Data Matrix vs. QR Codes: An Overview of the Differences

It’s a common misconception that data matrices and QR Codes are the same thing. In reality, there are a few major differences—including their use cases.

However, both do look similar at first glance. So, what are the differences? We’ll examine them below and see how data matrices and QR Codes stack up against each other. 

What is a QR Code?

A QR Code is a two-dimensional barcode (readable horizontally and vertically) in a square-shaped pattern of black and white pixels. It might not look like much, but it can hold up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters, giving it a larger data capacity than a Data Matrix Code. 

The more numeric data these 2D codes hold, the more modules are added to compensate. QR Code encoding is based on seven elements that describe how scanners should read them, what data they hold, their formatting, and more. 

QR Codes also have an error correction level that ranges from 7–30%. However, the higher the error correction, the less data capacity a QR Code has.

A black and white QR Code
A QR Code

How are QR Codes used?

QR Codes’ history begins in Japan, where they were invented to meet the growing demand for better product inventory management. 

Their ancestor, the Barcode, didn’t have a large enough data capacity or flexibility for large amounts of products that passed through stores like supermarkets. So, QR Codes developed as a more advanced option for tracking and shipping products.

Nowadays, QR Codes are used for much more than product inventory management. Some examples include:

  • Presenting contactless restaurant menus.

  • Showcasing recipes in magazines and newspapers.

  • Processing mobile payments in retail stores.

  • Streamlining asset management and supply chain processes. 

  • Providing information to guests at historical sites and museums.

Because they use simple 2D technology, their easy readability with smartphones as scanning devices has turned them into a global technology trend with 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 2D, square-shaped Code made of black and white pixels, but it can only hold up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters. 

The more data you add, the larger the number of rows and columns (modules) a Data Matrix Code contains. It also typically forms an L shape along the left-hand and bottom sides, which makes it readable for scanners. 

Like QR Codes, Data Matrix Codes have error correction capabilities of 30%—meaning up to nearly one-third of the Code can be damaged and still work. However, 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) for labeling parts and laser marking in the aerospace, electronic, and automotive industries—particularly for smaller manufacturing items. 

Widely used across Europe and the U.S., they have been standardized according to ISO/IEC 16022, making them easier to scan and ship across different countries. 

Data Matrix Codes are primarily used in the manufacturing and food industries. There, these codes are implemented in autocoding systems to make sure products are dated and packaged correctly. 

The 3 key differences between Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes

Although they do sound (and look) 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 functionality, and feature enhanced traceability features. 

We’ll look at a few other significant differences between the two below.

User experience and accessibility

QR Codes are generally more widely recognized and used, adopted by most industries in countries worldwide. They’re easy to scan from any smart device with a built-in scanner or third-party scanning app for a seamless experience for businesses and customers alike. 

In addition, QR Codes are highly accessible and used in marketing campaigns, promotions, and even museums. Data Matrix Codes are usually more niche and aren’t ideal for marketing or generic use. 

Creative applications

QR Codes aren’t just easy to create—they’re also easy to distribute. You can publish QR Codes on marketing materials, billboards, and even subway posters. 

Because of this, QR Codes are widely used across the world in a variety of different industries, from manufacturing to healthcare.


Because Data Matrix Codes are used in product and food industries, they have to conform to specific industry ISO standards. QR Codes, however, are much more versatile for consumer or professional applications.

In fact, you can customize your QR Codes any way you want. If you want to tailor your codes specifically to your brand colors, font, or logo, you have complete control.

How to scan Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes

Because both types of Codes use similar 2D 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, it’s easy: Newer versions scan them directly with a camera. What about how to scan a QR Code on Android? That may be a little trickier since it depends on the device model. You’ll need to check if your phone has that capability.

After scanning either code, you’ll be automatically redirected to the information stored on them. 

With Data Matrix Codes, this data is about the product itself (a product part, food or beverage item, and so on). With QR Codes, the data can be practically anything, including links, images, videos, PDFs, and more. 

Because of their unique shape and pattern, QR Codes can be scanned from long distances. It only takes a few seconds for a smartphone camera to focus on and scan a QR Code compared to a Data Matrix Code. 

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.

In any case, QR Codes are quickly becoming a go-to solution for product inventory management in consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail industries. In fact, 2D barcodes used by inventory and POS systems will be replaced with what’s being called a “2D Barcode” right now.

As a result, these industries would no longer rely on the Data Matrix Code format due to the limited amount of data that can be passed.

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 QR Codes’ capabilities regarding the types of data they can store. Plus, there are many different QR Code types that can elevate marketing efforts and business efforts. 

That versatility is why QR Codes have become popular in the modern world: You can use them for connecting customers 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 customers 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. 

There’s no QR Code size limit. 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 enables you to use QR Codes for product inventory management, 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 go pro with QR Code marketing, you can even integrate QR Code campaigns with Google Analytics and monitor everything from a customer’s first QR Code scan to their 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 just about anything—something you definitely can’t do with Data Matrix Codes. 

You can use a custom QR Code frame with an editable call to action (CTA), branded colors, edge styles, and a logo in the middle to make your marketing materials cohesive. 

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. You can download QR Codes in four different image file formats (JPG, PNG, SVG, and 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 aren’t limited to print materials, either; 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 don’t need to create a new QR Code from scratch. You can simply log into your QR Code Generator account, make the updates, and save the code. This saves huge amounts of time and money for both product inventory and marketing campaigns.

Generate QR Codes for all your needs with QR Code Generator PRO

While Data Matrix Codes look similar to QR Codes, both are very different from each other. QR Codes are a superior option for people looking to enable all kinds of interactions with their brand. 

You can develop QR Codes for virtually any source material—from PDFs to music files. They’re also easy to create, customize, and distribute, making them a robust, cost-effective solution that gives businesses and customers alike a more seamless experience. 

Want to see how custom QR Codes can elevate your operations and marketing efforts? Get started with QR Code Generator PRO

Tobias Funke

Tobias Funke is Bitly’s Vice President of Product. With a background in software engineering, he has a decade of combined experience in product development and the QR Code space. Tobias leads a team that developed one of the most successful and popular QR Code generators available. His entrepreneurial and growth mindset helps build products that continuously disrupt the market. You can connect with Tobias on LinkedIn.

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