3 Best Practices for Generating Reliable QR Codes

Today I was leafing through a magazine full of ads with QR codes.

Unfortunately, most of the QR codes did not work due to some common errors that can be easily remedied.

The video above shows how to avoid these these errors, with more specific tips provided below.

#1 – Short URL’s Create Cleaner Codes

Longer url’s create more complex codes.  While it is possible for these codes to function properly, they are not as reliable in less than optimal conditions – such as when used on reflective surfaces.

Whenever possible, use a link shortener such as bit.ly to shorten your url before generating the code.  My favorite QR code generator is Kerem Erkan.  He also has created the Qrafter iPhone app that doubles as a code generator and a fully functional QR code reader or scanner.

#2 – Larger Codes are More Reliable

It is best to make your QR codes as large as possible – with 1″ x 1″ being the smallest size that is still reliable under virtually all conditions.  What are the less than optimal conditions that will require a cleaner and larger code?

  1. Reflective surfaces – such as magazines and scanning directly from a computer screen
  2. Outdoors – where there may be a tendancy for the code to fade or be obscured by debris
  3. Scanning from greater distances – such as when the code is on a billboard
  4. Irregular surfaces – such as on the side of a curved beverage container
  5. Low light conditions
  6. Colorful QR codes – other than black and white
  7. Scanning with older camera phones

#3 – A Generous Quiet Zone is Essential

The border around your QR code is known as the quiet zone.  If the dimension of this space is too narrow, the code will not resolve to the intended url or other desired action.

The rule of thumb is to have a quiet zone that is at least 4 times the width of the modules of your QR code.  The modules are the (typically) black squares and rectangles that make up the code.

The quiet zone is ideally white or a light color.  So, the common mistake is to trim back the quiet zone when copying the code and then placing it on a black background as shown in in the video above.

If you want to learn more about QR codes, here are some additional resources.

How You Can Grow Your Business with QR Codes

A Versatile QR Code Generator

QR Codes Like Your Facebook Page

I’ve written an extensive article on how to run a successful QR code marketing campaign.  Look for that sometime in September.

Leave a comment below or share this with your social community by liking it on Facebook, or sharing with any of the share buttons below – or on the little red bar at the bottom of this page.  

Until tomorrow,  Jeff

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  1. I found some interesting QR codes at a 4-day music festival last week.

    These tattoos were the oddest! https://plus.google.com/110020210793200048119/posts/KyXwwLWxowc

    • Jeff Korhan says:

      I haven’t seen this one – but have seen an actual QR tattoo. My favorite was a QR haircut – crazy!

  2. Very important post, Jeff. Many people haven’t even heard about the quiet zone. Maybe one more thing would fit here: “don’t place the QR codes to a reflective surface.” I see them so often on shiny reflective glass portals of fancy shops facing to the south… (a true QR-hell : )

    • Jeff Korhan says:

      Peter – Indeed the quiet zone is effectively part of the code – that is if you expect it to work.

      That does pose a dilemma if your shop faces into the sun. What’s interesting is the merchants assume the codes work when in fact they don’t!

  3. Jeff, the weird thing is that some people are satisfied by simply putting out the codes. No tracking, no special content behind, no mobile landing page customization. They just put it on the sun-faced door and wait for the miracle.

    Anyways, this infographic ( http://on.mash.to/q2LanO ) shows much better notoriety of QR technology than I expected.

  4. Here you can generate and test QR code


  5. Thank you for this awesome tutorial. I wanted to add a QR Code to my business cards, and this basically just did all the work for me. Thanks Jeff!!

  6. I found a qr code generator with one click readability test function: http://www.fancyqrcode.com .

  7. Michael McMillian says:

    We would like to place a QR code on a public boat ramp sign. The URL would describe the lake including a GPS point for their return. The signs we are having made are on reflective prismatic aluminum and obviously outdoors. Would the QR codes work in this situation?

    • Jeff Korhan says:

      Michael – Reflective surfaces can be a problem. Nevertheless, it can still work – and your application is an excellent use of QR.

      You really won’t know for sure until you test this. As long as the scanner can differentiate the black and white areas well, it should work.

  8. Create a reliable QR code on http://forkort.no/?lang=en
    Its a service without ads, URL redirecting service.

  9. Darrell Steele says:

    Jeff, Thank you for the article. I have a question about a special surface and color. We print cups for the band in our hometown as thier fundraising activity. These cups are served at the high school football games. Can we print a QR code on the curved rather shiny surface of a plastic cup? and the cups are red with white print. Do we need to change the color of the cup and the ink?

    • Jeff Korhan says:

      Darrell – The only way to know for sure is to test. Black, white, and red are colors that many report provide good contrast and results.

      The surface on a plastic cup should not be excessively shiny – and should work. Nevertheless, work with your source and do some pre-testing.

      Good luck! Jeff

  10. http://www.qrcodechef.com/ was my favorite!!

  11. Hi Jeff, nicely written, have you tried http://www.freeqrcodetracker.com yet? Its completely free to use and you can generate and track qr codes, and it does free tracking built in. Really easy to use. Clearest reports around by far.

  12. QR code is a must have feature marketing tool for promoting in mobile/table devices. It is so easy to save a link, phone no or email address without typing the long url, address.

  13. Hussein Al-Chami says:

    great article. I came across this article when I was looking for pages to feature my app. I’m glad to see that there are many people who believe that QR codes still have the potential to play a role in marketing anything from products to fanpages. For generating customized QR codes, please check my app, QRtization, which can be found at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/qrtization/id528960825?ls=1&mt=8 .

  14. Thanks for sharing this, just about to do a QR code for a client’s advert in a local paper – particularly like you saying to put it on a black background, I will employ that! Thanks.

  15. Thanks for your writeup. I designed some QR codes, VERY nice that had a lot of colors, logo, shields instead of squares, etc. for my site http://www.realmotorclubofamerica.com so I can launch a marketing campaign, but the codes wouldn’t scan. (SO glad I tested them first). I decided against being fancy and just went to basic black & white.

    Not only for the better scanning ability, but when you think about it… people are used to seeing QR codes a certain way, so anything outside of the norm may create more of a distracing awe than one that will lead them to your site.


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