Don’t Sabotage Your QR Code

“Scanning…” “Hold over QR code.” “Scanning…”

My QR code reader was in a loop of error messages and had no intention of snapping out of it.

“Hold over QR code…”

The real-estate section of our Sunday paper was chock full of QR codes. Most of them didn’t include any instructions—make that none of them. Realtors in our area seem to assume everyone knows what a QR code is and how to use it. Fine with me, but the question is: DO people know how to use them?

Anyone can print a QR code, but making it readable seems to be a challenge at times. My reader had no problem picking up some of the other QR codes, so what was the problem with this specific barcode? (If I got frustrated, I can only imagine how the other recipients felt.)

Let’s look at some QR code basics. I know, “the basics”… how boring. But if folks are out there sabotaging codes at this basic level, how can we progress to the more fancy applications (cups, hats, etc.) I want to talk about in my next post.

• The size.

According to several industry experts, it’s recommended to use a minimum size of 32×32 mm or 1.25×1.25˝, excluding the quiet zone, for QR codes that contain a URL. This guarantees that all camera phones on the market can properly read the barcode.

Granted, as new phones and their cameras improve in resolution, you theoretically can make the code smaller. But—and this is a big but—with a smaller code, you only allow the newest phones to scan your code. You lose the ability for any older phones (and in this technology-driven age, any phone older than two months is an antique) to read your code.

Changing the code size to 26×26 mm or roughly 1˝ square still covers 90 percent of the phones on the market. But the smaller your code, the smaller your audience will be.

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 

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  • Chris Eckeard

    I also recommend including the URL below the QR code so that non-smart phone users can also gain access. With only 20% of those smart phone users knowing what a QR code is, having the URL there helps to get your message out.

  • Eddy Hagen (VIGC)

    It is important to know that it is not the size of the QR code that is important, it is the ‘module size’ (so the individual square) that is really important. If that is too small, it will render the QR code unreadable for many devices.

    We’ve just released an in depth guide on that, together with InfoTrends:

  • elizabeth

    URL length also plays a part in size. The longer the URL, the more data the code has, the more "unreadable" at smaller sizes.