Simple questions: What are QR codes and why are they useful?

QR codes are everywhere: you can find them printed on the packaging of your latest gadgets, you can find them on business cards, included on presentations at conferences, you can even see them painted on buildings. People and companies use them to store and distribute all kinds of information, in a manner that is quickly accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Have you seen how a QR code looks? Did you scan one? Do you know what a QR code does? If you do not, read this guide to learn everything that you should know about QR codes, including how to create one:

What is a QR code?

The QR code term stands for Quick Response Code. QR codes are square barcodes (two-dimensional barcodes) that were first developed and used in Japan. Like any other barcode, a QR code is nothing more than a way to store information in a machine-readable optical label. The data contained by a QR code can be anything from simple text, to email addresses, to phone numbers and so on.

QR codes store data using patterns of black dots and white spaces, arranged in a square grid. These patterns can be scanned and translated into human readable information, with the help of an imaging device, like a camera or a scanner, although the most common way to scan QR codes nowadays is to use your smartphone's camera and a specialized app for reading QR codes.

Why are QR codes useful?

QR codes are easy to generate and use. They are a convenient way to store all kinds of data in a small space. If the data you want to store in a QR code is made of only alphanumeric characters, a single QR code can hold up to 4000 characters.

What are QR codes used for?

As they can store different types of information, QR codes are used for many purposes. QR codes are commonly used for holding data such as:

  • Simple text - welcome messages at conferences
  • Addresses - personal home address, business address
  • Phone numbers - personal telephone number, your company's phone number
  • E-mail addresses - personal or business accounts
  • URLs - addresses of websites or specific web pages
  • Links to apps - found in app stores such as Google Play or Apple's App Store
  • Payments - QR codes can store information about your bank account or credit card
  • Online accounts authentication - websites can display a QR code which a registered user can scan with his or her smartphone and automatically login
  • WiFi authentication - QR codes can be used to store WiFi networks authentication details such as SSID, password and encryption type: when you scan such a QR code using your smartphone, it can automatically join that network
  • Other various uses - such as funerary (according to Wikipedia, in Japan, there are tombstones with QR codes that point to web pages that hold information about the deceased), or for transcripts and degrees (used mainly in India, China, Mexico)

The truth is that you can store lots of types of information in a QR code and it all depends only on your imagination. For example, you could also use a QR code to point someone to your Facebook page, or you could use it to display a poem you wrote. It is all up to you.

Where are QR codes displayed?

You can find QR codes in all kinds of locations, but some of the most common places where you can see them are:

  • On business cards, containing contact details of all kinds
  • On the packaging of smartphones and other gadgets, containing links to apps, the support service for the gadget that you purchased, the product page with information about that gadget and so on
  • On TV advertisements, billboards, online ads and other types of advertisements
  • On inventory tags in enterprises, containing information like serial numbers, part numbers, hardware specs, inventory dates and so on

In short, you can place a QR code on anything that can be seen and scanned with a smartphone: from a piece of paper to a piece of cloth, to a TV screen or a building facade. The possibilities are endless.

How do you scan a QR code?

The easiest and the most common method to scan QR codes is to use your smartphone and a QR scanning app. There are countless QR scanning apps in Google's Play Store, and there are also plenty of such tools in Apple's App Store. Usually, all you have to do is to point your smartphone's camera to a QR code, and the QR scanning app translates it. If you happen to use an Android smartphone or tablet, an iPhone or iPad, or even an old Windows 10 Mobile smartphone, there are several guides that we published which can help you:

Try them out and scan the QR code below to see the information that we stored in it.

How do you create a QR code?

Before creating your QR codes, first, make sure that you know what kinds of information you want to store and where you intend to distribute the QR codes. Once you have that figured out, use your favorite web search engine and look for "QR code generators." There are plenty of such free tools on the internet, and these two are some of the best: QR Stuff and QR Code Monkey.

Do you read or create QR codes often?

QR codes are a neat way of storing data in a small space. As you have seen in this guide, you can store lots of types of data and distribute it to others using all kinds of media. Do you use your smartphone to read QR codes? Are you also creating QR codes for yourself or your business? Ask any questions you might have on this subject, in the comments section below.