The Ultimate Guide to Types of QR Codes

Types of QR codes

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The utilisation of QR codes has expanded significantly across various sectors, reflecting their versatility and ease of use. According to Statista, in 2022, approximately 89 million U.S. smartphone users engaged with QR codes; this number is anticipated to surpass 100 million by 2025.

This article delineates the various types of QR codes, classified by their encoding capabilities, structural designs, and practical applications. 

QR Code Types Based on Encoding Information

Quick Response codes can be broadly categorised into two types based on the encoding information: Static QR Code and Dynamic QR Code.

Static QR Codes

Static QR codes encode information directly within the code. Once created, the data within these codes cannot be altered, making them a secure and reliable choice for permanent information sharing. 

Common uses for static QR codes include business cards, QR code product labels, and other applications where the information needs to remain constant.

Due to their simplicity, a static QR code is typically quicker and less costly to generate compared to their dynamic counterparts. However, their inability to be updated means that any change in the linked information necessitates the creation of a new single QR code.

Dynamic QR Codes

Dynamic QR codes encode a URL that redirects to information stored online. This setup allows the content to which the QR code links to be updated or changed without generating a new QR code. 

This dynamic nature benefits marketing and promotional activities where information needs frequent updates, such as coupon codes or event details. Furthermore, dynamic QR codes enable tracking how often and from where the code is scanned, providing valuable data that can be used to analyse engagement and effectiveness.

While a dynamic QR code offers significant advantages in versatility and data analytics, it has higher costs due to the need for backend infrastructure to manage the changing content and gather analytics. 

Types of QR Code Formats

QR codes are not one-size-fits-all; they come in several distinct formats, each developed to meet specific operational and contextual needs. The main QR code formats are. 

  • Model 1 
  • Model 2
  • Micro QR code
  • Rectangular Micro QR Code
  • iQR code
  • SQRC
  • Frame QR

Model 1 QR Codes

Four features of model 1 QR codes

Model 1 QR codes are the original format developed in the early stages of QR technology development. These codes laid the foundational design principles that guided the creation of subsequent QR code formats.  

Visually, Model 1 codes bear a resemblance to the more prevalent Model 2 QR codes. However, they are distinguishable by their lack of alignment patterns, which appear as squares with a central black dot. These patterns are essential for adjusting QR codes that are printed on curved surfaces, or that may become distorted during printing.

The absence of alignment patterns makes QR code Model 1 less adaptable to variations in scanning angles and environmental distortions, potentially affecting QR code scan reliability.

Regarding data capacity, Model 1 QR codes are limited compared to newer formats. They can encode up to 1,167 numeric characters, 707 alphanumeric characters, or 299 Kanji characters, with the largest version being size 14 (73 x 73 modules). This restriction also extends to their error correction capability and overall scannability, which are less robust than those of later models.

Given these limitations, Model 1 QR Codes have largely fallen out of regular use in contemporary applications. They are now primarily found in specific contexts where legacy systems require this original format.

Model 2 QR Codes

Five features of model 2 QR codes

Model 2 QR codes are the most commonly used format today. They are an evolution from the original Model 1 and designed to overcome many of the limitations found in Model 1 codes.

Model 2 QR codes feature strategically distributed alignment patterns throughout the code, which aid in correcting distortions due to curved surfaces, angles, and other environmental factors. These alignment patterns substantially enhance the robustness and readability of the QR codes.

Regarding data capacity, Model 2 QR codes are considerably improved over Model 1. They can encode up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters, 7,089 numeric characters, 2953 bytes of data or 1,817 Kanji characters. Their modular dimensions can range up to version 40, corresponding to 177 x 177 modules, allowing extensive information to be stored within a single code.

Model 2 QR codes are equipped with four error correction level—Low (L), Medium (M), Quartile (Q), and High (H). This feature enables users to optimise the balance between data density and scan reliability, making them well-suited for various applications.

Due to these enhancements, Model 2 QR codes have become the standard within QR technology, extensively used across various industries for their reliability and versatility.

Micro QR Codes

Four features of micro QR codes

Micro QR codes are compact versions of standard QR codes designed to accommodate smaller amounts of data in applications where space is at a premium.

Unlike standard QR codes, Micro QR codes are much simpler in design. They have just one position detection pattern and a smaller two-module-width border around them. They also don’t have alignment patterns, all contributing to their smaller overall size.

Micro QR codes are available in four variations, from M1 to M4, with M4 being the largest at 17 x 17 modules. Their data storage capacity is capped at 35 numeric characters, 21 alphanumeric characters, 15 bytes of data, or 9 Kanji characters.

Although this data capacity is considerably lower than standard QR codes, it perfectly meets the needs for encoding minimal information on labels like URLs or simple identifiers like SKU codes.

Micro QR Codes were standardised as a JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) under JIS X 0510 in November 2004, reflecting their widespread adoption and utility. Their compactness and limited data capacity are advantageous in industries where conserving space is paramount, such as electronics manufacturing and labelling small retail items.

Rectangular Micro QR Codes

Four features of rectangular micro QR codes

Rectangular Micro QR codes, or rMQR Codes, are a specialised version of the traditional square QR codes designed to fit into narrow spaces without compromising data capacity. This unique design is particularly beneficial in settings where vertical or horizontal space is limited, yet a need exists to store more information than standard Micro QR codes can accommodate.

Unlike traditional Micro QR codes, rMQR codes have all three standard QR code patterns—finder, timing, and alignment. However, these patterns are arranged differently to accommodate their rectangular shape. This design modification maintains the rapid scanning capabilities of standard QR codes, ensuring efficient readability even with the modified structure.

rMQR codes are available in 32 versions, each providing two levels of error correction: Medium (M) and High (H). Despite their compact size, these codes offer a significant data capacity of storing up to 219 alphanumeric characters, 361 numeric characters, 1216 data bits, or 92 Kanji characters. 

Currently, rMQR codes are not widely used but are emerging as a promising technology, poised to replace traditional 1D barcodes such as Code 128 and Code 39 where enhanced data encoding capabilities are required. 

With their robust design and efficiency, rMQR codes are expected to become increasingly prevalent in industries requiring precise data management. Key applications include automatic data identification, inventory tracking in retail, especially for food and goods, and document and ticket verification processes at major transport hubs, including airports and railway stations.

Rectangular Micro QR codes were officially standardised in 2022 by Denso Wave under the ISO/IEC 23941 standard.

iQR Codes

Six features of iQR codes

iQR codes were developed by Denso Wave in 2011 as a versatile alternative to original QR code technology

These codes support various design configurations, including square, rectangular, turned-over, black-and-white inversion, and dot pattern (direct part marking) formats. This flexibility makes iQR codes particularly suitable for uniquely shaped spaces, such as cylindrical objects, where traditional QR codes may not fit effectively.

iQR codes offer a significantly increased data capacity than traditional QR codes. An iQR code of the same size can hold up to 80% more information than a regular QR code. Additionally, an iQR code can be made 30% smaller while storing the same amount of data as its QR counterpart. 

iQR codes can encode numeric, alphanumeric, binary, and kanji characters. There are 61 versions for square formats and 15 versions for rectangular formats.  

The smallest square format measures 9 x 9 modules and can store six numerals, while the largest format measures 422 x 422 modules and accommodates up to 40,000 characters. For rectangular format, the smallest is 5 x 19 modules with a capacity of six numerals, and the largest is 43 x 131 modules, storing up to 1,200 characters.

iQR codes feature five levels of error correction—L, M, Q, H, and the additional S level, which provides up to 50% error correction, enhancing their reliability in diverse applications.

Despite their advanced capabilities, iQR codes have yet to be standardised under ISO/IEC specifications. Consequently, only Denso Wave’s proprietary products can create and read iQR codes, restricting their widespread adoption and popularity.

Secret-Function-Equipped QR code (SQRC)

Secret function equipped QR code

The Secret-Function-Equipped QR code, or SQRC, is an advanced variant of the traditional QR code explicitly designed to enhance privacy and security. SQRCs maintain all the standard characteristics of a QR code, including robust error correction capabilities. 

Each SQRC features dual data layers: a public layer and a private layer. The public data layer is accessible via any standard QR code scanner, while the private, encrypted layer can only be decrypted with a dedicated reader equipped with the appropriate cryptographic key.

Visually, there is no difference between an SQRC and a standard QR code, which allows them to integrate discreetly into environments where QR codes are commonly used. This camouflage prevents the encrypted data from attracting undue attention and enhances security by reducing the risk of tampering.

When scanned with a standard smartphone, an SQRC reveals only the information on the public layer, which could be entirely unrelated to the encrypted, sensitive data. However, scanning with a specialised SQRC scanner decrypts and displays the private information, thus maintaining strict data confidentiality.

SQRCs are particularly valuable in environments where preventing authorised data access and maintaining data confidentiality is critical. They are extensively used in the financial sector to secure transaction details, in corporate settings to safeguard employee data through badges, and wherever secure communication is required.   

The ability of SQRCs to conceal sensitive information while openly displaying less critical data provides a dual-purpose solution ideal for secure data management. Although SQRCs offer enhanced security, the requirement for specialised scanning equipment restricts their widespread adoption.  

Frame QR Codes

Frame QR codes

Frame QR codes are a creative adaptation of traditional QR codes designed to seamlessly merge aesthetic elements with functional utility. These QR codes feature a “canvas area” at the centre where logos, graphics, branding, or other decorative features can be artistically integrated. 

To visualise, think of a picture frame, but in this case, the frame is part of a QR code. This unique design does not interfere with the scannability of the QR code; it only enhances its appearance. 

The shape of the canvas area can be chosen from predetermined patterns or custom-designed to specific requirements. Additionally, modifications such as centre positioning, size, and orientation of the canvas area can be adjusted to fit various needs.

Frame QR codes have practical applications in security and promotions. They can be combined with holograms to facilitate both visual and electronic authentication checks. In retail, they can be paired with image recognition technologies, such as OCR, which allows additional data encoding, enhancing the utility and interactivity of promotional campaigns.

QR Code Types Based on Use Case

Here, we explore how different QR codes are tailored to specific applications, enhancing functionality and user experience across diverse settings.

QR Code Type
Webpage QR Code
Direct users to websites or specific web pages. Commonly used in marketing materials to enhance interactivity and provide quick access to detailed information.
Social Media QR Code
Facilitate connections to social media profiles like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, helping businesses increase their online presence and engagement directly from physical advertisements or event displays.
Wi-Fi QR Code
Allow guests to connect to Wi-Fi networks without manually entering passwords. Ideal for hospitality venues like cafes and hotels to improve customer convenience.
App Download QR Code
Provide direct links to app store listings, simplifying the process of downloading apps. These are frequently placed in strategic locations to boost app visibility and adoption rates.
Payment QR Code
Enable quick and contactless payments by linking directly to payment portals, increasingly popular in retail and restaurants for their efficiency in transaction processing.
Event Ticketing and Check-in QR Code
Optimise event entry by facilitating ticket validation and attendee registration, ensuring a smooth flow at events while reducing the need for physical ticketing.
Personal Identification QR Code
Used in security-sensitive environments to verify identities and access permissions quickly, containing encrypted data essential for controlled systems.
Location QR Code
Provide geographical coordinates or directions via map applications, ideal for guiding visitors directly to their destinations.
vCard QR Code
Store contact information similar to business cards. When scanned, these codes automatically save a person’s contact details to the mobile device, streamlining networking.
Restaurant QR Code
Offer menus, ordering options, or nutritional information, enhancing the dining experience with quick access QR scans.
Video QR Code
Link directly to video content, allowing marketers and educators to provide instant access to tutorials, product reviews, or promotional videos.
MP3 QR Code
Direct users to audio content, including live recordings, podcasts, or promotional audio clips.
Coupon QR Code
Facilitate promotional and discount activities by providing instant access to digital coupons or special offers, enhancing customer engagement and loyalty programs.
Message QR Code/ SMS QR Code/ Text QR Code
Enable initiation of conversations or sending pre-formulated messages via platforms like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
Google Form QR Code
Provide quick access to Google Forms for surveys, feedback, or registrations, streamlining data collection.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the variety of QR codes serves a wide array of needs, enhancing user experiences in many areas. From straightforward web page QR codes to secure SQRCs, these tools offer targeted solutions for digital interactions across industries.

Whether used to elevate marketing efforts, simplify event logistics, or secure sensitive data, each type of QR code offers unique advantages. As technology advances, the role of QR codes becomes increasingly integral to connecting the physical and digital worlds effectively.

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