A Brief History of the QR Code

The QR code (short for “quick response” code) has gone from a highly niche technology to commonplace in just a few short decades. These codes, which use tiny black and white squares arranged in unique patterns to store information for scanning, can store up to 200 times as much information as a traditional bar code.


In 1994, an engineer at Japanese company Denso, Masahiro Hara, came up with the idea after noticing how bar codes were needed for tracking all the necessary information on labeled pieces of equipment. Hara was inspired by the look of board games, with their interlocking pieces, and used that visual arrangement as the basis for the information-containing QR codes.


QR codes are fairly straightforward to use. A scanning device (in public settings, this is usually just a smartphone) reads the code, then does something with the information contained there. The applications are endless, from product labeling and tracking to entertainment to payment systems and much more.


The most well-known applications, however, are probably in marketing and adjacent fields. QR codes can be incorporated into marketing materials to send users to a website, display multimedia content, provide special offers and discounts, and much more. Because they just require a quick scan, rather than the manual entry of a URL, they’re a fast and easy way to increase conversion rates, get information in front of consumers, and get more eyes on layers of content.


QR codes also saw a major uptick in usage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In restaurants around the world, QR codes temporarily replaced physical menus, allowing patrons to scan a code and read the menu on their own phones rather than physically touch hard-to-sanitize paper menus. QR codes also played a significant role in contract tracing in many areas, as patrons would scan QR codes upon entry to public spaces in order to assist in tracing procedures if infections were later reported. Some countries even included QR codes on vaccination cards.


Today, the use of QR codes is broader than ever. On the consumer side, it’s common to see QR codes available to unlock “bonus” features on physical ads, to get information quickly while in public spaces, or to authenticate some types of logins. Behind the scenes, companies are using QR codes not just to deal with customers, but to handle product tracing, counterfeit detection, and much more. With so many possibilities, it’s no wonder that printers are being asked more than ever to incorporate QR codes into a wide variety of printed collateral – and we’re ready to create and innovate alongside you!