At first glance, all QR codes look pretty similar.
Actually, at second glance they do too.
But there’s a lot going on under the hood, under all those black and white squares. And if you don’t understand it, you may choose a less-than-ideal QR code for your purposes.
That may mean lower customer engagement, higher load times, and security issues.
Read on to learn about the different types of QR codes and in what circumstances they’re most useful.
QR Code Version Guide
There are 40 versions of the conventional QR code. Each version has a different number of data modules. Data modules are the black and white squares that make up a QR code.
The higher the QR code version, the more data modules there are. And the more data modules there are, the more data the QR code can hold.
QR Code Versions
The right column lists the maximum number of alphanumeric characters each version can store. This number is variable because of QR code error correction.
QR code error correction is a system that allows QR codes to be read even if they’re damaged.
The higher the error correction level, the more data modules are needed to store the backup information. That means less data modules available for storing original data.
All the numbers in our table have the maximum number of alphanumeric characters, which means the minimum level of error correction.
Why Have Different QR Code Versions?
The variability of QR code versions make them quite versatile. And that affects how your customers interact with your QR codes through their size and load time.
Let’s say you’re creating a QR code menu for your bar or restaurant. The only thing you need to encode in your QR code is the URL to the where your digital menu is published. Assuming that’s around 50 alphanumeric characters, you could use version 3.
That’s a QR code with a 29x29 grid of data modules. It’s a size that will allow you to place the code in smaller spaces. Being able to use smaller codes means you can increase their visibility in a number of ways.
Put them in emails, on business cards, or on windows. Your QR code marketing gets a lot easier.
And the smaller QR code size also allows for closer scanning, which people tend to do.
The more data modules there are in a QR code, the longer it takes a QR code reader to read it.
Imagine using a version 40 dynamic QR code for your 50-character URL. You’re using just over 1% of the available storage space. But your QR code scanner doesn’t know that. It’s still going to check every data module to make sure it doesn’t miss anything.
That means using version 40 for your QR code menu will have a much higher load time than using version 3. Not a good customer experience.
Beyond the QR code versions, there are also a few QR code variants.
QR Code Model 1 & Model 2
QR code model 1 and 2 represent development stages of QR code history.
QR Code Model 1: The First QR Code Type
QR code model 1 was the original QR code. When the QR code was first created, it was capable of a size of up to 73x73 modules. That’s version 14.
All model 1 QR codes have a maximum version of 14 and a maximum size of 73x73. Model 1 QR codes are the older specification and are used far less frequently today than their successor, the model 2.
QR Code Model 2: The Updated QR Code Type
QR code model 2 is widely seen today. Most QR codes are model 2, which built on model 1 in two important ways.
First, it increased the grid size to 177x177, giving us the modern version 40.
Second, and by increasing the grid size and data storage capacity, it enabled more robust error correction. So your QR code can still successfully be scanned and read even if up to 30% of it is damaged. Or otherwise difficult to scan.
Micro QR Code & Small QR Code
Next up, we’ve got the micro QR code. Sometimes casually referred to as the small QR code.
These tenacious little buggers are capable of being placed and successfully scanned in the smallest of places. They’re often used on product packaging with limited real estate.
Think of a QR code on your toothpaste tube that surfaces a shortened URL that brings you to the manufacturer’s website. Or a QR code on a can of sardines that surfaces a shortened URL that communicates the social responsibility initiatives of the fishery.
There are four versions of micro QR codes:
Micro QR Code Versions
They’re different from regular QR codes in the following ways:
- They require only one position detection pattern
- They need only a two-module margin width around it to be scanned, known as the quiet zone
You can read more about detection patterns and QR code margins in our How Do QR Codes Work? post.
iQR QR Codes
Like the proper QR code, the iQR code is a 2D matrix code. That’s opposed to a 1D barcode (see our QR code vs barcode post). That means it can be scanned in two directions, the X axis and the Y axis. Like all QR codes.
It was developed by Denso Wave (the inventor of the QR code) in 2011 to be the successor to the standard QR code. It has an 80% higher data capacity.
What sets iQR codes apart from standard QR codes is
- The iQR code can store up to 40,000 numeric characters on a grid of 422x422. That’s much bigger than even the biggest model 2, version 40 QR code.
- Error correction for iQR codes can be up to 50%. That means half the code can be damaged yet still scannable and readable.
- iQR codes can be rectangular.
- Due to their module configuration, they’re typically able to encode more data than standard QR codes of a similar size.
iQR Code Generator & Reader
iQR codes seem pretty great, right? Right. They’re undoubtedly an advance in QR code technology. And you can create them using an iQR code generator online for free Though there are always QR code security risks when using free services.
The real issue, though:
Most phone cameras don’t natively scan iQR codes. You’ll need to download a third party app for that. Not a huge issue, but something that model 1 and model 2 QR codes don’t present people with.
You’ll likely get less scans if someone has to download something than if they don’t.
The SQRC, another Denso Wave product, is a 2D matrix code that’s entirely secure.
Regular QR codes don’t restrict the type of device that can scan and read their data. That means any private or classified information in a conventional QR code isn’t secure.
SQRC codes change that.
The SQRC code can make all its encoded information private. It hides it with a cryptographic key and restricts the devices that can access the information.
It does all this natively, right out of the box.
SQRC codes can also carry public information. The data encoded in them doesn’t need to be encrypted. But the option exists for sensitive information.
SQRC Use Cases
Some instances where SQRC codes are useful are:
- Event entrances to prevent forgery
- Hospitals to secure sensitive information
- Delivery and invoice slips that need to surface different information for different parts of the supply chain
Frame QR, another Denso Wave product, has a central area for holding an image. This area is known as the QR code frame.
The QR code frame isn’t limited to images, though. It can also be a blank white space in a variety of shapes.
Benefits of Frame QR Codes
First, the more visually appealing a QR code is, the higher its scan rates are. The Frame QR code is all about customer engagement.
Second, the frame can be filled with a hologram that can be used for anti-forgery and traceability purposes.
Model 1 and model 2 conventional QR codes can include a central image. But Frame QR codes can include much bigger images.
They’re also secure and support 360-degree scanning and reading.
QR Code Types: Revealed
You did it. You read about QR code types. Now you know how best to leverage the power of QR codes.
Because QR code benefits are numerous. There are many versions and variants of QR codes. Different types of QR codes, different upsides.
The right one for you strikes a happy middle ground between size, engagement, security, and load speed.
Remember, don’t automatically get the biggest QR code if you don’t need it. It’ll require longer load times and a farther QR code scanning distance than is natural.
It’s always a good idea to partner with a technology company if you’re looking for enterprise-grade QR code solutions. They’ll make sure you have the QR code that’s perfect for your business.