From Paper to Multimedia using QR codes

Digital Publish QR code

Ordinarily this blog covers taking InDesign layouts and publishing them as digital publications—ebooks, PDF files, or tablet applications.

But today I’m excited to present a whole new format for publishing: Paper books with embedded movies.

Now, obviously you can’t have little movies playing on pieces of paper in a book. (Well, at least not this week. Who knows what advances are coming down the road?) But the new QR code feature in InDesign CC got me excited. A reader uses a smartphone to scan the code. A URL, or other information, is read, and the phone displays the results.

In my case, I decided to add short videos to my InDesign CC Visual Quickstart Guide. These videos would illustrate movement or some sort of action that an ordinary illustration or description could never do.

For example, one of the most confusing tool in InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop has got to be the Bézier Pen tool. Students usually start to press and drag and quickly close the tool up when lines go spewing all over the page. For years I’ve had step-by-step instructions on using the Pen tool, but I knew that videos would explain the process much better.

So I was thrilled to be able to add videos next to many of the illustrations in the Points and Paths chapter. For example, using the Pen tool to close a path had four motion arrows to try to show the steps. But a QR code that links to a video explains the process much more easily. Click here to go to the video.

QR code next to illustration

How a QR code is positioned next to an illustration. The reader scans the code and opens the video tutorial.

 Steps we took in creating the QR code links

First, I commissioned an illustrator to create three “cartoons” that demonstrate how to use the QR codes in the book. I know many people understand QR codes, but I wanted to make sure there were no questions. Here are the three cartoons which were created by Laurie Wigham.

Laurie's Illustrations

Laurie's Illustrations2

Laurie's Illustrations3

Next, as I was writing the book, I looked for examples of screen shots or techniques that could be enhanced using video explanations. Many of these were illustrations where I had used motion arrows to indicate dragging. Some of these were as short as 10 seconds, some over 2 minutes.

I used the Macintosh video capture program ScreenFlow to create the videos. What was good about it was I could easily export the finished video directly to YouTube. Once the video was up on YouTube, it was a simple process to go back into InDesign and enter the URL into the Create QR code dialog box.

I also had to adjust the layout from the previous versions of the book to accommodate the QR codes in the spine margins. We also did some tests with the print shop to make sure that colors in the code would print correctly for scanning. (We had some concern that the screen in the swatch might make the code blurry.) We also tested to make sure the curve of the spine of the book did not interfere with scanning the code. Fortunately QR codes are created with built-in redundancy so that if one part of the code is not readable, there’s another part to take its place.

My book is also sold as an interactive PDF. So after the book was filled with the codes, we had a custom script created by Rorohiko that read all the QR codes and made hyperlink objects so that people using the PDF could also jump to the videos. Rorohiko expanded on this basic script and created Tada QR! which adds many more features to InDesign’s basic QR code creator. For instance, it can use a database to create individual codes for groups of people attending a conference.

We also took the URLs from the PDF and inserted them into the ebook version. We couldn’t insert the movies directly into the ebooks because Peachpit makes its ebooks for the “lowest common denominator” of platforms. So even though the iOS iBooks can display movies, the Amazon Kindle doesn’t. But at least the movies experience is available with a link to ebook readers.

We also have some analytics on YouTube that can tell us how many views each video has gotten. This will be very helpful in deciding if the project is a success. If it is, next time we’ll have a dedicated server for the movies with more sophisticated analytics.

Some people at my publishing house were worried that the videos aren’t protected and that anyone doing a search on YouTube can view them. They don’t have to buy the book to see the videos. I don’t mind. The videos are described as being from the InDesign CC VQS so if anyone likes the video, they are likely to buy the book. It’s a cross-promotion.

Creating a QR code within InDesign

Before InDesign CC, you could create QR codes inside InDesign, but you needed third-party plug-ins. With InDesign CC, the feature is built into the core program. It’s extremely simple to create a QR code.

Start by choosing Object > Generate QR code. The dialog box opens where you can choose the type of code. If you choose a Web Hyperlink, you enter the URL in the field. This is where I entered the URLs for my YouTube videos.

QR dbClick the Color tab and choose the colors for the code. The colors can be process or spot.

QR colors

When you click OK, you’ll have a loaded cursor with the QR code. Click to place the code at it’s actual size or drag to make it smaller or larger. The code is an embedded EPS file so scaling it up or down doesn’t create any resolution issues.

QR loaded cursor

The loaded cursor with a QR code

Other uses for QR codes

I’m excited what QR codes mean for print publications. Think about a cookbook with URLs to videos that shown how to do intricate parts of a recipe. Or magazines with added video content of interviews and news footage.

QR codes can also hold contact information that can be scanned by the phone and inserted directly into a contact application. You can hand someone a business card and they read your name, address, etc. on one side, while your phone scans the QR code on the other.

My blog partner, Diane Burns, and I had dinner one night in Austin, Texas at a restaurant that had a QR code on the napkins.

Max 1

Even though the surface of the napkin was textured, the code scanned correctly and took us to a web site that featured discounts and information on happenings around the town.

Think about your next print product. Don’t dismiss QR codes as something your client might not want to do. Find something that will excite them to use QR codes.

14 thoughts on “From Paper to Multimedia using QR codes

  1. Sandee,

    This is very inventive. Did you post the videos on YouTube for technical reasons? I would have thought that your publishing house would have been keen to host them on a page offering additional assets for purchasers of the book.


  2. Crych,

    Thanks for the compliment. I published them on YouTube because my publishing house is part of Pearson and getting any new technology through their maze of levels is impossible.

    Also, I didn’t want to deal with a committee that would want to see the videos before I posted them, etc.

    YouTube was easy, free, and quick.

    However, if the videos get a lot of traffic, I will be able to talk to my publisher about getting it’s own web page.

  3. Pingback: This Week in InDesign Articles, Number 109 | InDesignSecrets

  4. Hi, I just created my first QR Code (with an imbedded URL) with InDesign CC and it was easy enough, but I cannot seems to find a QR Scanner that reads it. Occasionally, the Scanning program seems to ‘connect’ with the bar code, but nothing happens. Is there a particular QR reader you would recommend. Or is there some step I am missing registering or reading the QR code? I have tried Microsoft Tag and QRReader. Thanks for any help proffered.

    • Steve,
      How are you reading the code?
      How big is it? Does it have custom colors? Did you manipulate it?
      There are lots of things that can affect the readability of the close.
      I myself use NeoReader on my iPhone.

      • It was 5/8th inch square, black and I did not manipulate it. I then made a copy and expanded to 3/4 inch square and 1 inch square and was able to read both of them. Thanks for raising your questions as it helped me to experiment with a different size.

  5. Thanks for your article. I created my first QR Code(with embedded URL) in CC InDesign and printed, but I cannot seem to read it. I tried with Microsoft Tag program and QRReader on my iPhone. Do you recommend a QR Code reader or will anyone do? Also, an I possibly missing a step in the process between creating and trying to read a QR Code? I am assuming not and I am also assuming the URL is built into the code to be scanned and linked to. Not sure what I am doing wrong. Any help proffered with be appreciated!

  6. Fantastic use of QR codes to connect students to video. It’s a great tool for so many different reasons, but in general it helps connect print media with the 21st century, which everyone should appreciate. I found a couple of examples recently of print publishers using QR codes to connect to videos of interviews that were relevant to the information in the article, anyone interested in seeing it used in real life might appreciate these examples (one is from Amica Insurance, the other is from The WSJ)…

  7. Hello,

    I came across your site and thought you might be interested in sharing the following information with your followers:

    I work for Meadows Publishing Solutions and we have released an updated version of our 2D Bar Code Module for Adobe InDesign with a FREE license option for producing QR codes. This new software module is designed to generate QR Code, Data Matrix, and PDF417 two-dimensional bar codes directly in any Adobe InDesign document.

    To help introduce the product, we are currently offering a FREE license of the module which is limited to the production of QR codes. The free license can be obtained by visiting

    Of course, our hope is that for clients that wish to automate the QR Code creation process via Excel spreadsheets or data files, they might consider a purchase of our DesignMerge variable data software, but this is certainly not a requirement.

    Thank you.

  8. Making the QR code thing was simple. What if you want to put it into another document, such as in Word, or MS Publisher–or send it to someone which is using this software so they can use it? How would you send a QR code?


    • The QR code is an embedded EPS file but can be extracted and saved for use in another ID document or any word processing program.

      For Word Processing
      Select the QR code.
      Choose File > Export and then choose PNG.
      Select the option for “Selection”.
      Change the Quality to Maximum and Resolution to 300.
      That file can be inserted into any document.

      For other InDesign files
      Select the QR code.
      Choose File > Export.
      Choose InDesign Snippet
      Click Export

      That snippet can be Placed into any other ID file.

  9. Beth,

    Not at all. You don’t need the Rorohiko plug-in. Just keep the URL of the QR code on the clipboard when you make the QR code. Then select the QR code object and open the Cross References panel. Now make a new cross reference with that URL.

    The only thing is this does it faster.

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