2D Barcode vs QR Code: Key Differences Explained

2D barcode vs QR code

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Many people often confuse 2D barcodes and QR codes, thinking they are the same and use them interchangeably. However, these two terms are not the same.

So, what exactly is the difference? To put it simply, all QR codes are 2D barcodes, but not all 2D barcodes are QR codes. This means that QR codes are a specific type of 2D barcode with unique features, whereas 2D barcodes represent a broader category that includes various barcode formats and symbologies.

In this article, we will explain the key differences between 2D barcodes and QR codes to help you determine which is best for your specific applications. Let’s dive in and clarify these commonly misunderstood terms.

What is a 2D Barcode?

What is a 2D barcode

A 2D barcode, or two-dimensional barcode, is a type of barcode symbology that stores data in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. Unlike traditional barcodes, which use vertical lines and spaces, these barcodes encode data using various geometric shapes and patterns, such as squares, dots, and hexagons.

The two-dimensional structure of 2D barcodes allows them to store a significant amount of data within a smaller physical space. They can encode various data types, including URLs, images, symbols, and non-English characters like Kanji.

Some common types of 2D barcodes are. 

What is a QR Code?

Definition of a QR code

A QR code, or Quick Response code, is a specific type of 2D barcode that consists of square and rectangular modules arranged in a grid-like pattern. These modules are responsible for encoding data within the QR code. 

QR codes are easily recognisable. They feature three identical square structures, known as position markers, located at the top right, top left, and bottom left corners of the barcode. These markers consist of a dark square within a dark frame. 

Additionally, QR codes have at least one (and sometimes multiple) smaller square structures called alignment markers. These markers contain a black dot within a square frame and are usually located at the bottom right corner.

QR codes are easily scannable via smartphones, making them versatile for a diverse range of applications in both commercial and personal contexts. Common uses include asset tracking, marketing, advertisement, event ticketing, and mobile payments.

QR Code vs 2D Barcode: What's the Difference?

Comparison table between 2D barcode and QR code

Although QR codes are a type of 2D barcode, there are distinct differences between them and other 2D barcodes. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right technology for your needs.

Design and Structure

  • 2D Barcodes: 2D barcodes have various physical shapes such as square, rectangle, triangle, circle, and various other obsolete shapes. They can use different graphical patterns like dots and hexagons to encode data in both horizontal and vertical dimensions.
  • QR Codes: QR codes have a specific square or rectangle shape. They consist of square and rectangular modules arranged in a grid pattern that stores data in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. 

Data Capacity

  • 2D Barcodes: Generally, 2D barcodes can store more data compared to traditional 1D barcodes. The exact data capacity depends on the type of 2D barcode used.
  • QR Codes: QR codes have a high data capacity, capable of storing up to 7,089 numeric characters, 4,296 alphanumeric characters, 2953 bytes of data, or 1817 Kanji characters. It’s important to note that this data capacity can vary based on the specific type of QR code used.

Error Correction

  • 2D Barcodes: Different types of 2D barcodes have varying error correction levels. The exact percentage of error correction depends on the chosen 2D barcode symbology. 
  • QR Codes: QR codes feature built-in error correction with four levels: Low (L), Medium (M), Quartile (Q), and High (H). These levels allow QR codes to be read accurately, even if partially damaged or obscured. The Low level provides 7% damage protection, Medium up to 15% damage protection, Quartile up to 25% damage protection, and High up to 30% damage protection. This robust error correction is one of the reasons QR codes are so reliable and widely used.


  • 2D Barcodes: Different types of 2D barcodes often require specialised barcode scanners or imaging devices to decode the data accurately. This can limit their compatibility with general consumer devices, making them more suitable for industrial or specialised applications.
  • QR Codes: QR codes are highly compatible with various barcode reader devices, especially smartphones. Most modern smartphones come with built-in QR code readers in their camera apps. This makes it easy for consumers to scan and access the encoded information without needing additional hardware or software.

Customisation Capability

  • 2D Barcodes: 2D barcodes can be customised to some extent in terms of size, shape, and the amount of data they encode. However, their design is often constrained by maintaining readability and data integrity. Specific types of 2D barcodes, such as Data Matrix codes, MicroPDF417, and Aztec codes, offer limited to no customisation options.
  • QR Codes: QR codes offer a higher degree of customisation. They can be modified in terms of colour, size, and design while still maintaining their functionality. QR codes can incorporate logos, images, and different colour schemes to align with branding or aesthetic requirements. 

Popularity and Usage

  • 2D Barcodes: Various 2D barcodes are used across multiple industries, each suited for specific applications such as inventory management and supply chain management. Despite their effectiveness in these specialised areas, 2D barcodes are less commonly recognised by the general public compared to QR codes. 
  • QR Codes: QR codes are widely used in both commercial and personal contexts due to their versatility and ease of scanning with mobile devices. They are prevalent in marketing, advertisement, event ticketing, and mobile payments.

Final Thoughts

Both 2D barcodes and Quick Response codes are powerful tools for storing and transmitting data. Still, they have distinct differences that make them suitable for different applications. 

2D barcodes, with their various shapes and industrial applications, offer flexibility in data encoding but are less recognised by the general public. In contrast, QR codes are known for their high customisation, robust error correction capabilities, and widespread compatibility with smartphones, making them a staple in both commercial and personal contexts.

We hope this article was useful.

Thanks for reading. 

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