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What Are the QR Code Printing Guidelines & Best Practices?

What Are the QR Code Printing Guidelines & Best Practices?

QR code print and digital size guidelines and best practices.

Sizes listed always refer to an exact square shape because otherwise, your QR code will not function properly.

 
Standard QR codes

For print applications, such as placing standard black and white QR codes on packaging or in magazines, use the following specifications.

Standard QR code size guidelines

  • Minimum size for standard QR codes
    • 10 mm (.4 inch), excluding the margin (Quiet Zone), is the minimum size for scanning standard, ISO 18004-compliant QR codes.
  • Recommended size for standard QR codes
    • 12 mm (.5 inch), excluding the margin (Quiet Zone), to ensure best performance.

Labels and packaging may require deeper bespoke analysis especially when deviating from a standard black and white code. This starts with a review of a PDF of the layout, requires an understanding of the type of printing method and materials, and may then move to a print trial. Always Test.

 

 
Custom QR codes

QR codes do not have to be the standard black and white design. Brands today are incorporating custom colors, logos and more into the QR code design.

Delivr's QR Code Designer enables you to effortlessly merge a dynamic QR code with any part of an image or logo to create a beautiful and clear call-to-action. Delivr's QR Code Designer combines the visual design that people LOVE with the QR Code call-to-action that people KNOW, creating an experience that draws peoples attention and invites them to make the leap from print to mobile.

However, the specifications for these custom QR codes are slightly different than standard QR codes, namely that the minimum size increases.

Custom QR code size guidelines and best practices

  • Minimum size for custom QR codes with light customization
    • 2 cm (.75 inch)‍
  • Recommended size for custom QR codes
    • 3 cm (1.25 inches)‍, larger if possible
  • No inverted codes
    • Do not use a QR code with light dots on a dark background‍
  • Use high contrast
    • Be sure the QR code color contrasts with the background, or it may not be readable.

Advisory

Our internal testing has shown that some custom QR codes that can be read by iOS devices cannot be read by some Android devices. Be sure to test the QR codes you create on both types of devices to ensure that all consumers will be able to successfully access your content.

And here’s the reason. Customized QR codes are not standard, ISO compliant QR codes. Depending on the extent and combination of design choices, the resulting QR code may not be scannable on some devices. The act of customizing a QR code introduces "damage" into the standard ISO compliant QR code format. As such,  customized QR codes require a high level of error correction to remain scannable. Error correction is a capability of QR codes to restore data if the code is dirty or damaged. This ensures high scannability despite the "damage" from customization.

 

 
Digital QR codes

For digital applications, the following specification assumes a 1080p display.

  • Minimum digital QR code size
    • 240 pixels at 72 dpi

Since many digital QR codes are incorporated into signage, keep in mind that the minimum code size will need to increase depending on the distance between the code and the person scanning. The signage section below, which includes digital and print, addresses the calculation for this distance.

 

 
QR codes on digital and print out-of-home (OOH) signage

QR code size guidelines on digital and print out-of-home (OOH) signage

Because those scanning may not be directly next to the sign, you’ll need to increase the QR code size depending on how far away they will be.

  • Ratio of scanning distance to QR code size
    • 10:1
  • Formula for calculating QR code size based on scanning distance
    • QR code minimum size = Scanning distance (in cm or inches) ÷ 10

For example, if a code on a billboard will be scanned at a distance of 10 meters, the code should be at least 1 meter x 1 meter in size.

Code design for out-of-home (OOH) may require deeper bespoke analysis. This starts with an understanding of the printing specifications or digital display, Frame size (6-sheet , 28-sheet, 96-sheet, and higher), LCD resolution (2K, 4K), Nits, and if an LED screen, factors such as pixel pitch.  Always Test.

 

 
10 best practices to consider when designing QR codes
➀ Good contrast

Good contrast between the background color of the QR code and the dot pattern color of the QR code is very important when a standard Black & White code is not used. In cases of colorized codes, the QR code should have a dark color with a light background color. Also note that some QR code readers cannot read reversed colors e.g., light color with a dark background color, white with black background color. Good contrast also ensures your QR code is able to be seen by people with visual impairments.

➁ Quality and format

Avoid pixelated or blurry QR codes and make sure to print them sharp and clear. Not only do they scan better, but they also look more professional. Depending on the size of your QR code, raster JPG and PNG formats work well for small-scale printing such as business cards and brochures. That said, graphic designers and print shops prefer vector files like EPS and SVG. The advantage of the EPS and SVG formats is that they can be scaled easily to any size — without compromising on quality. This means there won’t be any pixelation or stretching of modules. You can repurpose the same QR code on different materials like billboards, flyers, TV commercials, etc. in different sizes. Learn more about the difference between raster and vector formats here.

 

➂ Number of QR codes

Printing multiple QR codes close to each other or even placing QR Codes next to barcodes can lead to accidentally scanning the wrong one. When possible, use only one QR code per application. This creates focus on the action you want consumers to take. It also prevents phone cameras from jumping focus from code to code.

However, there will be times when you need to put more than one QR code on an application. If you must, place QR codes on opposite ends of your layout and/or increase the empty space around each QR code to ensure the consumer can focus their camera on just a single code. Usually, this should only be done when the user is at arm's length of the QR code to allow them the flexibility to move the camera to focus on a single code. This does not work well on large signage at a distance (a billboard, for example).

➃ Margins and quiet zone

Margins

Regardless of application, the margins around a QR code should be equivalent to at least four data modules (the Delivr default). QR code modules are the dots that make up QR code. Keep in mind that the number of modules can differ among QR codes that have the same overall dimensions.

Quiet zone

The quiet zone is the space surrounding the QR code that separates the QR code from other designs. QR codes need a quiet zone so that scanners can detect what images are QR code pixels and which aren’t. Without the quiet zone, it’s likely that the QR code will not work.

➄ Call-to-action (CTA)

A QR code on its own is not a call-to-action. A simple directive such as "Open Camera & Scan Code" near the code can incentivize consumers to reach for their phones. It is recommended that you clearly inform the consumer what content they will receive if they scan your code.

➅ Placement and timing

Keep QR codes within reach

Placing your QR code too high up, too low on the ground, or too far away means your customers will have a hard time reaching to scan the code. Place QR codes within appropriate reach for maximum accessibility. Would you crouch down or use a ladder just to scan a QR code? Placing QR codes at eye-level is recommended. Designers will want to avoid placing QR codes at the top third of their creative if the screens are installed with the midline above eye-level.

Show the QR code for as long as possible

Consider the time it takes for a person to walk on a sidewalk or public hallway, see content on digital signage, notice the QR code, decide they want to scan it, and successfully scan it. Many out of home ads appear for 10 seconds or less, so even if the creative is dynamic, designers should present the QR code for the full length of the slot to maximize the opportunity for successful conversion.

➆ Apple leads other devices

With the release of iOS 14.4, Apple devices became able to read smaller QR codes as well as codes wrapped around objects when the native camera app is used for scanning. Apple doesn’t specify the minimum size that can be read, but it shows a continued trend toward improved native compatibility.

➇ Printing surfaces

Creativity can go a long way whether printing on paper, glass, aluminum or plastic. That said, be wary of choosing material that reflects too much light or distorts the image and competes with the scannability of your QR code. Uneven surfaces that are ribbed may disfigure the code and printing in between magazine folds may section off parts of the code so it’s harder to view and scan the full QR code image. Use your best judgement and make sure to test your QR code to confirm it’s scannable.

➈ Check your content

Imagine your customers’ dismay when they take the time to scan your QR code just to find a broken link or outdated information. This is a mishap we’ve frequently seen that can be easily avoided. To keep from being stuck with a QR code that you can’t ever update, make sure to create a Dynamic QR Code. With this type of code, you can change the destination URL or content any time even after you’ve already printed and distributed your marketing material.

➉ Always test your QR code

Verify your QR code will scan at the size it will be printed or displayed before using it.

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Delivr® is a privacy-first software and services company serving thousands of businesses looking to drive audiences from offline to online experiences. Established in 2008, Delivr has developed software to track and visualize consumer engagement with print and broadcast media, labels and packaging. With Super Simple Serialization℠ and TrueMrk®, Delivr is extending its martech product suite to serialize and authenticate products. Headquartered in the USA.