What's the difference between QR code and barcode?

Nov 03 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.

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 generate and set up my PayPal QR code?

You may get your QR code here.

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

If you order printed QR codes, we'll then send you an confirmation email. Once you receive your in-store signage kit, you can follow the instruction in that email to activate your QR code kit. After that, you're all set.

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.

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.
Please read the retailer’s terms and conditions to make sure the digital gift card you’re buying can be redeemed where you plan to use it. PayPal does not control how and where digital gift cards can be redeemed.

In-store codes:
If your code can be used in-store, tell the cashier you’re paying with a gift card. The cashier will either scan or key in the code to redeem it. We recommend printing the code if you can, as barcode scanners in some stores can’t scan from a mobile screen.
Not all self-checkout lanes accept gift card codes so we recommend going to an attended counter.

Online codes:
If your code can be used online, look for a gift card or voucher code option at checkout on the seller’s website or app.
Gift cards can’t be stored in the PayPal Wallet and automatically redeemed right now. Make sure you enter the code when making a purchase to ensure your gift card is applied.

Accepting PayPal payments using QR codes is a new way to pay that's fast, easy and minimizes your need to physically touch cash or your card reader. With PayPal, your customer can pay later and split their payment but you'll still get paid straight away. To use this payment method, you need to be on iOS 13 or above for Apple iOS devices and Android 5 or above for Android devices.

How does it work? 

In your PayPal Zettle app, you generate a QR code for each transaction. To pay, your customer opens the camera on their phone, or their PayPal app, and scans the code to pay.

To take payments with PayPal QR codes:

  1. Select PayPal from your list of payment options in the checkout.
  2. Ask your customer to open the camera on their phone or their PayPal app (your customer must have a PayPal account to use this feature).
  3. Present your QR code for them to scan.
  4. Ask them to tap confirm on their phone to complete the payment.

How much does it cost?

There's a standard commercial transaction rate when you receive money with PayPal.

What are the transaction limits for paying with QR code?

A lower limit of $1.00 USD and a higher limit of $5,000.00 USD.

Can I deactivate the feature if I want to?

Yes. Go back to Settings in your app and toggle the PayPal option to turn it off.

Do all devices have access to this payment method?

QR code payments are only available to smartphones and tablets running the PayPal Zettle app on iOS 13 or Android 5.0 and higher.

When will my money be deposited?

As soon as the payment has been accepted.

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