A few months back, we shared a primer on 2D barcodes—more commonly known as QR codes—that are quickly becoming ubiquitous in print and web marketing. We’re sure by now you’ve seen the little black and white boxes in your daily life. They’re on store windows, magazine ads, packaged goods, and more. We’ve even spotted them on bananas at the PRI office!
But the standard black and white box isn’t the prettiest icon we’ve ever seen. In fact, QR codes can sometimes stand out as a distracting eyesore on a beautifully designed finished piece. Adding color, styling, and branding will not only brighten up a boring box, but also let your target audience instantly know it belongs to you.
The simplest way to brand a QR code on your own is to add your signature color. Imagine a red QR for Target, black and yellow for Best Buy, or an orange one for AT&T. You can generate the code in the traditional way using online barcode generation sites, then overlay color in Photoshop to customize.
Keep in mind that your smartphone will best read dark boxes on a light background. Choose a dark shade on white, or two contrasting colors.
Add a Logo or Image
Besides just adding color, you can add your logo or another image into the code itself. You can overlay your image right over a part of the code. Be sure to follow these tips:
• Placing it toward the center often works best.
• Don’t place over/cover the small boxes found in three of the corners.
• The image shouldn’t take up more than 20% of the code’s surface area.
• Placing a white border around the image and removing any squares it partially covers will help for clear scanning.
• Be careful that the image you’re adding doesn’t contain squares that could be interpreted as data by the scanner.
As an example, we created a custom PRI logo that celebrates our 20th year in business and used it in a QR code.
Have More Fun
Flex your Photoshop muscles and add a drop-shadow or gradient, round the corners, or rotate the QR so it’s on an angle. Style the code so it works with your layout and typography.
Keep Size in Mind
The more you alter a QR code, the harder it may be for the scanner to read it. Keep custom QR codes large enough that they’re easily scanned.
Test Before You Deploy
You must ALWAYS test your custom code before using them on a finished product. It’s a good idea to test as you’re designing so you can undo your recent steps if the code is suddenly unscannable.
Test on with several scanner programs on several different smartphones. If your finished piece will be printed, make sure you test it on screen and paper as well.