Custom QR Code Best Practices
For the uninitiated, QR codes allow anybody with a smartphone and a free app to scan a graphic you position on your printed materials, working in a way similar to a barcode. This QR code then automatically opens the URL you designated in the code in the scanner’s phone. This is why QR codes are becoming popular very quickly: they offer companies huge benefits in marketing efforts. In fact, QR codes currently support the following functionality:
- Go to a URL
- Display text
- Call a phone number
- Send a text message
- Go to a Google Maps location
- Send an email
- Open a YouTube video
- Android supports automatic login to WiFi
- And much more…
But even if you have finally realized it’s time to start integrating QR codes into your print advertising, you may still hesitate about placing a black and white symbol into the middle of your designs. You may also be wary of just how difficult creating QR codes may be. Fortunately, it’s possible to move past these hesitations if you follow some simple best practices.
A Short URL Works Better
The technology behind QR codes has built-in error correction, so you can get away with editing your QR code to an extent. The more characters in your URL, the more complex your QR code will be. The more complex your QR code, the more likely editing your QR code will produce errors— meaning that when your QR code is scanned, it won’t work.
The following are two examples that both point to the same URL. The first QR code was generated using the complete URL to a Google Help page. Notice how many more shapes it requires when compared to the second version, which was generated using a Bit.ly-shortened URL:
Long URL with 68 characters— note the complexity of the design.
URL shortened to 20 characters using Bit.ly produces a simpler design.
A shortened URL gives you more flexibility when editing, so always try to get as short a URL as possible.
Color is Cool
You can edit the colors in your QR code with great freedom. The primary consideration is to keep your colors in strong contrast to the whitespace. Remember that your users will be scanning the QR code from a printed document, so the lighting may not be ideal. Strong contrasts are required, so temper creativity with practicality. Here’s an example of our progressively edited QR code:
The Google Help page shortened URL with color treatment.
Keep Logos Centered
You are not limited to only placing your logo in the dead center of your QR code, but you will get more consistent results if your design only takes up a portion of the center. The reason for this alignment recommendation is because of the way QR codes are designed. The corners of a QR code contain important information to help the reader to recognize the content, spacing, and other information in the code:
Image courtesy of Wikimedia.org with additional edits by the author.
If you shift your design into one of the alignment or position markers, you risk producing errors and the scanner rejecting the scan. Keep your designs centered to reduce this risk or at least while editing, be conscious of the important information in the corners.
Testing, Testing, 1…2…3
Once you have your QR code generated, it’s time to test. A simple method is to start with your logo or design in the middle as large as you’d like it and then gradually shrink the logo until your scanner is able to understand the code.
Note that you can find a “sweet spot” where a larger graphic will work. You can test by simply moving the graphic around on your QR code in your favorite editor.
Image (above) is too big and is blocking necessary data in the QR code.
Image (above) still too big, but could possibly be repositioned and made to work.
Image (above) works but is very small and may not be usable on small designs.
Image (above) breaks the rule of where to edit by covering part of the position marker, but works.
Note how the last example above breaks the “rule” of where to edit the QR code. The key is to experiment and test, test, test. Make sure to test using multiple apps, different sizes, and black and white, in case your design gets reduced to gray-scale without your knowledge.
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