QR codes have become increasingly common around the world in recent years, and chances are you’ve come across them yourself. Often found on brochures, packaging, and even stuck to road signs, QR codes can be easily overlooked, but they can also provide an incredibly useful tool.
But what are QR codes and how can you take advantage of them yourself? Let’s find out.
What is a QR code?
Most people know what a QR code does; scans it with a smartphone camera and takes you to a link on the World Wide Web. But how exactly do QR codes work?
They share many similarities with barcodes found on food packaging and other products, using sensors to decode data that is stored in the form of blocks and bars. Old-school barcodes are read by lasers, while QR codes can be read by basic cameras, making them much more useful to normal people.
How do QR codes work?
While a QR code might look like a randomly generated piece of pixel art, the strange blocky shapes you see inside the edges of a QR code are very deliberate and can store a surprising amount of data.
QR codes have a maximum storage capacity of 3 KB. This may not sound like much, but it is enough to store 4269 alphanumeric characters. This is enough for even the longest web addresses.
All QR codes feature three large dots that are used to determine the position and orientation of the QR code; one in each of the top corners and one in the bottom left corner. Space is also reserved for providing information to help a QR code reader use the correct settings, leaving the rest for the data to be stored.
QR code reading
Some smartphones can natively scan QR codes with their camera apps, though you may need to find a third-party app to unlock this functionality on your phone. This can be found using the app store on your device.
When your camera scans a QR code, smart software on the device can decode the information by figuring out which blocks are in the background and which are in the foreground. As each variation of the QR code is unique, the pattern within can be read with confidence, even if the data is very complex.
Dedicated QR code reader tools can also be found online. Devices like this are great for those who want to build QR codes on their own hardware systems, but usually only provide the stored data rather than being able to open web pages or other applications.
How to print a QR code in 3D
Most of the QR codes you will see will be 2D printed copies, but this does not mean that they cannot be converted into a 3D model. 3D printing QR codes is surprisingly simple and we’ll walk you through this process using Ultimaker Cura to get you started.
Pick the right colors
You don’t have to stick to black and white for a QR code to work properly. As long as there is a strong contrast between the colors you use, you can use almost any combination to create a QR code, and you can even use more than two colors if you like.
It will be easier for QR code readers if you have a light color for the background and a darker color for the foreground, but you can experiment with the colors you choose to make sure your final print works for your project. It is always important to consider the safety of your 3D printer filament when choosing the plastics you print with.
Use QRCode2STL to generate a 3D QR code
Thanks to the handy QRCode2STL tool found in Printer.tools, you can generate a QR code 3D model without any modeling experience. Head over to the website and start by adding the data you want to store on the QR code options cash register. We use “makeuseof.com” for this guide.
You can go Bug fixes in the middle for this project, as this setting is only required for complex QR codes or those that feature logos or other graphics.
3D model options
Next, you need to add a few settings that will dictate the size, shape, and other features of your QR code. We leave these settings at their default values, but you play around with them to achieve the results you want. It’s worth keeping in mind that a QR code will be harder to read if it’s very small, and you should make sure your printer’s resolution can capture enough detail for small QR codes.
Save your STL QR code
Clicking Generate 3D model, it will create a unique QR code based on the settings you chose, and it will be displayed in a 3D viewer on the right of the screen. You have to make a choice here; Will you print it as a solid color or in two different colors?
If you print as a solid color, you’ll need to use paint, tape, or a pen to color the background or foreground. If you choose to print in two colors, you will need to stop printing midway to change the filament inside the printer.
Click Save as STL and a file will be downloaded that can be used with your slicer.
Use Ultimaker Cura to split your QR code
Open Ultimaker Cura and import the 3D model QR code that you just downloaded. You should see a single color pattern appear, but don’t worry; we can change this once the model has been cut.
We choose the Dynamic Quality Preset for our Creality3D Ender 5, but any layer height of around 0.16mm will work fine for creating a clean, easy-to-read QR code. Smaller QR codes will benefit from thinner layer heights. Click Slice And go to the Advance screen.
Using the layer picker on the right side of the screen, look for the layer where the base ends and the QR code blocks begin. This was layer 15 for us, although it might be different for your print.
Once you have found the correct layer, go to Plugins > Post-Processing > Modify G-Code and select filament change from the Add a script menu. Add the layer you found in the last step to the layer option and hit Close.
Now you can re-slice your 3D model, save the file, and take it to your 3D printer to start the real fun.
3D printing of your own QR codes
Using a 3D printer to create QR codes can be a great way to take advantage of this unique data sharing tool. As time goes by, more and more people recognize QR codes and this can make them a great addition to a wide range of projects.