What’s the difference between a barcode and a QR code?

Anyone born before the 2000s has probably seen a bar code. You might find them on advertisement boards or on an industrial product. More recently, a new code has taken over the micro information scene, the QR code. Bar codes are simply a series of black bars that can be interpreted with a scanner or manually. QR codes look like squares with different shaded pixels in them.  Both codes perform the same function; they hold information in a matrix that can be deciphered.

You might be wondering, why do the two codes look so different? Do they hold the same type of information? Are they equal, or is one more powerful than the other? If you want to know the answers to these questions then keep reading this article as I quench your curiosity with information about the two codes and what makes them so different. 


A barcode is a visual representation of machine-readable information about the product it is attached to. Bar codes are a series of lines (or bars) and spaces (typically white spaces of varying sizes with black lines of varying thickness). In its simplest form; is that small box printed on the packaging of a product, that has a small collection of black parallel lines of varying widths.

Bar codes have the following parts; Quiet zone, Start character, Data characters (with an optional check character), Stop character, Additional quiet zone. All these are details that can only be interpreted with a machine called a bar code scanner.

The standard bar codes that you see on products everywhere are referred to as 1D bar codes i.e. One-dimensional bar codes. These codes can only store information in texts and so they cry details like the type, size, and color of a product. These 1D bar codes have been around since the 1960s.

Bar codes are used mainly for inventory taking by industries that produce in large quantities. This is to remove the need for human inventory taking and therefore removing any chance of human error. They are also used to label books. The ISBN codes for all books are printed as bar codes. They are used in libraries and filling systems, drug packaging and in virtually any system with the need to track and manage a large volume of inventory or supplies.


 QR codes as they are most commonly called is another example of an information matrix. QR stands for “Quick Response”. The term QR code is actually a brand for a specific kind of code but because this particular type of code became so widespread, QR has been used as the name to identify these kinds of codes. They are actually called 2D bar codes(Two-Dimensional codes). Like bar codes, QR codes are information matrices that contain machine-readable information.

The most significant difference between a bar code and a QR code is the fact that bar codes store information only in a horizontal direction while QR codes store info in both horizontal and vertical form. this is why QR codes are called two dimensional. This 2D nature of QR codes allows them to store a lot more information than would be possible with a bar code. On average, a bar code can store somewhere around 43 characters. On the other hand, a QR code can store up to 2,509 numeric characters or 1,520 alpha-numeric characters.

Due to the large difference between the capacity of the two codes, QR codes are used to store more complex and longer pieces of information like Email addresses, Names, Product details, Website URLs, Dates (such as calendar appointments), SMS messages, Geographical data (location), Plain text.


After reading the info above, it’s quite obvious that a QR code is much better than a bar code. In this section, I will take you the details of exactly why the QR code is considered to be better than bar codes.

2D barcodes, as a whole, are considered more secure, as the information they store is easily encrypted and allows for less room for error. QR codes, specifically, have three levels of error-detection built-in. The minimum size for QR codes is 21-by-21 cells. They can increase in size in increments of 4-by-4 cells, with a maximum size of 105-by-105 cells.

A QR code can carry up to some hundred times the amount of information a conventional barcode is capable of. When comparing the display of both: a conventional barcode can take up to ten times the amount of printing space as a QR code carrying the same amount of information. A QR code is capable of being read in 360 degrees, from any direction, thus eliminating any interference and negative effects from backgrounds.

Also, the algorithm which is used to create QR codes will allow for an error margin (approx. 7-30%). “So what?” you ask? Well, this doesn’t just help with scanning purposes in case the item or code in question is dirty or damaged. Knowing this feature, you can alter the QR code symbol to include a logo, keyword, picture, etc. This could help extraordinarily in the aesthetic appeal of the code, and thus customer/consumer response. Or it could just help cater to your creative/fun side if you wanted to make a QR code of your own.

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