QR barcode scans grew 1200% from July to December 2010. comScore released its findings that, in June 2011, 14 million Americans scanned QR codes on their mobile phones. These numbers show the importance of QR codes and a need to get it right now rather than later. Although the list of QR code guidelines seems listed below seems long, it’s not really that hard of a task to do it right. The first step is knowledge and understanding of what to do and what not to do.

 

Materials

  • QR codes cannot be read on highly reflective or highly curved surfaces, especially when the light hits it just right and whites out the dark squares

 

QR Code - not enough contrast

QR Code - not enough contrast

Color

  • Print on white or soft pastel color background
  • Don’t print on a dark color
  • Do not reverse or invert in print. The black must be black or a dark contrast color for scanners to appropriately pick it up. The scanners use the three dark corner marks as reference points
  • If you’re going to colorize your code, make sure there is at least 55% contrast difference between the squares and the background.

 

Size

  • As small as ¾ inch (19.05mm) on business cards (best 1 inch square (645.16 mm squared) or larger)
  • Most all camera phones can properly read a 1.25 x 1.25” (31.75 mm x 31.75 mm) code. The latest models have been known to read codes that are less than 0.4”x0.4” (10.16 mm x 10.16 mm) but why take the risk?
  • Minimum focal distance of some camera phones can be 3-4” (76.2-101.6 mm)
  • The more complex the code, the larger it should be. vCards are notorious for having a lot of information, so the larger the better.
  • Shorten the URLs – use something like bit.ly or goo.gl. This reduces the amount of data the code needs to hold and makes it much easier to scan. An additional benefit to URL shorteners is that they generally have some tracking capabilities.
  • Give it a small border of white space (at least 1/8”or 3.175 mm gap)
  • Think of the medium and how it’s going to be viewed. It can be smaller on a business card or coffee mug, but needs to be much bigger on a poster or billboard. Don’t put a postage stamp sized QR code on a bus and expect anyone to scan it. To be honest, I don’t think a bus is the best place for a QR code to be scanned anyway.
  • Rule of thumb: 10:1, a QR code that is 1 inch (25.4 mm) could be scanned about 10 inches (254 mm) away.

 

QR Code - stretched

QR Code - stretched

Format

  • Use PNG format when developing/saving your QR code. PNG is a bitmap image format that employs lossless data compression so it suffers no loss when being resized. After it’s resized, you can save it to a different format like jpeg or gif.
  • Make sure when you’re resizing your graphic to scale it proportionately. Don’t stretch or distort the code .

 

Position

  • When in print, keep away from the fold, this improves the ability to scan without reflection of the other facing page
  • Also, know the binding method of the magazine and keep it far enough away to avoid part of the code not being visible
  • In direct mail, keep it away from the edge (remember the white space boarder that is needed) and don’t get it caught in the crease

 

Testing

  • Test in different lighting scenarios
  • Test with Android, BlackBerry, Windows and iPhones and different versions of these as sometimes older iPhones read it different due to the camera resolutions
  • Test for signal strength across different networks. Don’t put your QR code on a poster that’s in a subway where there’s no signal. What’s the point if they cannot get to your content?
  • Make sure the thing you’re linking to works and displays properly on as many phones as possible

 

Usage

  • Explain how to scan, include where to download a reader app. Possibly include a short code that responds with a URL to a QR code reader
  • Print the URL near the QR code as a fallback measure
  • For those without a smartphone, you could also provide a shortcode to text them information, when appropriate
  • Tell them about the “bonus” material they will receive
  • Know why you are using the code. QR codes are a tactic. They are a simple gateway to reduce typing in URLs, text messages or phone numbers. They are a way to make purchasing something, downloading music or apps, get directions or access information. There is a greater strategy behind why you are using QR codes. QR codes aren’t the strategy.

 

Content on the other end of the code

  • Mobile friendly web page. This means no Flash!
  • Send users to a web page that adds value, like a special offers or discounts, time-sensitive promotions or exclusive content that make it worthwhile for them to scan. In other words, motivate the user to take their smartphone out of their purse or pocket, open the app and scan it by giving them a strong call to action.
  • Make sure the landing page has a redirect, just in case the page is ever removed or changed

 

Metrics

 

The QR code management platforms listed above is by no means the only ones available to use. It’s just a list of some that I’ve come across recently. In the near future, I will be looking at the different features and benefits of some of the platforms. So stay tuned and we’ll explore them together.

 

That wraps the best practices or guidelines for QR code usage in print. Good luck with your next campaign. Please comment on any additional suggestions you have that I should add to the list. Thanks.

 

 

33 Responses to QR Code Best Practices for Print

  1. Kelly McIvor says:

    Great article, Judd. What advice do you have for customizing a QR code with a logo? I’ve seen people do this.

  2. One of the most thorough intros to using QR codes I’ve seen… great roundup of what to do and what not to do. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very good article, Judd. QR Codes when used correctly can do many things. They can be used in marketing, packaging to give instructions, as a sign in to an event vehicle, a way to collect payments and the list goes on. You just have to remember that the QR Code is just a way to get the users smart phone to a destination and that the destination should be the focus of your campaign, not the code. By using your excellent suggestions, we will be sure the code fulfills its function.

  4. […] QR Code Best Practices for Print QR barcode scans grew 1200% from July to December 2010. comScore released its findings that, in June 2011, 14 million Americans scanned QR codes on their mobile phones. These numbers show the importance of QR codes and a need to get it right now rather than later. […]

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  6. […] the code is recognizable (people quickly understand that it’s a code to scan) and that you follow QR code best practices when implementing (to ensure the code will […]

  7. Nick says:

    Great summary of best practices.

    My only issue: “Use PNG format when developing/saving your QR code. PNG is a scalable vector graphic so it suffers no loss when being resized.”

    Not true. PNG is a raster format, like JPG and GIF. You want to be working in a vector format, like SVG (the ‘scalable vector graphic’ you refer to), EPS, AI, PDF, etc.

  8. Ryan says:

    I agree with Nick about PNG being a raster format (not vector). The one advantage png has over other raster formats is that the background is easily made transparent. The advantage here is that if your paper is, say, cream-colored, and if it still gives you a strong enough contrast, you can use a QR code without a square of white behind it–the cream color will show through.

  9. Paul Adams says:

    Hi Judd, just found your article – very informative. Can you do us Europeans a favour and include metric sizes as well as imperial when you’re talking about minimum QR code size and scan distance. Saves us reaching for our rulers or nearest conversion software!

  10. Nick says:

    Hi Judd,

    Thanks for the article! An other great 2D Code management service is Tagginn.com. Just Create, Edit and Track your Dynamic QR Codes and MS TAG’s in seconds with tons of features! There’s a Free package available for small businesses. Hope you like it!

    https://www.tagginn.com

    Very best wishes,

    Nick

  11. giorgi says:

    Can anyone please tell me how big must be my QR Code when printed on a A2 size poster ? (25X25 type QR Code) Thanks in Advacne I need your help

    • Judd Wheeler says:

      It really depends on the viewing distance rather than the size of the media it’s printed on. If the viewing distance is 45-75 cm away you can minimally do one approximately 6-10 cm. Examples of this distance would be menus, books, DVDs, etc. If the setting is more like a bus station or zoo, high shelves in a store, your viewing distance is more like 1.2-3.6 meters (4-12 feet). The minimal size for the code would be 16-48 cm (6.3-19 inches). If the space is more public like a bar, bookstore, halls of a movie theater, the distance is more likely to be 3.6-7.6 meters (12-25 feet). A QR code of 48-100 cm (19-39 inches) would be the minimal size for this.
      The key is to run a few tests. Keep in mind, the viewing angle. If it’s not a straight on shot, it may require to increase the numbers I have listed above. I hope this helps.

    • Paul Adams says:

      Hi Giorgi – I think you have to think about the final position of this poster (I’m guessing by the size). If your intended target audience can get right up to it, theoretically it can be as small as 20mm square. But if the poster is physically inaccessible (up high or behind a reception counter for example), try and make the QR Code as large as possible within the context of the rest of the design. It’s a balance between readability and subtlety. I would do some test prints and check using the QR reader app on your smart phone, standing at different distances. The QR Code painted on the roof of Google HQ can be seen from space (see it on Google Maps)!

  12. Ibrahim Aziz says:

    I’m working on business card that have QR code on it,
    it’s quite difficult to determine the code dimension,
    i try 1.2 cm x 1.2 cm, but it’s still hard to read,
    i think i need to change my layout :-(.

  13. TJX says:

    You can also decorate your QR code,
    and not just about the color and contrast, also the shape,
    check this out :
    http://mashable.com/2011/07/23/creative-qr-codes/#gallery/creative-qr-codes/50bde06e5198401b13000231

  14. Lora says:

    Is the QR strictly for print, I work in Movie Theatre advertising and have placed the QR code on our on-screen advertising to purchase tickets. It seems to be working.

    • Judd Wheeler says:

      Great use of QR codes. You’re correct. It certainly isn’t just for print. It works on web sites, TV, digital signage, movie theaters, etc. The key on video is the timing and contrast. The code must be visible long enough for someone to take out their phone, open the app and get a good scan, or have enough notice to get the phone ready. With TVs and digital signage, you need to be aware of things like glare that might make the code unreadable.

      Thank you for your comment Lora. I appreciate it.

  15. Shaira Kaye says:

    The Interactive Print show is where you’ll find out just how easy it is to “supercharge” your marketing, advertising and PR results from any piece print no matter what you do or budget you have. You can listen to some great podcast too! http://www.interactiveprintshow.com/

  16. […] codes can be customized with colors and patterns to better integrate into your print marketing designs and to give you the opportunity to add […]

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