About This Lesson.....

Hi there! I'm Amy Webb, cofounder of Knowledgewebb and the author of this lesson. You'll find that it's pretty low-tech and conversational, which I find to often be the easiest way to learn something new. At the end I have an activity for you to try. Hopefully, this sounds friendly and inviting, like a friend explaining how to get started with QR codes. Keep in mind that while you've no doubt seen a QR code before, lots of companies, media organizations, universities and government agencies are just starting to use them. This is a great way to try making your own...for free!


Estimated Time: This lesson should take you 45 minutes to complete.

What will I learn?  In this lesson, you’ll learn what a 2D barcode is, what it can do, how to create one and how it can be used in journalism, PR, marketing and beyond.

Equipment/ software needed: You will need a computer, Internet connection and an updated web browser. I also recommend that if you have a mobile phone with a camera and data connection, you get that ready to use.

Introduction: Two-dimensional barcodes can be encoded with various data (phone numbers, text, photos, URLs, etc.) and "scanned" using the camera on a mobile phone. Think of them as print hyperlinks.

Why you should care: With the proliferation of smartphones has come an easy way to “scan” two-dimensional barcodes to retrieve all sorts of information: test, URLs, photos and even mp3s.  Publishers, marketers and information officers all over the world have been using 2D barcodes for the past few years to help their readers subscribe to content, learn about something, offer coupons and more.

Examples of how 2D barcodes are being used:

  • Knowledgewebb created the first QR code game at the Online News Association conference in Washington, DC. Our game has been adapted and played by lots of organizations since then.
  • QR and other 2D barcodes are being used on name badges and other forms of identification to quickly and easily scan people for contact information.
  • The Orlando Sun Sentinel newspaper once used QR codes in the print newspaper to drive traffic back to its website for multimedia and video stories.
  • Ralph Lauren took out a full-page ad on the back cover of New York magazine launch its 2D barcode campaign.
  • Airlines are now using 2D barcodes as boarding passes that can be scanned right from your mobile phone.
  • Lots of advertisers are using 2D barcodes to publicize details of upcoming movie launches and to enable people to click on an image and make purchases from their phones.

Key Definitions:

  • Since this is a 101 lesson, we’re going to assume that you’re totally new to 2D barcodes.  As such, there are lots of new terms to learn, and we’ll cover that in the section below.


In-depth Explanation:
The easiest way to get a handle on the 2D barcode trend is to realize that they’re just images that can store data.  In a lot of ways, they’re no different from the barcodes you see at the supermarket or on the back of a book.  If you have some way to scan the code, you can read and interpret the data.  When you’re grocery shopping, the checkout clerk swipes a product over a scanner to determine the price of that item.

2D barcodes work the same way, basically.  The codes look a little different - and the scanner now has a personal touch.  More on that in just a minute.

First, let’s talk about all the varieties of 2D barcodes. As things tend to go in emerging technology, no one has yet decided on a standard.  For that reason, 2D barcodes can come in a few different shapes and sizes. I’m going to highlight three.

QR really stands for "Quick Response" and was created in the early 90's in Japan. It's a two-dimensional bar code that stores data that can be reinterpreted. Japan-based Denso Wave filed the original patent and released a Japanese standard for it, but an ISO International Standard was approved and released in 2000. QR codes are now being used worldwide. QR codes are square shaped and are typically anchored by three smaller squares in the corners.

Datamatrix Codes: This standard was developed by RVSI Acuity CiMatrix and is now an ISO standard. You'll have seen these codes on many consumer products in the United States (look on your shampoo bottles and UPS packages). These barcodes are also square shaped but are usually anchored by two solid lines, on the far left and far right, forming a right angle at the bottom left corner.

Though less popular, there are a few other varieties: Semacode,  mCode and ShotCode. ShotCodes are actually circle-shaped. 2D Codes also work on video and websites.  They even come in color.

Here are some 2D barcodes out in the wild:



It’s easier than you think to create these codes. Using one of the many free websites now available, you simply type in the information you want to display, select the size and colors, and then presto! You have yourself a 2D barcode.  Our activity in this lesson will focus on you creating a barcode from scratch. But first...how the heck do you scan these things?

That will require a mobile phone. Depending on your phone, you may already have a barcode reader installed.  If not, there are a number of options to try. 

iPhone users can visit the App Store at iTunes to download any number of applications now available. I like i-nigma.

Android handsets already have QR or 2D barcode readers installed.

For more information or to find a reader for your mobile handset, click here.

To be sure, your ability to scan and read 2D barcodes relies heavily on the quality of picture your phone can take.

Now before your eyes gloss over, let me explain how this impacts journalism, PR, marketing and communications in general. Let’s say that a consumer has a camera-equipped phone and already has the right software installed. (We know that newer phones either come with the 2D barcode readers pre-installed or have access to free/ cheap readers to download.)  Literally any surface that she walks by could, in theory, be interactive:

  • A billboard advertising hamburgers from a popular chain restaurant shows a 2D code that she can scan to get $1 off her next purchase.
  • A magazine posts a 2D barcode at the end of every story so that she can literally bookmark the article and then continue reading it online.
  • A university could post a 2D barcode to help new students get around campus.
  • A political campaign could use a 2D barcode to leave virtual bookmarks all over town -- ones that explain how the candidate will address city issues (like potholes, buildings, tourism, farmers markets and the like).
  • An author could publish small chapters of a book, each with a 2D barcode, which would force the reader to subscribe to a blog or website.  In order to get the next chapter, she’d have to subscribe and possibly even pay a small fee to get additional content.
  • A makeup company might post an ad on a bus or subway for a new lipstick color. She could scan the 2D barcode on the ad, then go to her nearest department store for a free sample.

The list of possibilities goes on and on. Once a 2D barcode is scanned, the phone's browser automatically redirects to a URL because the web address can be part of what gets written into the code. And if you're redirecting to a mobile page within your domain, you're increasing your traffic from your print product.

Consider the possibilities! A newspaper could start a point system with younger readers as part of a monthlong promotion. Once a day, the barcode would be hidden within the physical paper. Readers would scan it in and receive X# points towards his/her account. By the end of the month, readers with 25+ days of scanning would receive a free three-month subscription. You can target a younger, mobile audience and bring those circulation numbers back up, too. How about a beauty magazine - at the end of your makeup section that month, offer a barcode. Monetize it by attaching a coupon to a featured beauty product sponsor!


It’s free (and easy) to generate a 2D barcode. There are a number of websites to try, however I like http://keremerkan.net/qr-code-and-2d-code-generator/, which will help you to create a QR or 2D barcode for any number of uses.

Once you’re there, choose the content type and the image size you’d like to create. click on generate when you are finished and a code is made for you!  Try creating several different kinds of codes using more and less information. You’ll soon see that the more information you enter, the more complicated your code will become.

Because the amount of data dictates how intricate the barcode is, and because not all mobile phones offer robust cameras, the safest barcodes are those embedded with minimal text, such as one or two sentences, a URL, a phone number or even an email address.

After you finish creating a code, you can either drag that image to your desktop or right click to save it.

A special note to OSX users: In your case, dragging an image to your desktop will render a PNG - and not a JPG - filetype.  A PNG is also called a “portable network graphics” image. Please keep in mind that depending on where you plan to use your image, a PNG may not be an acceptable filetype.  But there’s a workaround!

Once you finish dragging the image to your desktop, open it up using the Preview application. It’s very possible that by simply double clicking on your image will cause it to automatically open in Preview, unless you already have a photo editing tool, such as Photoshop, installed. Once you have the PNG file open in Preview, go to File > Save As. Now, rename the picture and where you see options for Format, change PNG to JPEG.  (JPG is an abbreviation of JPEG.)


Amy Webb is the cofounder of Knowledgewebb.



Two-dimensional barcodes can be encoded with various data (phone numbers, text, photos, URLs, etc.) and "scanned" using the camera on a mobile phone. Think of them as print hyperlinks.

Amy Webb
Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)