What's the difference between QR code and barcode?

Mar 31 2021 | Julie Warshaw, PayPal Editorial Staff

At first glance, the difference between QR code and barcode labels isn't very obvious. They look like the same thing, just in different shapes. But there are several differences between the two scanning technologies that make QR codes ideal for scan-and-go, touch-free payments.
Let's look at each technology to understand how it works and why one might be used over the other.
 

What are barcodes?

Barcodes are the scanning labels you often see on the back of your morning box of bran flakes. Known as one-dimensional, or 1D barcodes, each barcode has a series of vertical lines, with the thickness and the distance between lines determining a specific code tied to that product. By using a barcode scanner to scan the label, a cashier can automatically find the product in the store's database instead of taking the time to type in a number.
 
These days, you'll find barcodes on far more than just the backs of cereal boxes. People use them to track mail, verify security badges, tally votes, check books out at the library, and almost any other scanning purpose you can think of. There are several different barcode types – some work with a smartphone, while others require specialized scanning equipment.
 

What are QR codes?

QR, or Quick Response, codes are the checkerboard-like scannable squares that have grown in popularity in recent years. You've probably seen signs at stores with a QR code that encourages shoppers to download an app, sign up for a customer-loyalty program, or get more information about a product.
 
A QR code is like a link, but instead of being clicked, it's scanned. And just like a link, once the QR code is scanned, the customer is directed to a digital location like a webpage, an app, or, in the case of payments, a payment portal. Combine that with a smartphone's ability to read a QR code using its camera and the result is a customer who essentially has their own scanner. 
 
Unlike one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes are two-dimensional or three-dimensional. This is the difference between 2D and 3D barcodes:
 
2D codes: Printed on a flat surface like paper or signage, the 2D QR code is what most of us picture when we think of a QR code. 2D barcodes can be scanned and read correctly from any direction, even if the code (or the phone) is upside-down. And because two-dimensional QR codes can be printed using a regular desktop printer, they're convenient for both shoppers and businesses.
 
3D codes: These look like 2D QR codes, but are created using dedicated etchers or 3D printers to print at different heights within the code itself. Think of it this way: If a 2D QR code uses squares, then a 3D QR code uses boxes. While 3D barcodes can hold more information, it takes specialty scanners to read them, so they're usually reserved for manufacturers who engrave the code into their machinery.

What is the difference between barcodes and QR codes?

While barcodes and QR codes do the same thing, a QR code holds roughly one hundred times as much information as a barcode. Barcodes are great at communicating small sets of information. That's why they're used for packaging or tracking labels that connect the scanner to a database of information. 
 
Despite storing so much more data, QR codes are just as easy to create as barcodes. This makes them a convenient touch-free payment option for both business owners and their customers.
 

Using QR codes for payments.

There are many ways you can put QR codes to work for your business, but one of the more obvious uses for QR codes is accepting payments.  QR codes are difficult to alter or hack, and they can instantly connect a customer with your business's payment information. The transaction is then encrypted as normal through the app, making it a secure way to pay.
 
You can offer and accept QR code payments without any special hardware or scanners, making it easier to accept payments compared to other touch-free payment types.
 

How to create PayPal QR codes for payments.

Accepting PayPal with QR codes is simple. Learn how to create a QR code to accept touch-free payments using PayPal.
 
The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.
 

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Frequently asked questions.

When you add cash to your PayPal account at a retail store using a barcode, You can usually add any amount from $20 to $500 per barcode. You may use up to three barcodes or add up to $500 total per day, whichever comes first. The amount of cash you can add may be reduced if there's additional activity on your PayPal account between the time you generate the barcode and when you use it.   

PayPal limits you to adding $500 per day, and a total of $4,000 a month to your PayPal account. If you've reached either of these limits, you won't be able to add cash until the next day or month, when your PayPal limits reset.
You can load money easily to your PayPal account at select retailers with a small fee. All you need to do is generate a barcode in your PayPal app, and show it in the retail store along with your cash. You can usually add any amount from $20 to $500 per barcode. The money will be added to your PayPal account in just 15 minutes.

Here’s how to add cash from your PayPal app:
  1. Tap More at the bottom of the home screen.
  2. Tap Add cash.
  3. Select a retailer, and tap Generate Barcode.
  4. Bring the barcode on your smartphone to your selected retail store, along with the amount of cash you want to add.
  5. The merchant will scan your barcode to load money into your PayPal account.
The barcode will expire in 1 hour, so we suggest that you wait until you’re at the retailer to generate your barcode on the phone. If you accidentally close your barcode page, you’ll have to generate a new barcode.

Note:
  • A service fee of $3.95 will apply to your PayPal account when you add cash at a store. Generating barcodes in the app is free of charge.
  • You may be asked to provide some information to confirm your identity before you can start to add cash. Learn more
When you make a purchase with your Business Debit Mastercard, we'll use any available money you have in PayPal. Here's what to do if you need to add money:

Receive money
When someone sends you money in PayPal, it can be used for your Business Debit Mastercard purchases.

Transfer money from your bank account
Go to your Money page and select Transfer Money. It usually takes 3-5 business days for a transfer to complete. You can do it at any time and at no cost. We’ll email you when the transfer completes.

Add Cash in a store
You can add cash in any Green Dot retailer (including Walmart, CVS, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and many others). There are 2 ways to add cash in a store:
  • Swipe your card: Take your cash to the register and let the clerk know you want to add cash to PayPal. A fee of up to $4.95 applies. They will ask you to swipe your PayPal Business Debit Mastercard. Then hand the cash (between $20 and $500) to the clerk. Your money will be added within minutes and you’ll receive an email confirmation.
  • Log in to the PayPal app (not the PayPal Business app) and tap More, then select Add Cash. Once you pick a retailer, we’ll create a barcode on your smartphone. Take your cash to the register at the store and let the clerk know you want to add cash to PayPal. A fee of up to $4.95 applies. Allow the clerk to scan the barcode on your smartphone and hand them the cash. Your money will be added within minutes and you’ll receive an email confirmation.
If you’re unable to add money:

 

What are PayPal QR code payments?

QR code payments allow you to get paid in person with PayPal just by displaying your QR code for customers to scan using the PayPal app.

Do customers need additional apps to scan my PayPal QR code?

No, customers just need the PayPal app to scan the QR code.  

How do I set up my PayPal QR code?

If you downloaded your QR code directly, then you're already set up. You can start using your code to receive payments straight away.

If you ordered printed QR codes, then you'll first need to scan each code you received to permanently link it to your account. After that, you're all set.

Now you can order printed QR code products with Vistaprint. This option allows you to customize QR codes with your logo, color and tagline, or select a basic version. 

Remember, you can't use your code to send payments to yourself, so if you scan your code after it's already been linked to your account, you'll get a message letting you know that your code is already set up.

How much does it cost to use PayPal QR code payments?

It’s free to create and share a QR code.

For buyers, making a payment via QR code works like sending money through the PayPal app. It’s always free for buyers when they select Goods & Services.

For sellers, more information on transaction fees for QR code payments can be found on our fees page.


Learn more about PayPal QR codes.

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