Since their humble beginnings way back in 1994, QR codes have evolved into a marketing tool that’s become immediately recognizable by the masses. And they don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, either. Exploding in popularity during the Covid 19 pandemic as a hands free, paper free way to view menus, handouts, flyers, and more, they’ve solidified themselves as a great tool for driving action.
In fact, when used well in marketing, they’ve proven to be just as, if not more effective than a powerful CTA or a URL. (You may remember Coinbase’s $7 million Super Bowl ad from 2022 featuring nothing but a QR code that bounced across the screen. It was so successful in getting people to pull out their phones that it momentarily crashed their app.)
QR codes have proven to be highly effective for quickly and easily moving people along the customer journey and bringing them to the exact place online you want them to go. Not to mention, they’re an easy way for marketing and sales teams to track page visits as a direct result of a scan, and a great way to collect first-party data to help marketers better understand their potential customers.
But for being such an easy tool to use, they’re not always the simplest to create. Googling “QR code generator” will pull up more than 62 million search results, but not all of them are created equal. Finding a free QR code solution that allows for easy customization of color and shape for use in more complex designs can be tricky. Not to mention, we've heard the QR horror stories, creating and printing QR codes that were believed to be free only for the vendor to put the code behind a paywall a few days later.
That’s why we’re breaking down 5 of the best (and free!) ways for marketers to create QR codes online, along with some clever examples of how to use QR codes in your next marketing campaign. Read on for the list!
With its simple and clean interface, QRCode Monkey is a great free tool that is pretty straight-to-the-point with its features.
It does have a number of customization features, from color gradients down to the look of the frame and even the body itself, so you’re not confined to simple black and white square QR codes only. You can even upload images or logos that can be displayed in the middle of your QR code, if you’re feeling really wild!
QRCode Monkey is a bit limited, however, when it comes to the type of content you can place
into the QR code, as it accepts only URLs at the get-go. (We talk more about other ways to use QR codes beyond URLs at the end of this blog.)
If you’re willing to register and create an account with QRCode Monkey, though, you can upload other types of files such as PDFs or MP3s.
While the core services QRCode Monkey offers (creating the QR codes themselves) is completely free, they do offer a paid premium plan option which boasts a few additional features marketing teams may find valuable, including providing statistics, editability, and tracking to registered users.
Next up, we have the graphic design giant, Canva. As with any app or tool in Canva, you’ll first need to make an account and incorporate it in a design. Not to worry, creating a QR code is a free feature, and you don’t need Canva Pro to access it!
Similar to QRCode Monkey, Canva only accepts URLs as data. You can customize the background and foreground colors, but without the gradients, and without all the other custom settings. The margin can also be adjusted.
Canva makes adding QR codes into designs incredibly easy. And, if you’re stumped on creative ways to display your QR code, try searching for the type of project you want to make, then searching “QR code” within the templates section of the design interface. If you need a simple tool that you need to add to a design immediately, whether it’s for a print piece, a social graphic, or something else, Canva might be the most efficient solution for you.
Powered by the popular URL shortener, bitly, QR Code Generator is another contender in a realm of free QR code generators.
Unlike QRCode Monkey or Canva, which only accept URLs by default, QR Code Generator offers a wide variety of data and content that you can add into your custom QR code stew. While adding a URL is a given, you can also add in vCard details, custom text, an email (complete with a subject line and a body, to be sent to a preset email address), an SMS, a WiFi network connection, Bitcoin, and Twitter – to mention the free ones.
Facebook accounts and MP3 uploads and the rest, similar to QRCode Monkey, are hidden behind a registration and premium account. Within the free version, there aren't many customization options, but QR Code Generator surely makes up for it with the type of content you can store into your QR.
Be cautious when using Bitly’s QR Code Generator, though, that you’re exclusively using the free tools, unless you want to pay the premium fee or risk your code not working once it’s been printed on your marketing piece until you pay. This QR code generator can be a bit unclear about which features are free and which are paid, so stick to simple, standard QR code, without adding a frame, different shape/color, or a logo.
Another giant in the realm of graphic design and digital art, Adobe couldn’t help but release their own free online QR code generator.
Even more minimalist and to-the-point than Canva’s approach, Adobe’s QR generator offers a handful of preset bodies and colors (around 5, compared to the others that give you entire color wheels of choices).
Adobe also only accepts URLs – but hey, it’s the most straightforward generator listed here. So if you need a quick and easy, no-fuss method of generating a QR code for your URL, Adobe’s might just be the one for you.
Finally, combining both the no-fuss interface of Adobe with the barrage of features Bitly offers, you can say that GoQR.me has the best of both worlds.
GoQR.me has no color customization options. But besides color, you can add most of what Bitly offers for free, with the addition of adding Geolocation and Calendar events as well!
Between these five free options for generating QR codes, you’ll surely be able to find one that will work great for any use case. Before you dive in, though, for best results, we highly recommend you follow a few best practices when creating and implementing QR codes into designs and collateral.
Best Practices when Leveraging QR Codes
Customize it, but not too much.
Clearly, there is tons of opportunity for customization of QR codes these days, from adding your brand colors and gradients to changing the shape of the code to adding to your logo in the center of the code itself for extra brand recognition. However, be careful not to overdo it on customizing your QR code. The more you customize a QR code, then harder it can be for phone cameras, especially on older phones, to scan it.
Keep your links short and sweet.
QR codes are generated by turning every character in a URL into part of the overall shape. The more characters present in a link, the darker and more complex the QR code will become, and denser QR codes are harder for phones to scan. If you have a particularly long URL, I recommend using a link shortening tool like Bitly to make your QR code easier to process.
Use a UTM code for tracking.
If you aren’t able to track link visits directly from the QR code generator you use, or if your link isn’t exclusively being accessed in one place via the QR code, I highly recommend creating a UTM link before you add it to your QR code so you can more easily track exactly where your page traffic is coming from.
Maintain white space around your QR code.
Whether it’s actually white or a different color, aim to keep at least a quarter of an inch of white space (also known as quiet space) around your QR code on all four sides. This will ensure cleaner printing if your QR code is being added to a printed design, and will make it easier for phones to scan.
Avoid inverting colors on your QR code.
Even if you are placing your QR code on a black background, it’s not recommended to invert the colors on your QR code (using a black background with a white code, or a darker background and a lighter code in general). Some phones can’t process this correctly, and no design risk is worth having a code people can’t actually use!
You’re ready to make some QR codes! Now it’s time to get creative.
You can put anything in a QR code! While the most common use is linking websites, landing pages, and other website-based content, you can also use QR codes to provide instant download links, keep track of store inventory, create easy e-tickets and check-in for events, link videos, photos, songs and podcasts, and even offer exclusive event-only content just for those who find and scan the code! Any kind of data, as long as it can be stored into around 4,000 characters, can be placed into a QR code. Marketers have found plenty of unique, creative ways to display QR codes, and really, there’s no limits to what you can do with one!
Just make sure that it’s clear and easily scannable, and you can go wild! Here’s a few creative ways we’ve implemented QR codes for our marketing efforts and for our clients:
Generate hype and intrigue for upcoming products or events by featuring a QR code accompanied by a vague, compelling CTA.
Include QR codes rather than links on direct mail.
Create QR code stickers and stick them on, well, anything!
Use them to offer an exclusive discount or loyalty program – when people interact with a specific touchpoint, prompt them to scan a QR code for a freebie or reward!
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