Data Matrix vs QR Codes: An Overview of the Differences

It’s a common misconception that Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes are the same thing, but actually, there are a few major differences. The sections below cover how each one works, what they are commonly used for, and how to read them.

Data Matrix vs QR Codes

Although they do sound similar, there are some major differences between Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes. Whereas Data Matrix Codes have a slightly smaller data capacity and are only used for certain types of product inventory, QR Codes have a much wider range of uses and can hold more data.

What is a QR Code?

A QR Code is a 2-D, square-shaped Code made of black and white pixels, but they can hold up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters, giving them a larger data capacity compared to a Data Matrix Code. The more data they hold, the more modules are added to compensate. QR Code encoding is based on seven elements that describe how they should be read, what data they hold, their formatting, and more. QR Codes also have an error correction level that ranges from 7-30%, which can be selected manually. If the error correction is higher, that in turn reduces the data capacity.

A black and white QR Code
A QR Code

How are QR Codes used? 

Asking yourself, “How do QR Codes work, and what is their history?” Well, their history begins in Japan, where they were invented to meet the growing demand for better product inventory management. Their ancestor, the Barcode, did not have a large enough data capacity and flexibility for large amounts of products that passed through stores like supermarkets, so QR Codes were developed as a more advanced option for tracking and shipping products.

Nowadays, QR Codes are even used for much more than product inventory management. Because they use simple 2-D technology, their easy readability with smartphones has turned them into a global technology trend that has a wide variety of uses across business, marketing, and advanced product QR Code inventory management

What is a Data Matrix Code?

A Data Matrix Code is also a 2-D (readable horizontally and vertically), square-shaped Code made of black and white pixels that can hold up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters, fewer than a QR Code. The more data you add, the larger the number of rows and columns (modules) it contains. It also typically has an L shape form on the left-hand and bottom sides of the Data Matrix Code, which makes it readable for scanners. It has an error correction level of 30%, meaning up to nearly one-third of the Data Matrix Code can be damaged and still be scanned. The error correction level is automatically determined depending on its size and how much data capacity is left.

A black and white data matrix code
A Data Matrix Code   

How are Data Matrix Codes used?

Data Matrix Codes were originally developed by the company RVSI Acuity CiMatrix (later acquired by Siemens) to be used for labeling parts and laser marking in the aerospace, electronic, and automotive industries, particularly for smaller manufacturing items. Widely used across Europe and the US, they have been standardized according to ISO/IEC 16022, making them easier to scan and ship across different countries.

How to scan Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes

Because both types of Codes use similar 2-D technology, they can both be scanned with a third-party QR Code scanning app. If you’d like to know how to scan a QR Code on an iPhone with iOS, it’s easy: newer versions scan them directly with a camera. How to scan a QR Code on Android? Well, that’s a little bit trickier – it depends on the model. You’ll need to check if your phone has that capability.

After scanning either Code, you’ll be automatically redirected to whatever information is stored on them. With Data Matrix Codes, this data is about the product itself. With QR Codes, the data can be practically anything, including links, images, videos, PDFs, and more.

6 reasons QR Codes are better than Data Matrix Codes

While Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes sound quite similar, the amount of applications that QR Codes have extends far beyond Data Matrix Codes. QR Codes hold more data, have a wider variety of types, and can even be customized and tracked for marketing campaigns, making them the clear choice for most businesses. 

#1 Better product inventory management

QR Codes have been improving product inventory management systems since they were invented. Because they are more versatile and hold larger amounts of data, they are a much more suitable choice than Data Matrix Codes. You can also use a batch QR Code generator to make QR Codes in large batches or customize them to contain certain types of information, such as product manuals, which are helpful for employees. Many product inventory systems integrate QR Codes into their systems anyway, so switching over is not a problem, especially because all you need is a smartphone to scan them.

QR Codes on skinON product packaging
QR Codes work perfectly for product inventory management

#2 Flexible uses for business and marketing

Data Matrix Codes have nowhere near the capabilities that QR Codes do regarding the types of data they can store. Plus, there are many different QR Code types. This is why QR Codes have become popular in the business and marketing world: they can be used for things like connecting others to business pages, sharing all social media profiles in one place, video sharing, image sharing, sound file sharing, event registration, and much more.

QR Code on a real estate agent's business card prompting people to scan and get to know the company
A QR Code on a print business card can connect to a business page

Secondly, whereas Data Matrix QR Codes only hold product inventory data, QR Codes offer more uses. For example, product marketing with QR Codes. The image below shows just that: The box for a juicer has a Video QR Code that connects users with a video tutorial about how to use that product. The same concept applies if you want to inform employees about how a product works with a video as well.

QR Coe on a home juicer product package prompting the buyer to scan and watch the product tutorial
A video tutorial for a product becomes easy to access with a Video QR Code

#3 Unlimited size options

QR Codes are not limited in size, unlike Data Matrix QR Codes. As mentioned above, Data Matrix Codes are used to label smaller products, but QR Codes can be made as large as you need — you can even put a QR Code on a billboard ad. Actually, there is no QR Code size limit for how big they can be. You only need to keep in mind that they need to be large enough and have high enough image quality to be scanned from a distance.

QR Code on a financial company's billboard ad prompting people to scan and follow their social media
An example of a QR Code on a billboard ad to be scanned from far away

#4 Easy marketing campaign tracking

QR Codes are the obvious choice for anyone who wants to combine product packaging with marketing campaigns due to QR Code tracking data. If it’s between a Static vs Dynamic QR Code, using the latter allows for QR Code tracking. Scan metrics include time scanned, location scanned by city or country, operating device used, and unique vs. total scans. This information not only enables you to use QR Codes for product inventory management but also to create marketing campaigns and compare them across different time periods and locations.

Visual representation of the different scan metrics available with QR Code Generator — scans by time, device, country, and city
An overview of QR Code scan tracking data

If you want to really go pro with QR Code marketing, you can even integrate QR Code campaigns with Google Analytics and monitor everything from the first QR Code scan up through a final purchase.

#5 Full-scale customization

You never have to worry about QR Codes looking strange on your graphic designs because you can style QR Codes to match pretty much anything — something you certainly cannot do with Data Matrix Codes. You can use a custom QR Code frame with an editable CTA (call-to-action), certain colors, edge styles, and a logo in the middle. 

What’s more, the content you show on your QR Code display page (such as colors, links, videos, images, or even contact details) is customizable, too. QR Code images can also be downloaded as four different image file formats (JPG, PNG, SVG, EPS) to give you full control over how you use them. All you need to do is download its image and add it to your design with any photo editing software.

The QR Code customization panel in a QR Code Generator Pro account
QR Code customization options with QR Code Generator PRO

QR Codes are not limited to print materials either because they come with an automatically generated (and customizable) short URL. A QR Code short URL is a cleaner and speedier version of the same QR Code content that is clickable, which makes it super easy to use for digital marketing, or a combination of print and digital.

#6 Editable after printing

What is likely the coolest part of QR Codes? You can even edit them after printing! If you choose a Dynamic QR Code, you can update your internal display page content and your short URL anytime you need. So if you accidentally made a mistake in your link or even want to change your type of QR Code, you do not need to create a new QR Code to do so. This saves huge amounts of time and money for both product inventory and marketing campaigns.

Say goodbye to Data Matrix Codes and say hello to QR Codes!

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