advertisement tools

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