Common QR Code Scanning Problems and How to Fix Them

Feeling frustrated because your QR Code isn’t working? Issues with your QR Code happen to the best of us despite their high levels of error tolerance, so we’ve outlined some tips for how to solve these problems.

How do QR Codes work?

QR Codes were originally developed as more advanced versions of Barcodes to help with product inventory management. Barcodes are 2D, meaning they can only be read by a special scanner in a horizontal direction. As a result, Barcodes are quite limited in the information they can hold and were not enough for supermarkets that needed to increase their available products in order to meet customer demand. This is why QR Codes were invented: they can be read both horizontally and vertically due to their square shape, as well as are easy to scan for any smartphone. Consequently, they can hold much more information than Barcodes and are more accessible to the average person. They can also be created in large batches, as well as come in editable and updatable versions known as Dynamic QR Codes.

These many advantages are what has made QR Codes so popular. In China, they are used across the board in daily life. They are also fantastic for marketing campaigns because they reach both mobile and desktop users, as well as can link to a huge variety of information through the different types of QR Codes, in which each QR Code is customizable. That’s why businesses around the globe have begun to use them to generate sales, as well as for internal business processes.

What is QR Code error correction?

QR Codes are structured in such a way that they can withstand errors, which is another of their benefits that goes beyond Barcodes. Known as error correction, QR Codes can sustain up to 30% of structural damage and still continue to function. The pixelated parts you see on a QR Code are doubled so that if some are damaged, then others make up for them and still convey the data to the scanner. This makes QR Codes extremely weather-resistant, which is what makes them ideal for product packaging that undergoes global shipping, as well as on print materials like billboards or posters that are hung outside.

Out of seven total structural elements of a QR Code, there are three that focus on error correction:

QR Code data and error correction keys

Data and error correction keys: These patterns hold the bulk of the data linked to the QR Code.

QR Code format information

Format information: These sections include error tolerance levels, as well as the data mask pattern (the pattern that creates the QR Code), so the QR Code is easy to scan.

QR Code quiet zone

Quiet zone: This space separates the data in the QR Code from surrounding graphic elements so that a scanner knows what to scan.

Typical QR Code scanning problems & their solutions

While QR Codes are quite the sturdy technology and are easy to read with any smartphone, sometimes improper designs can render them unscannable. There are things to look out for such as color mismatches, materials the QR Code will be used on, its size, and more. Here we’ve outlined the most common QR Code scanning problems and how they can be resolved.

#1 Not enough space around the border

Example of an unscannable QR Code without the quiet zone

Problem: The quiet zone that distinguishes the QR Code from the surroundings is too small or nonexistent, so the QR Code can’t be read. In the photo below, note that the QR Code pixels are red, as well as the background color of the total image. Because the design has left out the quiet zone, the scanner can’t determine what is the graphic and what is the QR Code.

Example of a QR Code with the appropriate quiet zone width

Solution: Make sure to always leave enough space for the quiet zone. The ideal size would be if the quiet zone is at minimum four times larger than the width of your QR Code modules. When in original form, the modules are the black pixels that make up the QR Code (or also come in color when customized). The more data that you add to a QR Code, the smaller those pixels will become. Nevertheless, this is not a reason to reduce the quiet zone perimeter to compensate.

#2 Design color mismatch

Example of a QR Code with no color contrast from the background

Problem: The background material color is the same as the QR Code so the QR Code has faded into the design. A scanner can’t determine what is the design and what is the QR Code.

Example of a well-designed QR Code with good color contrast

Solution: Design QR Codes to match the background colors, but not in a manner that the QR Code is lost in the design. Maintain the quiet zone and make sure that the pixels stand out against the background or any surrounding color designs. In the example below, you can see that the design actually looks better when the QR Code colors contrast from the background, yet still, match with the overall design.

#3 Hidden by material color

Example of a QR Code that lacks color contrast from the background material

Problem: Color contrast problems can also occur from background materials. This QR Code has been placed on a shop front and has used a transparent color contrast. Again the QR Code is lost in the color of the material and a scanner can’t read it, nor will passersby be able to notice it.

Example of a QR Code with color contrast from the background material.

Solution: All QR Codes must be printed with the quiet zone clearly separating the QR Code from its design, as well as uses colors that stand out from the background material. The design in the example below matches the shop front design and is clearly visible to anyone who walks by.

#4 Too blurry

Example of a blurry QR Code

Problem: When the QR Code was designed, it was too small or not of high enough quality. So when the QR Code was printed, the image now appears blurry and can’t be scanned. It also detracts from the design of the total print material and deters customers.

Example of a cleanly printed QR Code

Solution: For small scale printing, QR Codes work in JPG and PNG formats. But if you’re looking for high-quality that will satisfy a graphic designer, opt for EPS or SVG vector files that are scalable without losing print quality.

#5 Too small or too big

Problem: Either your QR Code is so small that no one can see it, or your QR Code is so big that it takes over the design. Either way, you won’t get many QR Code scans with improper sizing in your design.

Example of a QR Code on a brochure that is too small

Solution: If your print material is small or medium-sized (such as business cards or flyers), QR Codes should be at minimum 2 x 2 cm (about 0.8 x 0.8 in). If your print material is larger, you of course then need to scale the QR Code with the size of the design. This size depends on exactly what size you’re looking for. When in doubt, go for a bigger QR Code and test the prints to ensure the QR Code is the correct size.

Problem: There is a 404 error code that pops up after a user scans the QR Code. This is because the link is either missing or incorrect, deterring valuable customers.

The error that appears when there is a missing or incorrect link from a QR Code

Solution: Make sure that your link is up to date for any marketing campaigns. Test it yourself before promoting it to customers. If you need to update or edit your link, even as a possibility in the future, create your QR Code as a Dynamic version so that you can change it at any time. The type of QR Code solution can be adjusted as well (such as a Video QR Code to an Image QR Code), all without disturbing the appearance of the original QR Code.

#7 Overloaded content

Problem: The QR Code has been overloaded with too much data, which slows down the scan time, as well as makes the linked information take way too long to load. Long load times deter customers and lose potential sales.

Example of a QR Code with too much data

Solution: Instead of linking tons of information to one QR Code, consider which elements might be relevant for each specific campaign. Use the QR Code for one specific type of information instead of several at once. The purpose of QR Codes is not to hold as much information as possible. Rather, the point is to connect the user with the appropriate information in a quick and convenient manner.

Example of a QR Code with an appropriate level of data

#8 Not using a square shape

Example of a QR Code that isn’t a square

Problem: QR Codes were designed to have a square shape because that’s what gave them their technological advances of increased data capacities and quick scan times. Without keeping that structure intact, the QR Code simply won’t work as efficiently.

QR Codes should always be made as a square

Solution: QR Codes that maintain their square shape mean that they link to their connected information efficiently and can also be scanned quickly, which is exactly what makes them so convenient for customers. All QR Codes made with QR Code Generator uses a square shape specifically for this purpose.

Adriana Stein

Adriana Stein is a Freelance Content Writer for Egoditor GmbH and is originally from Oregon, USA. She is now based in Hamburg, Germany, and specializes in creating and managing SEO and content marketing strategies for businesses across a variety of industries. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn!

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