QR Codes vs. Barcodes: Key Differences and When To Use Each

Looking for a seamless way to store and access data? Maybe you’ve already considered Barcodes and Quick Response (QR) Codes but don’t know which one to choose. If so, don’t worry; you’re in the right place. 

Your choice can be the difference between smooth-running operations and hold-ups, making this a critical business decision. 

QR Codes are 2D versions of the Barcode developed by Denso Wave to help deal with some of the inefficiencies of ID Barcodes, like limited storage capacity and unidirectional scanning. Businesses are increasingly generating QR Codes for marketing and inventory management because they’re faster, can hold more information, and are highly resistant to damage. 

Still not sure which technology to choose? Read on for an in-depth look at QR Codes vs. Barcodes. 

Barcodes vs. QR Codes: The key differences to know

Asking you to choose one option without all the vital details is like telling you to order a mystery dish at a new restaurant; the excitement may be there, but the taste may not align with your preferences or dietary choices. So, to ensure you choose the right one, here’s a description of your main options and their differences:

1D Barcodes 

An example of a barcode with basic structure

The basic Barcode structure

Barcodes have a rectangular one-dimensional structure, meaning they are only scannable horizontally. Their information capacity is only up to 100 alphanumeric characters, so they are limited in the scope of where and how they can be used. They might work for basic inventory management, but most companies still need to pay for additional software to keep everything in check. 

Furthermore, you can only scan Barcodes with a special scanning device, so this really only makes them useful for internal business processes. Nevertheless, if you need a very basic label for a small product inventory, Barcodes could be a suitable choice.

The main differences between 1D Barcodes and QR Codes relate to storage capacity, multidirectional scanning capabilities, scanning devices, and scope of use. 

2D Barcodes

2D Barcodes are a significant improvement over ID Barcodes. They store information both horizontally and vertically and, as such, have a higher information capacity than one-dimensional Barcodes—a 2D Barcode can carry up to 7,089 characters, depending on the type. 

Another key difference between 1D and 2D Barcodes is their scannability with regular devices, like smartphones. You can scan 2D Barcodes with mobile cameras or free Barcode scanner apps. Conversely, you need a specialized Barcode reader to scan 1D Barcodes. 

While QR Codes are the most popular type of 2D Barcodes, they aren’t the only ones. Other types include Aztec Codes, MaxiCodes, Data Matrix Barcodes, and PDF417 Codes. 

QR Codes

An example of a QR Code with basic structure

The basic QR Code structure

QR Codes have a two-dimensional structure, meaning that they are scannable both horizontally and vertically and carry a large amount of data. They also contain special design features, like built-in redundancy and their square shape, which makes them extremely error-tolerant and boosts their scanning speed. 

Further, most mobile devices can scan them, eliminating the need for significant investments in Barcode readers. This flexibility is what makes them ideal for marketing campaigns and other business uses.

Common types of 1D Barcodes and their uses

You’ve probably seen quite a few Barcodes throughout your lifetime, most likely at point-of-sale (POS) systems when checking out products. But did you know they aren’t all the same, even if they appear similar? 

Here are three popular types of Barcodes used in the global packaging and retail industries:

UPC Codes

An example of a typical UPC code

A typical UPC Code

UPC Codes, also known as Universal Product Codes, are used in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand for labeling and scanning consumer goods. There are various UPC versions, including UPC-A, which contains 12 digits; UPC-E, consisting of eight digits; UPC-2, with two digits; and UPC-5, with five characters. Each code is suitable for different industries. For example, UPC-A is most common in retail stores, while UPC-5 is primarily used in the book industry. 

EAN Codes

An example of a typical EAN code

A typical EAN Code

A European Article (EAN) Code functions more or less the same as a UPC Code. The difference is the geographic distinction; as made clear by the name, these codes are more common in Europe. The retail industry also uses them for POS labeling and scanning.

ITF (Interleaved 2 of 5)

An example of an ITF barcode

A typical ITF Barcode

ITF Codes are a type of Global Trade Item Number Barcode that is primarily useful for shipping package materials across the globe. These Barcodes hold up to 14 numeric digits and have a higher error tolerance than other types of Barcodes, making them more suitable for goods shipped in cardboard.

Nevertheless, while Barcodes do come in different varieties that are applicable in multiple industries, they are still quite limited outside of packaging and POS. QR Codes are simply much more advanced in all aspects of their structure, which is why they have become so popular on a global scale.

Common types of QR Codes and their uses

If you’re looking for a solution with uses beyond packaging, QR Codes are your best bet, thanks to their versatility. They come in a wide range of types, each with varying use cases for businesses. Here’s a breakdown of some common options:

Dynamic QR Codes

As its name suggests, a Dynamic QR Code allows you to change encoded information even after its creation. Rather than encode data directly on its structure, it carries a short URL that directs scanners to the intended destination. You can redirect the short URL to new landing pages or websites whenever necessary to ensure your audience accesses the latest information. 

Dynamic QR Codes are especially useful in marketing campaigns, as they allow marketers to update the content their target markets see without reprinting new codes. They also provide scan data, such as the number of scans over time, helping inform future campaigns. 

vCard QR Codes

Tired of carrying business cards that are too cluttered? vCard QR Codes are the right option for you. 

These codes work by encoding details like your name, contact information, address, email, and website, allowing you to convey all vital information to potential clients or partners without compromising your business cards’ visual appeal. 

They can come in handy during networking events, as you need to portray a professional image while making connections. They also allow potential clients or connections to automatically scan and save your contact information to their phones.

Wi-Fi QR Codes

Remembering your Wi-Fi password can be challenging. Even when you do, sharing it with every client who enters your premises can be a hassle and present security threats—they may inadvertently share your password with other people who may use your network for illegal activity. 

How do you prevent this? The answer lies in Wi-Fi QR Codes. They allow visitors to gain access to your network with a single scan, eliminating the need to remember passwords or for clients to type them out manually. They also allow you to avoid disclosing passwords, keeping your Wi-Fi network safe from unscrupulous individuals. 

Social Media QR Codes

If you’re looking for ways to boost your visibility, following, or engagement on social media platforms, Social Media QR Codes are the perfect allies. With these QR Codes, it only takes a single scan for your target audience to access your social media profiles. 

Any business with a social media presence can benefit from them. Real estate agencies can embed them on brochures to showcase their properties on social media; restaurants can use them to allow guests to tag them seamlessly; artists can use them to gain followers; the possibilities are endless!

When to use Barcodes vs. QR Codes: Examples to consider

As you’ve seen from the examples discussed above, Barcodes and QR Codes have varying uses. Here, we look deeper at their use cases and some areas where you can use QR Code Generator PRO’s QR Code solution:

Product labeling and retail use

UPC Barcodes are suitable for retail point-of-sale systems and inventory and asset tracking. Standard codes consist of 12 digits, with the first six carrying manufacturer information, the next five consisting of individual product information, like size and color, and the final digit confirming the entire code’s authenticity. This information helps businesses carry out inventory tasks efficiently and simplifies checkout processes. 

However, UPC Barcodes may be limiting if you want to share a lot of information or if you handle numerous products and want to speed up the scanning process. In such cases, you can opt for QR Code Generator’s new 2D Barcode solution. It’s a QR Code with a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) that allows you to enjoy the benefits of both types of Barcodes—you get to provide product identifiers like serial numbers while still leading customers to web content that can boost their experiences. 

Marketing and information sharing

QR Codes are the clear winners for marketing campaigns since they carry more information than standard 1D Barcodes and are scannable by mobile devices. You can link them to website URLs to allow customers to access comprehensive company or product information, social media pages to promote interactive marketing, or PDFs to provide detailed product instructions and manuals—the possibilities are infinite.

And the icing on the cake? If you opt for Dynamic QR Codes, you can track scan metrics to see what resonates with your clients and redirect their destinations to give customers access to the kind of content they want. 

Manufacturing and supply chain management

Barcodes can be a sufficient option for tracking parts and products through manufacturing lines and supply chains, as they carry identifying product information and, if integrated with a company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, can provide real-time product data.

Event ticketing and logistics

Event organizers leverage QR Codes in event planning and management, as they provide easy access to information. You can link your QR Code to a registration site to allow attendees to book their tickets, a landing page that allows guests to RSVP, or even a PDF detailing event speakers and schedules. Incorporating QR Codes into event management facilitates seamless ticketing, information sharing, and invitation and guest management, helping you provide memorable experiences. 

Healthcare and safety tracking

Both Barcodes and QR Codes have plenty of use cases in healthcare and safety tracking. You may come across Barcodes on medication packaging to help with identification and tracking. They may come in handy when assessing drug authenticity, therefore helping medical facilities ensure patient safety. 

You may also find QR Codes on medication packaging to help with authentication, on medical assets to help with tracking, and on patient files or with the patients themselves to provide easy access to health and treatment information. 

10 advantages of QR Codes over Barcodes

While traditional Barcodes are practical for some uses, like product labeling, QR Codes often take the crown because of their data storage capacity, customization capabilities, versatility, and more. If you’re considering whether to use Barcodes or QR Codes for your business, here are a few reasons why QR Codes may be the route to go:

1. Easier to scan

As mentioned above, Barcodes are only scannable with a special device, which means that the average person has no way to read them. While this limitation may work for the packaging industry, it renders Barcodes useless for marketing campaigns or any customer-based product packaging. 

Anyone with a smartphone can scan QR Codes, even at different angles and distances, which is why they’ve found a popular spot in print materials like posters and social media platforms like Snapchat. To scan Snapcodes and other types of QR Codes, you just need to point your camera toward it, and your phone will do the rest. 

2. Improved loading & scanning speeds

An example of how short URLs look in social media posts on LinkedIn and Facebook

Short URL examples being used on social media posts

Barcodes are undoubtedly an improvement over manual inventory-taking systems, as they’re faster. Still, they fall short compared to QR Codes, which you can scan and load information from more efficiently. QR Codes use short URL technology, which condenses any linked information into a shorter link so that it loads faster. You’ve probably seen this technology used on social media pages that often share links. 

3. Unique customization features 

An example of how it looks when you customize your QR Code using QR Code Generator PRO

QR Code Generator PRO customization software

Barcodes have limited to no customization freedom—the farthest you can go is creating white Barcodes, as doing anything more can compromise their scannability. Conversely, you can customize QR Codes to reflect your brand image while still maintaining their readability. All QR Codes created with QR Code Generator PRO enable custom colors, images, or a logo within the QR Code, custom frames and edges, as well as a CTA (call-to-action) next to the QR Code so a user understands its purpose.

4. Always trackable and editable

A screenshot of what you can see through QR Code tracking with QR Code Generator PRO

Demo version of QR Code tracking with QR Code Generator PRO

Editing the information encoded in traditional Barcodes can prove problematic because it increases the risk of misinterpretation by scanning devices. Further, tracking Barcode scanning requires integration with ERP software, as the codes themselves aren’t inherently trackable. This makes QR Codes more suitable for businesses looking for dynamic solutions and in-depth insights into their processes. 

If you opt for Dynamic QR Codes, in particular, you receive crucial tracking information for marketing campaigns. This includes data on scans by city and country, operating device used, time scanned, and unique vs. total scans. 

Furthermore, you can edit and update Dynamic QR Codes whenever you need to. This means if you need to change your link or even change the type of QR Code (such as swap out images with a video), you can do so without needing to create a new QR Code.

5. Link more data

We’ve already mentioned that QR Codes have a higher information capacity than Barcodes. QR Codes hold up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters in a single code. Remember the amount for Barcodes? Around 100! It’s clear why these two-dimensional barcodes are the more popular choice. Barcodes simply can’t compete in that regard.

6. Flexible solutions

QR Code Generator PRO has developed solutions for all your QR Code needs. You can share social media links, create a digital business card, add Event QR Codes to print materials, increase app downloads, and more. On the other hand, Barcodes can only carry limited information, like serial numbers, batch numbers, and manufacturer info. 

7. Ideal for marketing campaigns

An example of a QR Code on a billboard in a busy shopping area

Example of a QR Code used in a marketing campaign

QR Codes are more versatile than Barcodes, which are often confined to inventory management uses. The combination of the components mentioned above (editability, trackability, and customization) makes QR Codes the perfect tool for marketing campaigns. You can test QR Code campaigns across different locations, times, and marketing platforms to optimize your marketing strategies, all while accumulating brand awareness.

Pro tip: QR Code tracking doesn’t stop with the QR Code scan. You can integrate QR Code campaigns with Google Analytics in order to gain a complete understanding of a customer’s journey from QR Code scan to purchase.

8. Makes ROI for print materials calculable

An example of a QR Code in a brochure for an upcoming event

Example of a QR Code on a printed brochure

If your marketing campaign needs to encompass not only digital but also print marketing, QR Codes do this flawlessly. In the past, companies used print mediums like billboards, posters, flyers, brochures, and stickers to spread brand awareness and generate revenue, but you could only guess at the actual return on investment (ROI). QR Codes help solve this problem because you can see exactly how many times your code was scanned, when it was scanned, and where it was scanned. 

Not to mention, it’s way easier for a customer to scan a print QR Code than it is to type in a long link, so you’re more than likely to register a high ROI when you incorporate the technology into your campaigns. 

9. Better error tolerance

QR Codes allow a higher error correction rate than Barcodes—up to 30% of your QR Code can be damaged without affecting its readability. This is possible due to their cleverly designed structural elements. QR Codes use duplicated pixels, meaning that even if a part of the QR Code is destroyed, the other pixels contain the same information, so the QR Code is still readable.

10. Works with an inventory management system

A hand holding a smartphone with a QR Code on it near inventory and a chart showing inventory levels

QR Codes upgrade inventory management systems

If you’re not yet convinced about QR Codes for inventory management, then think again. Not only do Barcodes require a special costly scanning device, but you also need to have a computer nearby to read them. In a busy warehouse, this can be difficult to organize and frustrating for employees. It’s much easier for them to scan a QR Code with a smartphone and have all the data then and there. Furthermore, many inventory management software solutions already integrate QR Codes, so making the switch is easy.

Give QR Codes a try with QR Code Generator PRO

Consider your business requirements and technological capabilities when selecting a type of code to ensure you end up with the right one. If you’re tired of the inefficiencies of the Barcode, make the switch to QR Codes and enjoy a higher data storage capacity, seamless scannability, increased error tolerance, enhanced customization flexibility, and more!

With QR Code Generator PRO, you can meet all your QR Code needs—from creating them to redirecting them, changing their appearance, and tracking their performance—from a centralized platform. Talk about enhancing the convenience of an already convenient solution!

Sign up for QR Code Generator PRO today to elevate your inventory management, marketing strategies, information sharing, or event management with reliable QR Code solutions.

Armanii Glaspie

Armanii is a Product Marketing Manager at Bitly. He received his MBA from the Cox School of Business at SMU, where he concentrated on marketing and strategy. With over four years of marketing experience spanning the SaaS and CPG space, he is passionate about helping companies connect with their customers on a deeper level through the use of tools like Bitly and QR Code Generator. You can find out more about him on his LinkedIn profile.

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