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What are Barcodes and QR codes?

Everybody knows what barcodes look like. They are used to identify or represent almost anything we want. Products we buy from the grocery store or the mall, parcels and packages, and even employee and government IDs nowadays use barcodes in one form or another.

Origin of the barcode

The barcodes we see everywhere today actually came from a research project carried out in 1948 by two students from the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia: Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland. The main goal was to find a way to make product information easily available at checkout counters. Woodland later left the university and further developed the concept of the barcode in Florida. He applied for a patent for it in 1949 which was granted in 1952. He sold the patent to a company which was bought by RCA. However, it was not until the 1970s when the barcode started gaining acceptance by food chains and the grocery industry when businesses that implemented the technology posted an increase in sales and yielded a big return for their investment.

Common barcode formats

Since then, barcodes have been used in the retail, medical and other industries for a wide variety of applications. Through the years, it has also been used as a means of saving personal information for ID cards.

In general, barcode labels adhere to the UPC (Universal Product Code) symbology, a standard used in the US, Australia and other countries. UPC comes in different versions, the most popular of which is known as the UPC-A. This uses 12 numbers to identify a product. A 13-digit version, known as the EAN (originally standing for European Article Number later changed to International Article Number but retaining the acronym), was developed in 1970 by George Laurier, allowing for more unique numbers to be generated for worldwide use.

The Rise of Quick Response Codes

UPC barcodes are one dimensional, this means they can be read in one direction only (horizontal). While useful, this restricts the amount of information it can hold. Thus, the need for a more comprehensive symbology with a significantly larger capacity for data has given birth to 2D barcodes, among which Quick Response (QR) codes are becoming known for.

The QR Code was created in 1994 by Denso WAVE for use in Japan’s automotive industry. Unlike UPC and EAN, QR codes can carry information in two directions, horizontal and vertical. It can contain more than 2000 characters, allowing more data to be accessible in one scan. In addition, instead of using bars, a QR code uses tiny squares, dots, various symbols, and even kanji in one small square area. Advertising companies have used it in publications to direct users to websites using their smartphones and tablets. This has led a lot of businesses to switch over to using QR codes.

The main differences

Here is a chart enumerating the differences between barcodes and QR codes:

Barcodes QR Codes
Capacity 20 – 25 characters 2000 characters
Direction Linear (Left to Right) Matrix (Left to Right, Top to Bottom)
Scanning Requires special barcode reader equipment Can be scanned using a mobile device’s camera and QR code apps
Readability Requires precise positioning Can be read from any direction, from any distance
Mobile Transmission N/A Can be sent as SMS text messages
Encryption N/A Supported


The barcode has been around for decades and won’t likely be replaced anytime soon. However, technological advancements have made barcode technology evolve, changing it from linear to matrix form. In many cases, 1D barcodes are still the best choice for most business needs, but if you require more information encoded, it is best to use QR codes and other 2D barcode formats.

Try out our own generated QR code and barcode and see which works for you:


ID Superstore can help you choose the right printer for issuing cards or generating labels.  Call us today at 1-800-667-1772.  We are more than willing to answer all your questions and assist you in purchasing the best equipment and barcode supplies for your specific need.

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