Laser Marking for 2D Codes (or More)

While demands for smaller and thinner products and more detailed traceability continue to grow, there is an increased need for packing more information within a limited space on manufactured products.

A 2D code can hold tens to hundreds of times the information of a barcode. This high information density allows a 2D code to hold the same amount of information as a barcode in as little as 1/30 of the size. These advantageous characteristics have led to expanding applications in various fields.

Industries like the automotive industry and electronic devices industry are using 2D codes frequently because of their small size and prowess as a permanent tracking/traceability solution. Learning about the different types of 2D codes, data matrices, QR codes, and barcodes is essential before application. Choosing the optimal 2D code for a product requires considering data size, product space, and use of the code.

What is the Difference Between Data Matrix/QR Code/Barcode?

Data Matrix

Developed by ID matrix in 1967, the data matrix barcode is an internationally standardised 2D code largely used because of its compact size. Data matrices come in two different configurations, square and rectangular, and contain an even number of modules. The number of modules in a data matrix barcode can be up to 144 x 144 and as small as 10 x 10 modules. Altogether, the modules can store numeric, alphanumeric, and binary data. A data matrix barcode can hold up to 3116 numeric characters, 2335 alphanumeric characters, and 1556 binary characters.

Datamatrices are the most common type of code in the industrial world due to their small size and built-in error correction, which allows for accurate reading, even if some damage to the code occurs.

QR Code

Developed in 1994 by DENSO WAVE, the QR code, also known as quick response code, is a matrix 2D code made for high-speed reading. Compared to data matrix codes, the QR code can hold significantly more data. QR codes hold up to 7089 numeric characters, 4296 alphanumeric characters, 2953 binary bytes, and 1817 kanji characters. Additionally, the QR code holds up to 177 x 177 modules but no less than 21 x 21.

There are three classifications of QR codes:

  • Model 1
  • Model 2
  • Micro QR

Model 2 contains the greatest data capacity and is modeled after Model 1. The QR code size, or type of model, is determined by multiplying the number of modules by module size. While less common in an industrial sense, QR codes are very common in consumer-facing products as they can be scanned by most smartphone cameras and can link to a company's website for re-ordering or product information.


Created by Symbol Technologies in 1989, the PDF4117 Code, also known as a barcode, is a 2D stack code. Barcode is easier to say, but the PDF4117 name has a significant meaning. The name is broken down into two parts:

  • PDF → Portable Data File
  • 417 → 4 bars, 4 spaces, and 17 modules

Barcodes hold up to 1850 alphanumeric characters, 2725 numeric characters, and 1108 binary data bytes. There are four categories of barcodes, which are the following:

  • Compact
  • Macro
  • Micro
  • GSI Composite Code

Compared to QR codes and data matrix barcodes, 1D barcodes hold the least amount of data.

Electronic Device Industry

Electronic devices are extremely small, but the compact size of 2D codes allows for storing all the data needed, even with compromised space. By no means are these codes limited to the electronics industry, though. Nearly all industries have begun implementing these types of markings for tracking and traceability.

An 18 x 18 cell Data Matrix with 26 numerical digits, such as GTIN and expiration date, etc. can fit into an area as small as 0.5 mm x 0.5 mm

Automotive Industry

Quality control and traceability management are necessary in the automotive industry. Without it, there could be dire consequences from a defective product. 2D codes are used for manufacturing instructions or general product data, so they need to be reliable. Using 2D laser marking ensures that the laser-engraved QR code will always be accurate and easy to read.