Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Making my QR code more human

Ever since I was introduced to QR codes, they have been in the forefront of my thoughts, from an artistic angle.

QR codes are 2D codes that have the capability of storing data that can be retrieved, providing links and even ticketing and couponing solutions, as I learnt from Mirko kisser of Celloon. Indeed, they can be combined with a powerful online tracking system to convert a print product into a remarkable market analysis tool.

The problem is their sterility. Celloon have a solution of combining icons with the code, The Japanese design company Set has taken the QR codes and also made art out of them.

Simplistically, I wanted to understand if I could do the same.

I created my business card information as a QR code using a freely available QR code Generator at

The image of the QR code was then printed at about A4 size and I spent an enjoyable hour at the Television, idly doodling a more curvy tracing of the barcode elements, making sure that there were little separate islands too.

I scanned the black and white tracing into my PC and converted it into a vector trace using CorelDraw, allowing smoothing of lines.

It was now possible to colour the individual islands in a random pattern to achieve a much more user friendly QR code - see the slide show above or go to Picasa.

Playing with colours and contrasts showed that you just needed a suitable contrast from the background and not too great a difference between the colours in their contrast if viewed as a greyscale. corners of pixels could be rounded, especially if you created a QR code with some error correction, as is possible.

Most modern mobile phones (cell phones) with cameras can take apps that allow you to read QR codes - provided mine for a Nokia.

So if you are new to QR codes, have a play creating some and seeing how much you can bend the rules before the colouring or distortion becomes unreadable!


  1. I can read the first three but not the fourth.

    My experience of barcodes goes back about 20 years. At one stage generating 1 million unique barcodes each day.

    The QR code is quite resilient and you can tear it in two and read each part seperately. It would be a good idea to get the QR standard and there is normally an associated standard from AIM defining the print quality required.

    Read Quality is a compromise between camera quality and print quality. I have the latest Windows Mobile 6.5 and a high quality camera on my smart phone which meant that I got near 100% read of different printed QR codes. Other people didn't have as good a set up and failed to read a large variety of codes.

    Playing with the code is a neat idea but I should adhere to the print quality standard so that the maximum number of people can read it.

    A happened to be visiting a brand new White Arrow parcel sortation hub where everything was being driven by barcodes. One problem was that all the barcode printers on customer sites were brand new and they all started running out of ink on the same day at the same time and the whole site failed on the same day at the same time !! and I was there !!

    Print quality is the big issue !!

  2. Thanks Richard for having a play,

    So far two other users have also tried with one not being able to read the coloured version and the other actually reading right through to the anamorphic coloured QR code (though it took some time).

  3. I like it, and have had some ideas along these lines myself - basically designing an aesthetically-pleasing barcode standdard. Although I had assumed I'd have to start with something that wasn't backwards-compatible.

    Since QR is error-corrected, you can presumably alter quite a lot of the encoded pixel bits too (from zeroes to ones or vice versa), to make images. I believe that CD manufacturer Nimbus did this with CD's in the 90's - bending the Reed Solomon to provide encoded bits lined-up on successive spirals of the disk, embedding a human-visible (but machine-invisible) image in the pits.