Tuesday, August 3, 2010

QR Code hacks: modifying and altering for artistic fun

QR Codes are a quick way to get information with a camera. (Think modern evolution of a UPC Bar Code). Smart phones will scan them for you to quickly get information into your phone, such as a URL to browse, a business card, etc.

I was inspired by the BBC QR Code that intentionally distorts the image to insert the letters "BBC" in the middle. QR Codes have redundant information to offer error correction, and I am amused at the different ways you can abuse this.

First, this is what a QR Code for "http://beautifulpixels.blogspot.com/" looks like unmodified:
"Pure" QR Code:
Now, the experiments:

Simple pixelated distortion in the center (similar to BBC code):
Any image could have just been overlaid, just like plopping a sticker in the middle, but doing it in the pixel grid feels nice.

The idea I like most is using a collage of images that form the QR Code. Where the collage gets the pattern right, there's no need for error correction. But there's slack for the collage to be off a bit. It's very tedious to do, so I only have this partial version, but I'm certain with patience a fully collaged version could be made:

The collage might be automated too. Do an image search and then paste in images "fit" to the QR Code target.

There are several ways to play with color, as the scanners will just care about the luminance.

Pixel grid colorization:


High resolution image colorization:

There are several ways to play with the QR Code as conceptually just "dots".


Dots merging:

Dots as images:

And on we go, a few more ideas: 
Rounded corners:

I wasn't able to change the perspective to something as extreme as I thought, this was about as far as I could get it.

I also didn't have the patience to create several "natural media" QR Codes. But I thought sand art, pebbles, leaves, etc, done with real world materials would be great. Here's a synthetic Go board (the gaps maintain a valid game state, ;):

Go Board:

And I should show failures too. I had high hopes for a pen sketch, but it doesn't scan. :( I'm convinced it could work, though I think a more even contrast would need to be used.

Ink Sketch:

Except for the last, all of these scanned correctly for me using the ZXing Barcode Scanner 3.3 on my Android phone. Collage clip art included elements from flicker users greekadman, bombardier. 

[Edit:] A Link from the comments that shows a good 'natural media' example: