QR Codes and Catalogs: Hows, Whys, & Wheres

First developed in the mid-’90s by a Japanese automotive company. They’re like superpowered barcodes, able to hold all kinds of information. Even better, you don’t need special equipment to access that information. We’ve put together this post to walk you through the best ways to use QR codes in your catalogs to get the most impact for your effort.

QR codes took some time to really catch on outside of niche-use cases. With the rise of smartphones, however, and the integration of scanning technology into our cameras, the QR code is experiencing a marketing renaissance. 

Like most advances in technology, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself why you want to use the new tech and then figure out how you’re going to implement it before diving headfirst into the bright and shiny deep end. 


QR codes work best for sharing short, self-contained chunks of information like contact information, website logins, product information, and digital catalogs. They’re a bridge between the physical world and the digital one, and these use cases make the most of that connection:

1. On Tradeshow Booths & Signage

In the past, when people stopped by your booth at a show, they had to walk away with clunky print catalogs, but as the world has gone digital so too has our booth experience. What’s one of the first things you do when a potential customer visits your booth? Scan their badge. Putting a QR code on your booth banner or signage means they can do the same. You can use the QR code to send your booth visitors directly to your latest ZOOMcatalog.

2. On Business Cards, Flyers, & Samples

What works for signs works even better for the stuff you’re putting into the hands of your prospects. You can’t fit your entire portfolio on the back of your business card…unless you add a QR code. No one wants to walk around a tradeshow floor with an 800-page catalog weighing them down, but a flyer with a QR code link to your digital catalog? That can fit in a pocket.

HOT TIP: decorate your samples with QR codes that link directly to the product product page in your digital catalog. It completely removes the friction from the buying process!

3. Replacing Pricing in Print Catalogs

Last month, we talked about strategies to help you keep the prices in your digital catalogs up-to-date. Print catalogs are harder to plan around, because you can’t update them. That’s where QR codes come in. They’re an excellent solution for print versions of your catalogs. Instead of printing the price (which might as well be carving it in stone) include a QR code that links to a pricing guide on your website. That way you can update your website and your printed books stay current!

HOT TIP: Swap out the QR code for a “View Price” button in the digital version of your catalog.


QR codes work great to connect physical spaces and things with the digital world, however, things that are already digital rarely benefit from the addition of a QR code. (There are exceptions – we’re looking at you, Slack channel authentication emails – but these are niche and usually outside the purview of the promotional product industry.) 

When it comes to digital catalogs, QR codes aren’t useful. In fact, they’re the opposite of useful. Consider use case 3 above – QR codes in place of prices in print. If you flip that script and use QR codes in your digital catalogs, you’re creating friction instead of removing it. Never a good call. 

Here, we’ll show you. We’ve got a link below and we want you to view it. There are two paths to view that link: via a QR code and via a website. You’re probably reading this article on your computer, maybe on a tablet, or your phone. Which example do you have an easier time following? The QR code, or the hyperlink?


The link is obviously much easier, especially if you’re viewing this page on your phone!

It’s an easy enough problem to design around, though. If you’re designing QR codes into your print catalogs, consider swapping them out for buttons that link to the same location in the digital version. When we convert your catalog into a ZOOMcatalog, we’ll make all of the buttons clickable, making it much easier for your customers to find the information they’re looking for. 

How are you using QR codes? What are some of the best use cases you’ve seen? Let us know on social media. Leave us a comment on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.