What Is the Difference Between a QR Code and a Barcode?

A QR code vs. barcode comparison shows that — even though both types of barcodes have strong similarities — they are quite different. This is both in relation to how much information they can store and how they are used. 

In this guide, we take a look at the main differences between a QR code vs. barcode, examine how they are used, and conclude which is better for small businesses.

Recommended: Use our free QR code generator to create your business’s QR codes without disclosing any sensitive information.

QR Code vs. Barcode

A QR code is a 2D barcode invented in 1994 by Denso Wave — a Japanese automotive company. QR codes are an encoded version of a URL link or file document, meaning that they can be scanned to direct users towards a:

They can also be used to initiate certain actions. These include:

Barcodes were invented in the US by Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1951, several decades before the invention of QR codes. Each barcode consists of parallel bars and spaces (all of which can have varying widths), which can be scanned and read by using an optical barcode scanner. 

Even though both barcodes and QR codes were invented to facilitate stock management and storage tracking, they do have a few significant differences, including:

  • Data storage capacity
  • Appearance
  • Error correction

Data Storage Capacity

One of the largest differences between a QR code vs. barcode relates to their dimensions. 

Since barcodes can only be scanned in a line, they are more limited than QR codes in the sense that they can only store information horizontally. QR codes, on the other hand, can store information both vertically and horizontally. 

This means that QR codes can store significantly more information than barcodes.

Physical Appearance

If you take a look at a QR code vs. barcode, you will see that they are quite different from each other when it comes to their design. 

Barcodes seem to follow a more “linear” design of vertical lines, while a QR code is made up of black modules and/or squares. QR codes also follow a more “squarish” look, whereas barcodes are generally rectangular.

Unlike QR codes, barcodes also have numbers that are used for identification. The exact number of these can vary depending on your location. Within the US and Canada, the standard barcode format is the 12 digit UPC-A. This has one digit on the left corner of a barcode, one digit on the far right corner, and two sets of five digits in the middle.

Error Correction

QR codes have a built-in ability to restore data to themselves if they are ever damaged (e.g., as a result of wear and tear, etc.). This is known as error correction and, unfortunately, is not a possibility for barcodes. 

There are four levels of error correction. These are all capable of restoring varying amounts of a QR code’s original data:

  • Level L: Able to restore 7% of a QR code’s information
  • Level M: Able to restore 15% of a QR code’s information
  • Level Q: Able to restore 25% of a QR code’s information
  • Level H: Able to restore 30% of a QR code’s information

The higher the level of error correction, the larger the information that will need to be encoded within a QR code. This means the highest levels are not always used as it can make QR codes too complex and unscannable. 

For more information, see our guide on how to fix your QR code scanning problems.

Ways to Use a QR Code

There are several ways that businesses can use QR codes. These include to:

  • Share PDF documents through PDF QR codes
  • Share WiFi network connections through WiFi QR codes
  • Boost online platforms through URL or social media QR codes
  • Improve customer service through contact QR codes
  • Improve advertising by blending digital and printed marketing initiatives

Generally speaking, small businesses use QR codes for marketing and customer service purposes. 

For example, a URL QR code can be included in a printed advertisement (e.g., billboard, flier, etc.) that, when scanned, will direct users towards a business’s online website. This can be very valuable because it ensures that all interested parties can enquire about further information or make a purchase without needing to find or remember a business’s details. 

At the same time, directing offline traffic towards a brand's online platforms can expand its marketing reach, which can in turn translate to significantly more sales and online user engagement. 

QR codes can also be used internally (e.g., providing a WiFi QR code or an email QR code to employees, etc.).

Ways to Use a Barcode

Even though barcodes are generally used for inventory tracking and management, this is not always the case. Other common uses of barcodes include:

  • Event authentication
  • Food intake tracking
  • Offline gaming 

Event Tickets Authentication

Barcodes can be used to authenticate admissions tickets for events. 

This allows businesses to check the “validity” of a ticket before they allow a customer to enter an event, which can be a great mechanism for preventing fake and/or duplicate ticket holders from coming in.

Food Intake Tracking

You can use barcodes in association with a few apps to keep track of your food intake throughout the day. 

If a food that you have eaten comes with a barcode, all you need to do is take a picture of it, and the third-party app that you are using should be able to scan the information within it and determine your food’s specificities.

Online Discounts

Barcodes can be scanned to offer certain discounts for consumers when they are “checking out.” These are usually in the form of a coupon and can be used both in person or online.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a QR code better than a barcode?

A QR code was invented as a product of necessity following the barcode’s inability to scan a sufficient amount of information quickly. 

Having said that, whether a QR code is subjectively better or not than a barcode for your business will depend on your needs, size, and industry. Generally, businesses in all sectors can benefit from using QR codes, whereas this is not really the case when it comes to barcodes.

Should I use a QR code for my business?

Yes. Since QR codes can be generated for free, there is really no reason for you not to incorporate them within your business. 

QR codes can provide the following benefits to businesses:

  • Increased sales revenue
  • Increased advertising revenue
  • Improved brand loyalty
  • Improved return on investment (ROI) for marketing initiatives

How can I create a QR code for free?

You can create a QR code by following these steps:

  1. Find an online QR code generator
  2. Customize your QR codes so that they align with your brand
  3. Test, download, and share your QR codes

For more information, see our guide on how to get a QR code.