QR codes and Data Matrix codes are both examples of 2D barcodes, also known as ‘2D codes,’ and are increasingly employed by manufacturers, albeit for different purposes.

These 2D codes offer various opportunities for manufacturers, including extending product packaging for brand messaging, facilitating internal track and trace operations, and implementing anti-counterfeiting measures across diverse industries.

However, the choice between Data Matrix codes and QR codes depends on your business needs.

This blog aims to elucidate the key distinctions between Data Matrix codes and QR codes, empowering you to make an informed decision about which 2D code suits your requirements.

Before delving into their optimal applications, let’s first explore how to differentiate between a Data Matrix code and a QR code.

What is a Data Matrix code?

A Data Matrix is a two-dimensional barcode that represents data through a grid of contrasting dark and light cells, usually in black and white. Unlike one-dimensional barcodes, Data Matrix codes are omnidirectional, allowing them to be read from any angle.

The Data Matrix was created in 1994 by the U.S. company International Data Matrix, Inc. (I.D. Matrix).

The size of the grid in a Data Matrix code expands as more information is encoded, with a limitation of 2,335 alphanumeric characters.

What does a Data Matrix code look like?

Data Matrix codes commonly have a square or occasionally rectangular shape, composed of numerous light and dark square dots, referred to as ‘cells,’ arranged in a grid or matrix.

While the standard is black and white, Data Matrix codes can be printed in various color combinations as long as there is enough contrast between the dark and light cells for readability.

A distinctive feature of Data Matrix codes is the L-shaped pattern located on one side, forming two solid adjacent borders. This ‘finder pattern’ assists camera scanners in locating the code.

Data matrix code

How do you scan a Data Matrix code?

Data Matrix codes are scannable from any angle (0-360°) through the use of a Data Matrix code scanner or an omnidirectional camera scanner. While some smartphone cameras possess the physical capability to scan Data Matrix codes, many smartphones lack the built-in functionality, necessitating the use of a third-party app to read the information.

What is a QR code?

A QR code, short for Quick Response code, is another type of 2D barcode encoding data in black and white or contrasting dark and light cells arranged in a grid. Similar to other 2D codes, QR codes are omnidirectional, allowing them to be read from any angle.

The QR code was introduced in 1994 by the Denso Corporation of Japan, and it can hold a maximum of 4,296 alphanumeric characters, determined by the number of rows and columns within the code.

What does a QR code look like?

A QR code is composed of squares, either dark or light in color, arranged in a grid against a contrasting background. While commonly printed in black and white, QR codes can also be produced in various colors, as long as there is enough contrast between the dark and light squares. These codes feature a ‘finder pattern,’ consisting of three identical square structures positioned in the top left, top right, and bottom left corners, aiding scanners in identifying the code.

QR code

How do you scan a QR code?

Similar to Data Matrix codes, QR codes can be scanned from any angle using a dedicated QR code scanner or camera scanner. Additionally, QR codes are compatible with smartphone cameras, and in recent times, some mobile phone manufacturers have integrated QR code reading capabilities into standard camera functionalities. This provides QR codes with a slight advantage in consumer-facing scenarios, as users may have the ability to scan a code directly using their phone camera without requiring a specialized app.

What’s the difference between a Data Matrix code and a QR code?

Data Matrix and QR codes, both categorized as 2D barcodes, have the capacity to convey the same information found in traditional 1D barcodes. The Global Standards Organization (GS1) oversees the development and maintenance of global standards for various barcode types, including Data Matrix codes and QR codes. As a result, both codes can carry GS1 ID keys, such as a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number), which is a distinctive and internationally recognized identifier for products.

These codes can store diverse information, including item expiry dates, serial numbers, batch/lot numbers, and URLs for directing consumers to external websites with additional product details like allergen information, lifestyle suitability, or recipe instructions. Additionally, both codes incorporate error correction capabilities, ensuring data readability even if the code is partially removed or damaged. This is achieved through the Reed-Solomon Error Correction algorithm, a mathematical method that adds backup data to the code.

Despite their similarities, there are subtle distinctions between the two codes, making them more suitable for specific applications. Data Matrix codes, being physically smaller, offer high data density in a compact size, making them ideal for marking individual product parts with limited space. The US Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) recommends using Data Matrix for labeling small electronic components, and they are the default choice for automotive and aerospace applications. They are also the only GS1-approved 2D codes for regulated healthcare items.

In contrast, QR codes are larger and can accommodate more data than Data Matrix codes. Originating in Japan, QR codes can include Kanji and other multi-byte character sets, making them suitable for non-European languages.

Both QR codes and Data Matrix codes are public domain codes, meaning they are royalty-free, and there is no need for a license to use them. Detailed specifications and printing requirements for each code can be found in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards:

  • ISO/IEC 16022 outlines requirements for Data Matrix codes.
  • ISO/IEC 18004 outlines requirements for QR codes.

 2D code comparison

Code type Data Matrix code QR code
Maximum capacity

Numeric: 3116

Alphanumeric characters: 2335

Bytes: 1556

Numeric: 7089

Alphanumeric characters: 4296

Bytes: 2953

Size

Min 10×10 cells

Max 144×144 cells

Min 21×21 cells

Max 177×177 cells

Error correction

Reed-Solomon Error Correction algorithm

Error correction capability of 25–33%

Level is not adjustable

Reed-Solomon Error Correction algorithm

Error correction for QR codes can be adjusted to allow for greater error correction capabilities. Four error correction levels are available – for each level a greater amount of backup data is required, which increases the size of the QR code.

  • Level L 7%
  • Level M 15%
  • Level Q 25%
  • Level H 30%

Which 2D code is right for you?

Despite their distinctions, both codes can be applied in similar ways, offering the capability to encode more data than traditional 1D barcodes. They are utilized for internal traceability and consumer marketing purposes. In practical terms, Data Matrix codes are frequently employed for internal product identification and anti-counterfeiting measures. On the other hand, QR codes have become the prevailing choice for various consumer-facing applications. The table below outlines some typical applications for both codes.

2D Code Applications

Data Matrix code QR code
  • Supply chain traceability, including direct parts marking, such as with electronic components
  • Anti-counterfeiting through serialisation, such as in pharmaceutical packaging
  • Additional product information
  • Usage instructions and recipes
  • Social sharing
  • Auto-linking for spares ordering and guarantee registration
  • Promotions, contests, and gamification

Printing 2D codes

Just like with any product labeling, it’s crucial to ensure the accurate printing of 2D codes. This involves selecting the appropriate printing application and an accompanying code verification system to assess the quality and accuracy of the final code. Although Data Matrix and QR codes offer more tolerance for errors compared to traditional 1D barcodes, it remains essential to guarantee that codes are clear, precise, and accurate. This ensures their effective use by consumers and establishes trust among retailers and stakeholders throughout the broader supply chain. Code verification systems, such as Domino’s R-Series, allow scanning of codes post-printing to verify compliance with print quality standards and check data accuracy.

What’s the best technology for printing 2D codes?

If you’re contemplating incorporating a Data Matrix code or QR code into your product packaging and seek further guidance on the optimal approach, feel free to reach out. We provide various printing and labeling solutions tailored to the needs of diverse industries and packaging formats. Additionally, our lineup includes specialized code verification systems designed to complement the Domino product family. Our experts are available to discuss your specific requirements and help determine the most suitable code and printing solution for your business.

What’s the best technology for printing 2D codes?

If you are considering adding a Data Matrix code or QR code to your product packaging and need more information on how best to do this, please get in touch. We have a range of different printing and labelling solutions to suit the requirements for all industries and packaging types. We also offer a range of specialist code verification systems, designed to work alongside the Domino family of products. Our experts are on hand to talk through your specific requirements, and discuss which code, and printing solution, is best for your business.

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