Tips for Printing “Well-Rounded” QR Codes on Objects

Coca-Cola does it. KFC does it, too. There’s no reason why you and your clients shouldn’t benefit from the use of QR codes on cups, hats or other promotional items as well.

Bearing in mind the #1 rule of QR code marketing: Make it worth my while! (I know you will not simply send people to your website.)

Rule #2 is equally important though: Ensure the code is readable. Nothing is more frustrating than getting out your smartphone, opening the scan software and not getting anywhere (see “Don’t sabotage your QR code”).

Readability is a simple enough problem to solve. You can basically print QR codes on anything, but they work best on flat, non-textured and non-shiny surfaces. That’s why we see a lot of QR codes on t-shirts and posters, but not so much on cups and mugs. (Notice I didn’t use the word “never” here.)

Last fall, Coca-Cola produced special Slurpee and Big Gulp cups with a QR code that downloaded an interactive app called Snowball Effect. The whole campaign tied into prizes for customers and benefits for the World Wildlife Foundation.

The Well-rounded QR code
Curved and shiny surfaces, however, present challenges for readability. So I turned to digital printing industry analyst and QR-code specialist Heidi Tolliver-Walker for some “well-rounded” insights.

Q: Heidi, let’s talk about QR codes on cups and mugs. Does the curvature of the cup mean you cannot print QR codes on them?

Heidi: It’s been done, but you have to do a lot of testing. It’s important to test different sized codes on the actual mug on which you will be printing (or at least the same size equivalent) and see what works. On a mug, smaller is often better, but you don’t want to print it so small that the camera doesn’t get enough detail either. You have to play with the size and see how large you can make it while still making it readable on the largest number of phones.

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. 

  • QRtco

    Thank you, Sabine, for the useful article. Our users create their own custom QR Codes using our online tool. Though our value is to give the ability to play with nearly every aspect of the QR code and end up with some pretty awesome works of art, we agree: you must test, test, test.

  • Cathlyn

    URL shorteners!!! Why didn’t I think of that? Hahaha thanks for the tips, I did not realize immediately that I can actually minimize the QR code space by using link shorteners. That was a nice save there. QR codes really does help a lot in marketing, just see here: , and you will see that customers will ineteract more with your marketing message just because of these codes in your print. So I think it should be almost mandatory if you do want your prints to be “updated” with the world.