Comparing Quick Response Codes to Digital Watermarks

Creative QR Codes
It seems that almost weekly now we hear of some new technology being released that will magically put new life into our marketing campaigns. Most recently, the development of the Digital Watermark is being promoted as the technology that will bring the end to the use of QR Codes.

Both Quick Response Codes and Digital Watermarks are effective physical hyperlinks for connecting print media to online media; however, here are some important differences between the two to consider:


  • QR Codes are essentially free, regardless of how many you use.
  • Digital Watermarks are fee based per link, depending on the length of time the link is in service. The costs for multiple links in a publication add up.


  • Most people recognize QR Codes as black, 2 dimensional bar codes, but the built in redundancy of the code permits some creative opportunities to help with visual branding, and they can be strategically placed within your project. Although QR Codes are becoming more commonplace, it is still a good idea to include a note to “scan with your smartphone”. There are some great examples of incorporating a little creativity into QR Codes at the end of this post.
  • Digital Watermarks are being promoted as “invisible barcodes” and “imperceptible digital information” that you imbed behind pictures and text. Well, perhaps in some instances this might be correct to a point, but it is stretching the truth behind the reality of what you should expect. These codes are printed using process colors and hide better in images that are busy, full of textures and use predominantly mid-tones. They do not work well in bright highlights or dark shadows, nor can they be used in pure white areas or in a single color project. To the trained eye, there will be at least some degradation in the reproduction of any color image with a digital code printing underneath it. You still need to include an extra logo on your image area and an explanation of how to scan and access the information linked to the image.


  • QR Code Readers are available across all four smartphone operating systems from a number of different suppliers.
  • Digital Watermark readers are currently available only for the Android and iPhone operating systems.
  • Both of these tools provide the same service, a direct print-to-mobile hyperlink to online content, instantly connecting consumers to the information and entertainment they want. Once connected to online content, there is no limit to what the audience can be directed to: URL, audio stream, video stream, pop-up labels, menu button overlays, etc.
  • Analytics and tracking are basically the same for both.
  • QR Codes can be generated in large quantities that are user specific, tailored for targeted marketing campaigns. Digital Watermarks do not have this capability.

A carefully coordinated marketing plan, with a strategy for achieving specific objectives is essential is today’s business environment. At R.C. Brayshaw & Company, we will help you understand the pros and cons of any new technological development, many of which are highly effective, but only when used in the proper manner. We will help you remain on the leading edge of technology, not the bleeding edge!

Authored by Rick Hall, Director Business Development

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