Data Matrix Codes vs. QR Codes

The use of Quick Response Codes, or QR Codes, is on the rise. You’ve probably seen them just about everywhere recently. But what makes QR Codes different from other Data Matrix Codes, and which code type is right for your bar code application?

Data Matrix Barcode
Data Matrix Code

Data Matrix Code is a two-dimensional (2D) code that consists of black and white modules, usually arranged in a square pattern. As more data is encoded in the symbol, the number of modules (rows and columns) increases. An entire Data Matrix symbol can store up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters. The alphanumeric data of Data Matrix codes identifies details of the component on which it is placed, including manufacturer ID, part number and a unique serial number.
The most popular application for Data Matrix is marking small items, due to its ability to encode a large amount of data in a small amount of space. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) mandates the use of Data Matrix Codes for Unique Item Identification (UID) of certain assets such as weapons and critical components of major systems. These assets must be permanently marked with a unique Data Matrix Code in accordance with Military Standard 130. Much of the Aerospace Industry, especially members of the Air Transport Association (ATA), aims to have all components of every new aircraft identified by Data Matrix codes.
QR Barcode
QR Code

QR Code is another type of 2D code that consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of any kind of data such as binary or alphanumeric.
First designed for the automotive industry to track vehicles during the manufacturing process, QR Codes have more recently become popular for more commercial uses such as entertainment and marketing that targets mobile phone users. QR Codes storing web addresses appear in magazines, on signs, etc. Users with a bar code scanner application on their phone scan the image of the QR Code to display text, contact information, or open a web page in the phone’s browser.
Although they are not typically used in traditional data capture applications, QR Codes can be useful when software programs are not available through a scanner, but can be reached through a website. By scanning the QR code, the data is then transferred to the site where it is entered.
For asset tracking, identification and data-driven applications, traditional Data Matrix Codes are generally the best choice. Though usually small in size, the Data Matrix Code can store large amounts of data for encoding, making them appropriate for a wide variety of applications.

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18 thoughts on “Data Matrix Codes vs. QR Codes”

    1. Thanks for the comment, Larry. Asset tags with 2D Data Matrix Codes can be a great solution when you need to encode a lot of data. One of our salespeople will contact you soon to help you decide if 2D Codes are the best solution for your asset tracking project.

    1. Mary,
      The short answer is QR Code cannot currently be used in the same way as the ECC 200 datamatrix.
      The ISO standards would allow the ECC 200 encoding structure to also be placed in a QR Code, however at this time each mobile device or scanner would have to be custom configured since this is not a typical approach. QR Code is most notably used as a consumer access code meaning the applications that use it typically send the user to a URL for product/company information, tickets, etc. These applications and devices would not presently properly decode the symbol. For example, if you use such an application on an IUID compliant ECC 200 Data Matrix symbol it displays the ISO header characters and data qualifiers as if they were text. If you use the ECC 200 Data Matrix and a handheld or application typically they will recognize the ISO codes and only display the data that follows them.
      So for an example encoded string for IUID compliance such as:
      [)>RS06GS17V0CVA5GS1P1234GSS786950RSEoT
      A standard commercially available application would result in:
      [)>0617V0CVA51P1234S786950
      Rather than the Unique Item Identifier (UII) that should be decoded with an ISO and IUID encoding aware scanner:
      D0CVA51234786950
      I believe there will be progress toward such compliance perhaps in the near future, but for now QR Code and its standard enabling infrastructure does not support IUID compliance. In addition to that US DoD, UK MoD, Netherlands nor NATO policies only allow the use of the ECC 200 Data Matrix symbol for IUID or UID of Items compliance.
      I hope this answers your question. If not, please feel free to respond to us directly at 800-627-3917 or customer_service@camcode.com.

  1. I believe you’re mistaken when you refer to QR as a subset of Data Matrix. Both standards are “2D Matrix” codes but they were developed independently of each other.

    1. Bob,
      Thanks for your comment. I updated the text in the post to make it more clear that QR codes are different types of 2D codes, not subsets of Data Matrix codes. You are correct that they were developed separately.

  2. DMC is better choice when you need smaller label size (from 10×10 up to 22×22) and bigger data correction level. If size is not the issue and reliability is not so strict than I would go for QR code.

    1. Bob,
      I apologize for the delay in response. The size of the QR code would depend on the amount of data encoded in the QR code. One thing to keep in mind is the scanner you will bee using. Smartphones don’t do well with small codes because of the limited optics on the phone. Other “2D” scanners perform much better.
      At Camcode, we can make a 2D barcode as small as 1/8″ x 1/8″ or even smaller.
      Using a traditional Data Matrix code may be another option. For example, Encoding “0123456789” in a QR code with an 8 mil narrow bar gives you an overall size of 0.170″ x 0.170″. Encoding “0123456789” in a Data Matrix code with an 8 mil narrow bar gives you an overall size of 0.090″ x 0.090″
      If you have additional questions, we would be happy to help.

  3. Data matrix ECC200 or QR code, which is the better way in DPM ( direct part marking) applications? such as plastic part surface, metal surface…

    1. Good question, Harvey.
      ECC200 is an error correction standard. Data matrix symbology utilizes the ECC200 error correction, which is why it is such a robust symbology.
      We always prefer Data matrix because of ECC200 and because it is a higher density barcode – nearly 30% more dense than other symbologies. Data matrix codes also allow for a bigger X-dimension and a further scan distance compared to other 2D symbologies. Relative to your question, Direct Part Marking (DPM) is a marking method. It doesn’t matter what the symbology or graphics consist of. It’s like asking what works better for building a wooden shelf, nails or screws. They both perform well, assuming that the quality of the DPM is the same on both substrates.
      You should choose the symbology based on the function you want it to perform, as well as the scan distance. Datamatrix is approved by the U.S. government for military and general manufactures for parts marking. QR Code use is generally tied to websites and web applications.
      If you need more assistance deciding which code would work best for your application, we’d be happy to help. Contact us at 800-627-3917 or complete the form here.

    2. Harvey,
      I just found your post and wanted to mention that the ECC 200 Data Matrix is slightly more versatile as a data carrier than QR Code for DPM. The most notable example I can think of is “dot peening” commonly used in aerospace. If you are not familiar with this method it drives a typically circular pin into the surface of the part and creates a round hole to form the cell of the data matrix symbol. Given the “target” elements of a QR Code it is nearly impossible to create them using dot peening. Hope this helps!

  4. I am looking to use a matrix code to label .5ml tubes for DNA samples, either round on the top or on the sides in a rectangle shape. I wanted to use a visible number and also a matrix code. Only like 0000 to 9999 and then we will start at 0000 again.

  5. Tia Crawford-Kruger

    Question, since a couple companies are using the qr codes for medical ID wearables, would the other code be more beneficial to storing bigger amounts of the persons health record, not just their basic needs and allergies? Also, can the 2D Data Matrix be able to hold more information in the long run?

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