How to create a QR code

QR codes are a square barcode-like picture which can be scanned by the camera in a smartphone and open a web page. A QR code is a “machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached”. They are also known as 2D barcodes and look like this.

QR_code_for_mobile_English_Wikipedia.svg.pngQR code for the URL of the English Wikipedia Mobile main page

Opinion is divided on QR codes. The people who dislike them have perfectly good reasons for doing so, in that almost no-one has the faintest idea what they are, and it’s certainly not obvious if you’re seeing one for the first time, most people probably don’t have an app on their phone that will let their camera respond to them, and even if you do know what they are and how to interact with them you’ve still no idea where you’re phone’s browser is going to end up(1) as QR codes are not human readable (well, you can learn but they’re not as immediately informative as a web link).

Having said that I’ve always been rather smitten with them – they save so much time compared with typing in an address. Just open the app, point and ‘ping’ – the website opens. To be honest the excited ‘ping’ made by the app I use (Scan-Life) is part of the fun. It’s like living in the future.

(1) Presumably someone could invent a phone app that tells you where the QR code is trying to take you, perhaps this already exists. That would probably eliminate that particular problem. Kaspersky QR Scanner and RedLaser both tell you what URL you’ll be taken to (and invite you to decide if you want to) but don’t seem to give any warning about malicious links.

Here’s how I make a QR code from a web address
(Go to 3. if you just want a message to pop up, no websites)

1. You will need a web address (aka link, URL etc)
If you want your QR code to point to a document you’ll need to save it with a public link. My preference for that would be to upload the document to Dropbox and copy the file’s public link. Remember that if anyone finds the link they can access that file so if privacy is a big issue be aware of that.

2. Consider shortening the URL – tinyurl,, etc will all give you a shortened version and will also let you customise it to something human-readable and it will also tell you how often the link is visited. See bit in (3) about long-term use though.
It is probably quite good practice (in publicity contexts) to include the full original link, as well as the QR code and short URL, so that people can type that in if they’re wary (and don’t have an app or an idea of what to do with your QR code). If you’re doing this at a conference you can probably assume a degree of trust.

3a. Use to create your QR code from your long or short URL (though for longer-term use better to use the real full-length URL in case the URL shortener goes off line)


3b. Use to create a QR code that just shows a piece of text or instruction on-screen

4. A QR image is automatically generated from either of the sites above. Check that the on-screen code works with your scanning app (I use Scan-Life for iPhone) then print it / save a copy / take a screenshot of it.

5. Open the picture in image editing software, I use Paint (free on Windows) or PowerPoint, and add a text box with the short or long URL on it for archiving purposes.
It’s a kindness to the end-user, and to yourself, to include the URL in a QR code so people know where they’re going to end up, and also it’s handy three years from now when you find the code stuck in a filing cabinet.

I have written might write the accompanying Part Two to this post – What do do with a QR code once you’ve created one 😉 I use them at work to provide people who come on our courses or events with a quick way of accessing the feedback surveys. The people who come on our courses etc are computing teachers and I understand that QR codes are much used among computing teachers.

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