Top QR Code Printer Options

QR codes, or quick response codes, enable companies of all backgrounds to engage consumers, promote deals, and share information. A type of two-dimensional barcode, QR codes can store much more information than conventional one-dimensional barcodes and can be used creatively, such as in television commercials, print advertisements, restaurants, and product packaging. Data embedded in a QR code, such as a website link, product or contact information, or a promotional deal, can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone or code reader.

QR codes are used in many industries, including:

To meet the needs of different operations, the coding and marking market is filled with various QR code printer options. Below, we compare these different systems, explain their advantages and disadvantages, and examine their ideal applications.

QR Code Printer Option Comparison

This table lists today’s most popular QR code printing options and their general features. Below it, you will find more details on each listed solution. To jump to a specific solution selection, click on the printer title in the table’s leftmost column.

QR Code Printer 

Operating Method

Code Quality

Marking Speed

Cost Factors

Compatible Materials

Direct Thermal

Applies heat to treated paper

Low quality, short lifespan, susceptible to damage

High speed

Low unit cost, minimal consumables

Treated paper, adhesive labels

Thermal Transfer

Transfers ink from a coated ribbon to the substrate

Excellent appearance, high durability 

Moderate speed

Moderate to high unit cost, pricey consumables

Plastics, flexible packaging, paper, cardboard

Continuous Inkjet

Propels pressurized ink droplets toward the substrate

Moderate appearance, high durability

High speed

Low to moderate unit cost, affordable consumables

Cardboard, paper, wood, metal, plastic, rubber, flexible packaging

Thermal Inkjet

Uses heat to eject ink droplets toward the substrate

Excellent appearance, high durability 

Moderate to high speed

Low unit cost, moderately expensive consumables

Varies by model 

Hi-Res Case Coder

Pressurizes oil-based ink to create stark codes

Excellent appearance, high durability 

Low to moderate speed

Moderate to high unit cost, moderate to high consumable cost

Cardboard, paper, wood, and other porous materials

Laser Marking

Creates a light beam to mark or engrave the substrate

Excellent appearance, high durability 

High speed

High unit cost, few or no consumables

Varies by technology

Direct Thermal Label Printer

Direct thermal label printers are small, highly-affordable machines that place QR codes on specially-coated paper and paper stock. 

Unlike most printers, direct thermal printers do not create markings with ink, toner, or similar consumables. Instead, they have thermal printheads that apply heat to coated paper and paper stock. The heat causes the substrate to darken, leaving behind a black code, message, or image. 

Low upfront costs and minimal consumables make direct thermal printers an affordable QR code printing option. However, the low cost comes at the expense of high print quality and durability. Compared to other QR code printing solutions, direct thermal label printers create lower-resolution markings that are more susceptible to damage from:

  • Heat
  • Light
  • Moisture
  • Abrasion

Because of this, direct thermal printers are not suitable for applications that require long-lasting codes. Instead, direct thermal printers should be used to complete short-term coding applications and internal processes.

Direct Thermal Label Printer Advantages

Direct Thermal Label Printer Disadvantages

  • Fast printing speeds
  • Affordable unit cost
  • Minimal consumables
  • Codes are highly susceptible to damage
  • Labels can fade within months
  • Low overall print quality

Thermal Transfer Overprinter

Thermal transfer overprinters (TTO) are production line printers that specialize in creating high-quality text, stark images, and machine-scannable codes. Compatible with various plastics, flexible packaging, paper, and cardboard, TTO models use heat to transfer ink from wax- or resin-covered ribbons onto substrates in order to create the intended marking. To make these markings, TTO units must be in direct contact with a material surface. 

Users integrate TTO models into their production lines by combining them with host machines. Two common host machines are print and apply label machines and FFS (form, fill, seal) packaging machines. Direct thermal printers can be integrated similarly, but TTO units create labels with:

  • Higher code quality
  • Better durability 
  • Longer life spans

Compared to direct thermal printers, TTO models are also more expensive up front, have pricier consumables, and require more maintenance. However, if your QR codes need to survive exposure to light, heat, and abrasion for more than a few months, TTO is worth the investment. 

Thermal Transfer Overprinter Advantages

Thermal Transfer Overprinter Disadvantages

  • Great code quality
  • Durable markings
  • Long-lasting labels
  • More expensive than direct thermal
  • Less intuitive than direct thermal
  • Requires periodic ribbon changes

Continuous Inkjet Printer

Continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers are a non-contact marking option for production line QR code printing. CIJ models like the DuraCode Touchscreen can print at speeds above 300 m/min. and create markings up to 15 mm tall. 

To print substrates, CIJ printers create an internal cycle of pressurized ink that continuously cycles from a fluid-filled reservoir toward a piezoelectric printhead. Because of this, CIJ printers can accurately mark materials moving at high speeds for up to 24 hours a day without interruption. These capabilities enable high-volume manufacturing and packaging operations to create efficient marking workflows and meet demanding quotas. 

Moreover, CIJ printers are compatible with diverse ink formulas, and their piezoelectric printheads excel at coding curved surfaces. These qualities enable CIJ printers to mark many of today’s most popular packaging forms, including:

CIJ printers are well-suited for high-speed printing on a wide range of materials. Although their resolution capabilities are powerful enough to create machine-scannable QR codes, print quality and height are limited compared to other non-contact options like thermal inkjet printers, high-resolution case coders, and laser systems.

Continuous Inkjet Printer Advantages

Continuous Inkjet Printer Disadvantages

  • Diverse substrate compatibility
  • Wide access to specialty inks
  • Well-suited for curved surface marking
  • Fast printing speeds
  • Uninterrupted marking for up to 24 hours a day
  • Limited code resolution compared to other marking methods
  • Smaller code height compared to TIJ printers, high-resolution case coders, and laser systems

Thermal Inkjet Printer  

Compact, affordable, and versatile, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are another option for non-contact QR code printing. While CIJ printers pressurize ink via pumps and vibrations, TIJ printers propel ink via heat application. By rapidly warming the liquid ink within their disposable cartridges, TIJ printers are able to create distinct droplets and expel them toward a substrate, thus creating the intended code. 

Compared to CIJ printers, TIJ models can create higher-resolution markings at larger sizes. For example, the Anser X1 thermal inkjet printer can print 600 x 600 DPI codes at a height of 1-2 inches if you use the stitch printhead functionality. With these specifications, the Anser X1 is able to print high-quality, large-scale QR codes on various forms of primary and secondary packaging. 

While CIJ printers are compatible with most porous and non-porous packaging materials, TIJ material compatibility is model-dependent. For example, the Anser U2 Smart can only use porous-compatible inks, while the Anser X1 and Anser Pro-S can mark both porous and non-porous substrates. Accordingly, you must do your research to ensure that a TIJ model will work with your materials. 

In general, TIJ printing speeds are also slower than CIJ printing speeds, with most TIJ models maxing out at around 100 m/min. However, high-end TIJ models like the Anser X1 max out at 300 m/min, a marking speed that rivals CIJ. 

Thermal Inkjet Printer Advantages

Thermal Inkjet Printer Disadvantages

  • Affordable unit cost
  • Compact, lightweight construction
  • Excellent code quality
  • Substantial print height
  • Minimal maintenance needs
  • Generally slower print speed compared to CIJ
  • Material compatibility is model-dependent
  • More expensive consumables compared to CIJ

High-Resolution Case Coder

Designed to mark porous materials such as corrugated boxes, high-resolution (hi-res) case coders excel at placing large codes and stark images on secondary packaging. Hi-res models are built with larger printheads and use thicker inks than other production line printing systems. As a result, hi-res units like the Precision Series 72mm create larger, better-looking markings. 

Although hi-res case coders are not often used to mark primary packaging, they excel at coding secondary packaging materials. Instead of applying physical labels to their cardboard boxes, many operations use hi-res models to directly place large-scale QR codes, logos, and shipping information on them. By replacing physical labels with direct marking, users benefit from:

  • Fewer errors
  • Faster application times
  • Lower material costs

Of course, the limited material compatibility prevents hi-res units from completing some of the most popular QR coding applications. As a secondary packaging option, however, hi-res is a top-tier option. 

High-Resolution Case Coder Advantages

High-Resolution Case Coder Disadvantages

  • Excellent code quality
  • Large print height
  • Numerous applications
  • Relatively high upfront cost
  • Expensive consumables
  • Limited material compatibility

Laser Marking System

While they aren’t technically “printers,” laser marking systems are one of today’s most effective QR coding options. Efficient, accurate, and capable of placing highly-detailed codes on diverse substrates, laser marking systems are built with large print windows and can code materials at speeds of around 2,000 characters per second and above. 

These abilities come at the cost of a higher upfront system investment. However, laser systems do not need consumables like ink and solvent to create markings. As a result, their ongoing expenses are much lower than CIJ, TIJ, and other conventional printer options. They have very few maintenance needs as well.

Material compatibility varies by laser type. To meet the needs of different companies, InkJet, Inc. carries three laser technologies:

All of these technologies share the same approximate speeds, accuracy levels, and quality build. Their differences largely concern material compatibility. See the chart below for a quick material compatibility overview. 

Material Category

Specific Material

Fiber Laser

CO2 Laser

UV Laser

Wood, Paper, and Board


Thermal Label



Metallized Board



Glass Fiber




Polypropylene (PP)

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

High-density polyethylene (HDPE)


Polyacetal (POM: polyoxymethylene)

Polyamide (PA)

Polycarbonate (PC)

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)



Galvanized Steel





  • = Full compatibility 
  • = Limited compatibility
  • = No compatibility

Laser Marking System Advantages

Laser Marking System Disadvantages

  • Excellent code quality
  • Large print window
  • Fast coding speeds
  • Minimal consumables
  • Few maintenance needs
  • High upfront cost
  • Material compatibility is technology-dependent