Printing QR and Other 2D Codes on Cups?

By | March 23, 2012

I recently had the opportunity to listen in on a discussion about printing QR and other 2d codes on mugs and cups. It was fascinating to hear about the technological challenges (and solutions) and to be a fly on the wall regarding some of the opportunities that presents.

Let the fly share a little of what she heard.

The question was posed: “Does the curvature of the mug present a problem for imaging?” As with everything, the answer is, “It depends.”

  • Smaller codes work better since there is less distortion at the edges. One rule of thumb is to ensure that the code doesn’t take up more than one-third of the visual space (on a coffee mug maybe 1″ square). If you make a 3″ square on a 3.5″ diameter mug, you will have trouble.
  • If you want to print the code larger, you can use software that elongates the codes at the edges. This allows the imaging device to see the code as “normal.”
  • Use a URL shortener to make the code simpler and easier to recognize by the scanner.
  • Higher end cameras have technology that automatically compensates for curvature, but don’t count on all (or even most) viewers having them.

Make sure you do a lot of testing. Don’t just test different readers and different phones. Test different sizes of codes, as well. You might find that changing the size of the code just a little bit reduces the distortion enough to make it readable by a much wider range of phones. To do this, you can use an inexpensive solution like, or you could just print the 2d codes and tape them to a cup.

Keep in mind that, if you are producing coffee cups (as opposed to paper cups), you may run into trouble with the glaze. High gloss can interfere with the scanning, so if glare is created off the shinny surface of the cup, it may not scan correctly. Environment will play into it here, so do your testing under different environmental conditions, too.

Pepsi and Coke are both putting QR codes on their cups. Give you any ideas?

See Coca-Cola’s polar bear cups.

See Pepsi’s promotional cups.

I have also just updated “QR and Other 2D Barcodes: The Data Speaks” (again), so for those looking for data on the adoption and use of QR and other 2D codes, you can get more information on the report here. Or if you are looking for  a more in-depth report on applications, best practices, and case studies, you can find it here.


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