Data Matrix Code VS QR Code: A Detailed Comparison

Data Matrix Code vs QR Code

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In today’s digital world, Data Matrix codes and QR codes have become an essential part of the modern consumer experience. Whether you’re at the grocery store, browsing the web, or visiting your favourite restaurant – these two-dimensional barcodes can be found everywhere.

Data Matrix codes and QR codes play a major role in communicating information quickly and efficiently. Both barcodes can be easily scanned and decoded by smartphones, tablets, and other smart devices, making them an ideal solution for comprehensive customer engagement.

At first glance, Data Matrix codes and QR codes may look very similar as both are composed of black and white squares arranged in a pattern. Despite having the same basic functionality, Data Matrix and QR codes have significant differences that make them ideal for different applications.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into the Data Matrix and QR barcode technology. We will briefly introduce the two technologies, and then move on to similarities and differences. Finally, we will assess which code is better and how to choose between the two.

Before diving into the article, we recommend referring to our barcode 101 guide. Reading this guide beforehand will provide a comprehensive understanding of barcodes in general and allow a better understanding of the differences between DataMatrix and QR code.

Ready? Let’s dive in!

What are Data Matrix Codes and QR Codes? - A Quick Introduction

Breakdown of Data Matrix Code

Data Matrix codes are 2D barcodes made up of black and white cells arranged in a square and rectangular pattern with an L-shape at one end. These cells are often referred to as “modules,” and each one is encoded with data. Data Matrix codes were introduced in 1989 by a US-based company named International Data Matrix Inc (ID Matrix).

Breakdown of QR Code

QR codes, also called Quick Response code, are 2D barcodes composed of black and white squares and rectangles arranged in a matrix pattern. QR codes have three identical square structures placed at the barcode’s top right, top left, and bottom left corners. QR codes were developed in 1994 by a Japanese company called Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota Motors.

Check out our guide on QR code vs. barcode to distinguish between the two.

Please note that black and white are not the only colours used in Data Matrix codes and QR codes. They can also be printed in different shades, but only if the cell modules and the background are in contrasting dark and light colours. However, for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to them as black-and-white colour codes.

Similarities Between DataMatrix Codes and QR Codes

Here is a list of similarities between a DataMatrix code and a QR code.

  • Data Matrix codes and QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that use black-and-white modules to store information.
  • They get busier in appearance as more data is encoded.
  • Both barcodes can be scanned and decoded by smartphone cameras or dedicated third-party barcode scanning applications.
  • DataMatrix and QR can carry the same data as traditional linear or “1D” barcodes.
  • They are mentioned in GS1 and can encode all GS1 ID keys, including a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number).
  • Data matrix and QR barcodes have high print tolerances and error correction capabilities.
  • Both barcodes are public domain codes, meaning anyone can generate and use them without paying royalty fees or obtaining a license.
  • DataMatrix and QR codes require a “Quite Zone” to ensure proper and accurate scanning.
  • They can be printed in different colours.
  • Data Matrix codes and QR codes are omnidirectional, meaning they can be scanned from any angle (0° to 360°).

Data Matrix and QR codes are two of many barcode technologies available today. Refer to our guide on types of barcodes to learn more about other available barcode symbologies.

QR VS DataMatrix - The Main Differences

Now that we understand the similarities between DataMatrix barcodes and QR barcodes let’s discuss the differences.

We have differentiated QR codes and DataMatrix based on the following parameter.

  • Appearance and structural difference
  • Supported character set
  • Size
  • Data capacity
  • Error correction levels
  • Relevant ISO standard
  • Customisation ability
  • Application

Appearance and Structural Differences

QR and DataMatrix codes are made of black and white modules arranged in a grid-like pattern. However, the patterns of the two types are quite different.

Data Matrix codes have an “L” shape as a finder pattern at one end, while QR codes have three identical squares placed at the top right, top left, and bottom left corners as a finder pattern.

Supported Character Set

The character set is the type of information that can be encoded in a barcode.

A Data Matrix barcode supports all 256 ASCII characters, ISO characters, Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC) characters, and multi-byte character sets.

On the other hand, a QR barcode supports numeric characters, alphanumeric characters, byte/binary data, and Kanji characters (character set according to JIS X 0208).

Physical Size

The barcode size is an essential consideration as it affects scanning accuracy.

In general, the size of the barcode increases as more data is encoded. However, Data Matrix codes are high-density barcodes, meaning they can store more information in a smaller space than QR codes.

Both barcodes have sizing limits beyond which the data will not be correctly read by scanners or cameras.

Data Matrix codes have a minimum size of 10×10 modules and a maximum size of 144×144 modules, while QR codes have a minimum size of 21×21 modules and a maximum size of 177×177 modules.

Data Storage Capacity

Data storage capacity refers to the amount of data that can be encoded in a barcode.

DataMatrix codes can store 2335 alphanumeric characters, 3,116 numerical characters, or 1556 bytes of information.

Whereas QR codes can store 4296 alphanumeric characters, 7089 numeric characters, 2953 bytes of information, or 1817 Kanji characters.

Error Correction Capabilities and Readability

Error correction (EC) is the ability of a barcode to restore data and be readable even if parts of the barcode are damaged, dirty or missing. It is measured in percentage, which indicates how much damage a barcode can withstand before becoming unreadable.

Both barcode types offer error correction capabilities as per the Reed-Solomon algorithm.

Data Matrix codes have an error correction capability of 25% to 33%. However, the EC levels of this barcode symbology are not manually adjustable and are automatically determined by the barcode size and remaining storage capacity.

On the other hand, QR codes provide an error correction capability ranging between 7% to 30%. The error correction level of QR codes can be manually adjusted depending on the scanning environment. They have four EC levels to choose from, namely.

  1. Level L (Low) – 7%
  2. Level M (Medium) – 15%
  3. Level Q (Quartile) – 25%
  4. Level H (High) – 30%

It is worth noting that adjusting the EC level to a higher value reduces the maximum data storage capacity and increases the overall size of the QR code. This is because, with each increment in the EC level, more modules are added to store the required backed-up data.

ISO Standard Certification

QR and Data Matrix codes are defined by International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which means they are widely accepted as international standards.

Data Matrix codes are defined in ISO/IEC 16022:2006 standard

QR codes are defined in ISO/IEC 18004:2015 standard.

Customization & Flexibility

QR codes are way ahead of Data Matrix codes in terms of customisation and flexibility.

QR codes offer an extensive list of customisation options such as custom logo integration, image integration, icons, colour coding, foreground and background colours, and border styles & sizes. Such flexibility to customise and alter QR codes makes them attractive and visually appealing, which is why they are preferred by businesses and marketers to draw user attention.

Data Matrix codes, however, do not offer any such customisation options. They can only have a different module and background colour.

Common Applications

Data Matrix codes are widely used for marking small items like pharmaceuticals, jewellery, automotive parts, and electronic components because of their ability to store large data in a small space.

Data Matrix codes are used by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for Unique Item Identification (UID) of assets such as weapons and critical components of systems. This barcode symbology is standardised as per MIL-STD-130 military standards.

Moreover, the Data Matrix barcode is recommended by several organisations, such as US Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) (for labelling small electronic parts and components) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) (for labelling new aircraft components).

On the other hand, QR codes are used majorly for marketing, promotional activities, social media sharing, and other customer engagement tasks. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes have become more popular. They are now being used for a variety of tasks, including.

  • Contactless payments
  • Displaying multimedia content like videos, images, documents, or other website-accessible content.
  • Sharing contact details
  • Sharing location coordinates
  • Ticketing
  • Restaurant food ordering

Data Matrix VS QR Code - Which is Better? and How to Choose?

Despite their differences, Data Matrix codes and QR codes are both effective barcode symbols that are used for several applications. When it comes to answering ‘which is better?’, there is no cut-and-dry answer; it all comes down to the application and user requirements.

Instead of asking which barcode symbol is better, the right approach should be to analyse the user requirements and ask which barcode symbol should be chosen over the other. Factors such as maximum data storage, size constraints, data type requirements (alphanumeric, numeric-only etc.), error correction level requirements, and customisation needs should be considered to make the right decision.

Please refer to our guide on how to choose the correct barcode type for more detailed information.

When Should I Use Data Matrix Barcode?

DataMatrix barcode should be used in the following cases.

  • Space is limited on the product packaging, and the encoded data is short enough to fit into the lowest DataMatrix variant (10×10 module).
  • It is mandatory or required as per industry regulations or standards.
  • If the product is subjected to extreme conditions in which, the barcode may get damaged.

When Should I Use QR Code?

QR codes should be used in the following cases.

  • Space is limited, but the information stored is longer than what can fit into the lowest DataMatrix variant (10×10 module).
  • Customisation is required for aesthetics and user engagement.
  • If the encoded data require Kanji characters.

How to Design and Print QR Codes and DataMatrix Codes?

Print quality and design of the barcode symbols are important factors for their successful performance. Despite having a higher print tolerance than 1D barcodes, QR and Data Matrix codes still need to be designed and printed clearly and crisply.

Designing Barcodes

QR codes and DataMatrix codes are public domain and, therefore, can be created using online barcode generators, graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator and Canva, and even Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel (QR code only).

Refer to our guide on common mistakes to avoid when designing barcodes for some tips and tricks to ensure accurate and legible barcodes.

However, instead of using a data matrix or QR code generator, it is always recommended to use barcode label designing and printing software. Such professional software offers advanced tools that help with the customisation and optimisation of barcode labels as per user requirements and industry standards.

One such software is BarTender. BarTender is an easy-to-use, feature-rich label designing and printing software with user-friendly drag-and-drop tools, ready-made label templates, a library of standard 1D and 2D symbologies, and more.

Additionally, BarTender offers advanced features such as automatic serialisation for variable data printing and automatic data extraction from databases such as excel files. Please refer to our understanding BarTender software guide to learn more.

Triton Store offers BarTender software at unbeatable prices that are sure to make your wallet happy. We offer all four editions of BarTender – Starter, Professional, Automation, and Enterprise – to meet any user’s needs. So, what are you waiting for? Get your hands on the BarTender software today!

Printing Barcodes

Once the barcodes have been designed, the next step is to print them. For printing QR and Data Matrix codes, it is always recommended to use a high-quality thermal printer.

Thermal printers are printing devices that use heat to produce an image on print media. They are reliable, cost-effective, and offer high print speeds. Thermal printers do not require ink or toner, making them suitable for large-scale printing. Refer to our guide on how thermal printer works to learn the science behind the working of a thermal printer.

At Triton Store, we have an extensive collection of thermal printers from renowned brands such as Honeywell, Zebra, and TSC. Whether you need a desktop thermal printer or an industrial one, you’re sure to find it here. So, go ahead and check out our range of thermal printers today!

Final Thoughts

All in all, both QR and Data Matrix codes are highly effective solutions for storing large amounts of data in a convenient, easily-scannable form. Both barcodes have respective advantages and features, making them ideal for nearly any application.

At the end of the day, the choice between QR codes and Data Matrix codes boils down to user-specific needs. We hope this article has helped you understand the differences between QR codes and Data Matrix codes, making it easier for you to make an informed decision.

Until next time. 

Happy Barcoding!

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