The popularity of 2D barcodes have erupted, and there are various types of barcodes in the market. The main goal of 2D barcodes is to store information and allow a scanning device to read whatever is contained in the barcode. But how do different barcodes differ? We will examine both the QR code and PDF417 as these are more widely used today and discuss some of its features and benefits. It’s important to understand just how they differ and when to use which code to maximize on its benefits for businesses and consumers.

QR code stands for quick response, and is designed so that scanners can decode it at a high speed. It is a matrix type barcode that consists of various square arrays in one large rectangle/square. They can store anything from telephone numbers, addresses, URLs, and even enable mobile phones to execute various commands.

PDF417 stands for portable data file and is displayed as a long, slender rectangle with rows consisting of linear stacked codewords. Its most prominent feature is its ability to correct errors. It houses built in error correction capabilities within its high resolution linear rows, so defacement of these types of barcodes is not a large issue.

Because PDF417 barcodes use linear stacked barcode symbols, it requires a much higher resolution either when printing these barcodes or displaying them on a device. This is a challenge, as those who use PDF417 barcodes will need to invest in more expensive equipment just to scan these codes. With QR codes, resolution is important but not to the extent of PDF417 barcodes as they use image sensors, not linear scans. Simple mobile applications can easily scan QR codes but it is more challenging to scan PDF417 barcodes.

It’s also very straightforward creating QR codes in comparison to PDF417 barcodes. There are many websites and open resources that enable users to freely generate QR codes, and the popularity is much more widespread relative to PDF417. Many PDF417 scanning solutions are private and require heavy investment, especially since such codes demand high resolution and quality.

QR codes are known for its reliability in containing large amounts of data. The table below is a comparison of the data capacity for both types of barcodes, and it is evident that their high data density are more superior in this regard.

QR Codes

  • Numeric: 7098
  • Alphanumeric: 4296
  • Binary: 2953
  • Kanji: 1817


  • Numeric: 2710
  • Alphanumeric: 1850
  • Binary: 1018
  • Kanji: 554

*Source: Digital Lab: a Point of View

This comes at a slight cost, because the more data it holds, more room it takes up. They are generally large squares and take up more room than the small, rectangular PDF417. This is something to consider whether printing codes out on or displaying it on a device as barcodes taking up more space means less space for other things.

Today, we see QR codes used widely in mobile marketing and business, while PDF417 codes are predominantly present in ID cards and transport applications. Both 2D barcodes are unique and provide features that differentiate itself from other barcodes. It is ultimately up to the issuing agency or user to decide what information needs to be encoded, how the barcode will be displayed, and what type of barcode would best accommodate their goals.

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