The Quick Response (QR) code revolution has gone from relative obscurity to widespread use in what seems like no time at all. QR codes came into being in 1994, but only now are these black and white patterns are cropping up on anything and everything, from posters to magazine ads and product packaging. They make it far more convenient for consumers to follow web links in printed documents.
In a sense, the QR code is the modern-day barcode. A barcode contains enough numerical data to identify a product at a checkout, but no more; a QR code’s alphanumeric data can define a web URL. It achieves this by adding a dimension.
The data held in a simple one-dimensional barcode is encoded in one direction only, but a greater amount of information can be contained in a two-dimensional 2D barcode, which looks like a chequerboard.
You may have snapped QR codes on your smartphone before, but have you considered incorporating them into your own business materials? They’ll be at home in your product brochures and advertisements, in club newsletters, or even on your business card. And because they can contain phone numbers as well as internet addresses, you could even add them to the Contacts section of your website.
QR code generators are widely available online and easy to use, but there are various pitfalls into which the unwary could all too easily stumble. Here, we provide practical guidance on how to generate QR codes and embed them in a Word file or other document. We focus on using a QR code to direct someone to a website, but most of our instructions also apply if you want to encode a phone number or other element.
Create a QR code
Step 1. Your QR code is likely to be read by a handheld device with a much smaller screen than a desktop or laptop PC, so it’s a good idea to direct followers to a page that’s optimised for mobile devices. Compare our mobile.pcadvisor.co.uk mobile site with our full pcadvisor.co.uk desktop site to see what we mean.
Step 2. A QR code should be as small as possible. To limit the amount of data encoded in it, use a URL-shortening service such as tinyurl.com or bit.ly. This will cut down the length of the web address you want to direct people to. Some QR code generators include such a service, in which case you can skip this step.
Step 3. We’re using the QR code generator at goqr.me, although plenty of others are available and some offer extra features. Click the URL tab and enter the internet address (ideally a shortened version of it) after the ‘http://’. The QR code corresponding to the URL will appear onscreen as you type.
Step 4. Click Options and experiment with the various Error Correction Code levels. Note how your QR code grows larger at the higher levels. In some instances you might want to select a higher level to make your code more resistant to damage but, for now, revert to the default ‘L’ setting to generate a small QR code.
Step 5. Select a value of 4 against ‘Margin around QR code (module)’: This is the minimum recommended value. Click Options if the value isn’t visible. You can stick with the default resolution of 250x250 pixels or choose a higher resolution using the ‘Size’ slider. Click Download to save your code as a PNG file.
Step 6. QR codes don’t have to be black and white. You can alter the background colour and data pixel colour by selecting the relevant options (click Options to see these). This can make a QR code fit in better with a document’s colour scheme, but nothing is as easily readable as black and white.
Step 7. To double-check your QR code contains what you think it does, or to check the content of one someone has sent you, use the online decoder at onlinebarcodereader.com. Click Browse, find and select your file - it will need to be in Jpeg or PNG format - then press ‘Send file’. The contents of the QR code will be shown onscreen.
Step 8. Add your QR code to a document as you would any other image. However, it’s crucial that the square containing the code is big enough. For a Version 1 (21x21 block) code it should be at least 1in square; this rises in proportion to the number of blocks so, for example, a Version 5 (37x37 block) code must be 37/21 = 1.8in.
Step 9. A space of four blocks around the QR code was specified in Step 5. It’s important not to encroach on that white space in designing your document. Although you can position content immediately adjacent to your QR code, which includes this so-called quiet zone, don’t allow anything to overlap it.
Step 10. You might have tested your QR code in Step 7, but now it’s in a document you need to test it works with a smartphone or tablet. Print the page at full size and check that the code takes you to the correct website. If you don’t have a QR code reader on your handset, download one from i-nigma.mobi.
Step 11. You can also add QR codes to web pages. This might allow a phone number to be dialled or contact details to be downloaded to a phone’s address book. Details will vary depending on what software you use for web authoring, but the guidance on minimum size and the quiet zone still apply.
Step 12. QR codes are functional, but they don’t have to be boring. There are many instances of them being used within artwork. Generate your code at a high resolution and with a high error correction level, since customisation will destroy some data. Now get to work in a graphics package.
Step 13. Exactly how you customise your QR code is limited only by your imagination. A good tip is to blank out any area you’re thinking of replacing with an image and make sure that the code remains readable. This way, you won’t waste time on customising a creation that has no use.
Step 14. Having gone to the trouble of creating your QR code, why hide it away on a brochure or business card? QR code T-shirts have become rather fashionable (in a geeky way). You can order one with a standard QR code from goqr.me, or head to Zazzle to include your custom version.