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Is a QR code the same as a bar code? (with pictures)

Summary: Sometimes QR codes are mistakenly called “barcodes,” but barcodes are composed of parallel black lines (bars) and QR codes are composed of black or colored pixels or dots (not bars).  2D codes and Quick Response QR Codes were designed to resolve some of the technical limitations of traditional barcodes.



2d barcode versus 1d-barcode comparison

2d barcode versus 1d-barcode comparison. The barcode is on the left the 2D QR code is on the right.


1d BARCODE (traditional) QR CODE (2D CODE)
Readability Traditional bar codes are best read with dedicated barcode scanners. Bar code must be level for Left-to-Right or Right-to-Left scanning 2D codes can be read with a cell phone or any mobile device having a camera. 2D codes are reaable at any skew or angle.
Used UPC codes can be seen on retail packaging such as groceries.  Code 39 codes are displayed on FedEx and UPS labels. 2D Codes are the square codes displayed on direct mail, billboards, magazine advertisements.
Shape A traditional barcode is rectangular in shape that widens with more data. 2D Code is square and can be static in size.  Adding more data increases the number of dots (pixels) in the code.
Data Capacity Barcodes hold typically 13 to 36 characters 2d codes can hold 2,100 characters or more.
Data Correction If a barcode is defaced there is no data correction. A 2d code is readable even if 7% to 30% of the code is defaced.
Design & Color Traditional Bar codes should be Black & White (high contrast) for best readability. A 2d code can be any color (or multiple colors) as long as contrast exists between the background and the pixels (dots).  2d Codes can be hand drawn.
Types Most popular 1d types:

  • Code 3 of 9 (FexEx, UPS)
  • UPC/EAN (product pricing)
  • Interleaved 2 of 5 (manufacturing)
  • ISBN (books)
  • QR code (open source, most popular)
  • Aztec Code
  • Data Matrix
  • CueCat
  • Microsoft Tag
  • PDF417, or Stacked Barcode
  • Semacode
  • ShotCode
  • Touchatag
  • SPARQCode
  • SQR codes
  • Maxicode


Nearly all barcodes are black and white. Most QR codes and 2D codes are black in white, but the pixels and background used in a QR codes can be any color (or multi-color) as long as each pixel has a readable contrast compared to the solid lighter colored background. The dots on QR codes are commonly refereed to as pixels. Pixel is a shortened term which means picture element and is often used to describe the resolution of a television set or computer monitor.

Notably, QR codes are perfectly square. MicroQR codes are smaller and rectangualr but are used less frequently. The more data in a barcode, the more elements (and typically the longer) the barcode. Typically, when a QR code contains more data, the physical size of the barcode doesn’t change, but the more data in the QR code, more and smaller pixels are contained in the QR code. Typically, barcodes are decoded by software that can interpret the widths of groups of bars that make up each character. Similarly, QR code software precisely reads the pixels and decompresses and interprets the pixels to decode the information in the QR code.

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