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Take QR Codes To The Max

You’ve seen them—those odd-looking square images with the small, jiggly boxes. They are showing up in many publications and advertisements—you’ll even see them on promotional items. They look like bar codes squared. A Quick Response (QR) code is a form of bar code that can be scanned by most smart phones using a free reader app. But how do you create a QR code? What can you use it for, what do you need to know, what makes it work and how can you avoid those uh-ohs when using them?

It’s an easy process to make a code, but there are many nuances that can spoil a campaign very quickly if your target audience cannot scan the code and if the code doesn’t take them where you want them to go. Size matters, and density is important. Here are some do’s, dont’s and ideas to consider if you really want your QR code to do its job—and that’s to drive customers or prospects to do business with you or your clients.

Three Do’s

1. Create a call to action. Give prospects a reason to scan the code and tell them what they’ll get. For example: “View this video on YouTube” (create a video about your product), “Join our mailing list,” “Find our nearest location,” “Download more info about…,” “Enter our drawing,” “Like us on Facebook,” “Follow us on Twitter.”

2. Always test, test, test. Before publishing, test your code on all smartphones (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Win7) using different readers. There are many popular code readers available.  i-Nigma on Android (go to on your phone to download it free) or iPhone and iPad has Qrafter (get it at the Apps store on your phone). When printing the code on a promotional item, have the factory test the code after printing a few products or get a pre-production sample to test the code yourself. This can save you problems later.

3.  Use a URL shortener. This helps increase the number of scans. Use a service such as or Both offer tracking. Or use your own URL shortener like I do at Customize the QR code, such as KPQR.US/att or KPQR.US/teen.

Three Don’ts

1.  Don’t send prospects to your regular website. Create a mobile-enabled version of the page you want them to see. More than 90 percent of scans are made on smartphones, so make sure your message can be read.

2.  Don’t make the code too small. A code that’s too small will limit how many phones can scan it. Phones without autofocus will have a problem. Try to keep the code size to a minimum of ¾-inch square. The amount of data in the code affects a phone’s ability to scan it. The more data, the larger the code should be.

3.  Don’t reverse colors to show a white code on black or other darker color. Reversing colors will work with some smartphones, but many code readers will not be able to render it. If you have to print a code on a dark-color shirt, put down a white background square and print the code in black on it.

Nine Proven Suggestions

1. Use error correction at the medium-low level (most code generators have this option). This means that even if up to 15 percent of the code is blocked or dirty, it can be corrected and still be read. The other levels of error correction available are low (seven percent, medium-high (25 percent) and high (30 percent). The last two levels should only be used if you are going to put a logo in the center of the code.

2.If possible, save your codes as a SVG (scalable vector graphic), which is a vectored image XML file. It can be increased or reduced without losing resolution and produces a better printed code. You can also put colors into the code using Illustrator or CorelDraw. Try out different colors and be sure to test, test, test.

3.A good margin or border of white space is important for a code to render properly. Most codes are 25 modules wide and 25 modules high. I like to have at least three or four modules of white space on the edges. Do not print on black without having white space around the code itself.
4.Not every customer or prospect has a smartphone. Therefore, it’s best to print the URL link to which the code renders next to the code. This helps increase your scan rate. About 50 percent of mobilephones in the U.S. are smartphones; make sure the other 50 percent can respond to your promotion by showing the URL link.

5.Tell customers how to get a free reader. Print “Get a free reader at your app store” near the QR code.

6.Some URL shortening services will let you change the destination link without changing the code. You can then use the same code and redirect it to a different YouTube video or to a different offer each week.

7.Make sure you use contrasting colors—a dark and a light color—and no less than a 4:1 ratio (black and white are best). If there is not enough contrast, your code will be hard to read or may not be readable at all. Other colors can be used as long as you stick to the 4:1 ratio—for example, brown and yellow or red and white will work.

8.Create your code so you can track how many scans it generates. Using analytics improves your project. Both and offer free analytics when you use their service to shorten a URL.

9.Finally, make sure any code you create for printing is not RGB. Even when printing black and white, it should be changed to a grayscale or CMYK so only the black plate is used when printing. This will help the resolution and make scanning easier by more smartphones. Saving a SVG code as a jpeg will work if it is the actual print size, if it is saved as CMYK and if it is saved at a minimum of 300 dpi.

If created and used correctly, QR codes can add purpose and value to any promotional campaign. I predict you’ll see them used frequently for many years to come.

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