QR codes vs NFC

What are QR codes?

QR code is short for Quick Response code. QR codes are two-dimensional codes which are able to store more information on its smaller surface than normal barcodes.

What are QR codes used for?

QR codes were originally developed to be used in the logistics sector. Compared to normal barcodes they are able to store more information and are less prone to read errors. In contrast to barcodes, a QR code can be read successfully even if 30 % of the code is destroyed.

Meanwhile, QR codes aren’t only used in the logistics sector, but also for marketing purposes. QR codes caught the interest of marketing professionals, as they don’t require a special scanner to be read. A common smartphone with a camera is totally sufficient to read QR codes. Due to the wide distribution of such smartphones, nowadays QR codes are printed on many advertising posters and flyers. QR codes can hide various types of information such as links, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses or geo data. For example, passers-by can scan a QR code containing a link with their smartphone and thus they are automatically directed to the corresponding website.

How do QR codes work?

QR codes are square pictures which can be read by QR scanners and smartphones. To read QR codes with a smartphone, the device only needs to have a camera and an app for reading QR codes has to be installed.

A QR code can contain numbers, special characters and combinations of characters (e.g. text, contact data or links). QR codes consist of a square matrix which incorporates all information in the form of black and white squares. Moreover, the matrix contains three larger squares in its corners to provide QR scanners with some points of reference. Additionally, some squares contain information about the data type of the QR code’s coded content. The construction of the square matrix assures that the hidden information can be read even if 30 % of the matrix is destroyed.  

What’s the difference between QR codes and NFC?

In principle, QR codes and NFC tags can be used in a similar way. Not only QR codes, but also NFC tags are suitable to be attached to advertising posters. NFC tags can also be used to store information such as links, contact data and text. Moreover, both variants only allow passers-by to read their content from a very short distance. However, there also exist some fundamental technical differences between QR codes and NFC tags.

Read process

In fact, QR codes are only a picture and can’t be classified as any kind of technology. NFC tags however contain a microchip which is able to store data. This main difference results in a different read process of QR codes and NFC tags. While QR codes are decoded via an optical image recognition process, NFC tags actually transmit data to the smartphone they are scanned with via a NFC connection. As QR codes are read via an optical process, good lighting and contrast conditions are essential to scan a code successfully. Moreover, the read process often fails if the code is worn out by rain or has been pasted over deliberately.

Design options

From the marketing perspective the limited design options of QR codes are a huge disadvantage. Meanwhile, so called design QR codes were developed, but the typical square matrix is still visible. However, NFC chips can be integrated into stickers, cards, tags, wristbands and various other products. This way, the NFC chip isn’t visible and all NFC products can be printed individually (e.g. with a logo).


As there are several free QR code generators on the internet, QR codes can be printed at home nearly for free. Though the costs of producing QR codes are quite low, it’s not possible to overwrite existing codes with new content. If the content of a QR code should be changed, the code has to be generated and printed again. In contrast, NFC tags can be overwritten many times. Therefore, the higher price can be a worthwhile investment especially as NFC tags aren’t very expensive either.


The main advantage of QR codes is the widespread use of smartphones with cameras. Therefore, the majority of the population has at least the possibility to read QR codes. The NFC technology hasn’t acquired the same level of awareness, yet. Moreover, the important support of Apple is still missing, so iPhone users aren’t able to read NFC tags. However, many other smartphone manufacturers have integrated NFC chips into their smartphones, so the distribution of NFC-enabled smartphones is increasing rapidly. From the marketing perspective it’s important, that advertising content can be read by as many people as possible. Therefore, we recommend using both NFC tags and QR codes for marketing purposes. This way, most people are reachable and the advantages of NFC tags and QR codes complement each other.


  • QR codes encrypt data in a simple picture, whereas NFC tags contain a microchip which stores data.
  • While QR codes are decoded via an optical image recognition process, NFC tags transmit their stored data via an NFC connection to the scanning smartphone.
  • QR codes can be destroyed deliberately and get worn out by bad weather quickly.
  • Possibilities to design QR codes individually are very limited.
  • QR codes are cheaper, but in contrast to NFC tags they can’t be overwritten with new content.
  • Most people have a smartphone with a camera and thus are able to read QR tags. NFC-enabled smartphones are not equally widespread, yet.

Further information

Erstellt: 2017-02-16 / Aktualisiert: 2017-05-24 2017-02-16 2017-05-24