The Quick Response (QR) code revolution has gone from relative obscurity to widespread use in what seems like no time at all. QR codes came into being in 1994, but only now are these black and white patterns are cropping up on anything and everything, from posters to magazine ads and product packaging. They make it far more convenient for consumers to follow web links in printed documents.

You simply launch a reader app on your smartphone, then snap a QR code with its camera. The relevant website will appear onscreen.

In a sense, the QR code is the modern-day barcode. A barcode contains enough numerical data to identify a product at a checkout, but no more; a QR code’s alphanumeric data can define a web URL. It achieves this by adding a dimension.

The data held in a simple one-dimensional barcode is encoded in one direction only, but a greater amount of information can be contained in a two-dimensional 2D barcode, which looks like a chequerboard.

You may have snapped QR codes on your smartphone before, but have you considered incorporating them into your own business materials? They’ll be at home in your product brochures and advertisements, in club newsletters, or even on your business card. And because they can contain phone numbers as well as internet addresses, you could even add them to the Contacts section of your website.

QR code generators are widely available online and easy to use, but there are various pitfalls into which the unwary could all too easily stumble. Here, we provide practical guidance on how to generate QR codes and embed them in a Word file or other document. We focus on using a QR code to direct someone to a website, but most of our instructions also apply if you want to encode a phone number or other element.

Create a QR code

Step 1. Your QR code is likely to be read by a handheld device with a much smaller screen than a desktop or laptop PC, so it’s a good idea to direct followers to a page that’s optimised for mobile devices. Compare our mobile site with our full desktop site to see what we mean.

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Step 2. A QR code should be as small as possible. To limit the amount of data encoded in it, use a URL-shortening service such as or This will cut down the length of the web address you want to direct people to. Some QR code generators include such a service, in which case you can skip this step.

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Step 3. We’re using the QR code generator at, although plenty of others are available and some offer extra features. Click the URL tab and enter the internet address (ideally a shortened version of it) after the ‘http://’. The QR code corresponding to the URL will appear onscreen as you type.

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Step 4. Click Options and experiment with the various Error Correction Code levels. Note how your QR code grows larger at the higher levels. In some instances you might want to select a higher level to make your code more resistant to damage but, for now, revert to the default ‘L’ setting to generate a small QR code.

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Step 5. Select a value of 4 against ‘Margin around QR code (module)’: This is the minimum recommended value. Click Options if the value isn’t visible. You can stick with the default resolution of 250x250 pixels or choose a higher resolution using the ‘Size’ slider. Click Download to save your code as a PNG file.

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Step 6. QR codes don’t have to be black and white. You can alter the background colour and data pixel colour by selecting the relevant options (click Options to see these). This can make a QR code fit in better with a document’s colour scheme, but nothing is as easily readable as black and white.

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