6 Key Differences Between QR Codes and Image Recognition

One of the most popular applications to integrate print and digital is the QR Code, invented in 1994. A QR Code is read by an imaging device, such as the camera on your mobile phone, and launches a browser that brings the user directly to the intended URL. But it’s questionable how many consumers are actually scanning QR Codes.

On the other hand, image recognition technology—more specifically, visual search—has become today’s most talked-about technology to integrate mobile and print. By leveraging visual search, printed media can be made truly interactive.

As a marketer, you might ask: “What does this mean to me and which will give me the best results?” The answer to these questions depends on your marketing campaign objectives.

What are the key differences between these types of barcoding and watermarking tools and visual search technology? See how they compare:


  • Barcoding/Watermarking: Must capture a specific object, like a QR Code, or recognize a section of a printed document containing the watermark.
  • Image Recognition/Visual Search: Can “click” anywhere on a printed page to be driven to the connected content, because the entire image can be stored in the cloud.


  • Barcoding/Watermarking: Static—the content encoded in a QR Code is fixed at the time of print. If the fixed content is a URL, the landing page content can be updated. Other fixed content, like contact information, cannot be updated.
  • Image Recognition/Visual Search: Flexible—because it is stored in the cloud, the clickable content can always be updated by the content owner anytime. The results can be changed and enhanced anytime, regardless if those results are a URL or a mobile action.


  • Barcoding/Watermarking: QR Codes are designed for one result, like a URL or a mobile device action (call a phone number). There is no choice for multiple results unless a landing page URL is built to offer those choices.
  • Image Recognition/Visual Search: Because the recognition exists in the cloud, one click can lead users to multiple results. For example, websites (engaging content and tools such as videos, social media sites) or mobile device actions (call a customer service number, send a pre-composed SMS, etc.)


  • Barcoding/Watermarking: QR Code takes up fixed real-estate on the page.
  • Image Recognition/Visual Search: Can virtually be invisible, because the entire image can be recognizable.

Ease of Accessibility

  • Barcoding/Watermarking: Must capture the full code perfectly, with no distortion, in order to access the content.
  • Image Recognition/Visual Search: Can “click” any part of the page to receive the embedded content.


  • Barcoding/Watermarking: Because the barcode must be present in the end print, it can only be added to newly produced printed content.
  • Image Recognition/Visual Search: Because nothing must be added to the printed piece, it can enable any piece of content, printed anytime, in the past or in the future.

Theresa Lang is vice president of software and services at Malvern, Pa.-based imaging and print production solutions provider Ricoh. Reach her at Theresa.lang@ricoh-usa.com.