The wide spread of smartphones and QR codes for various end-user applications has had an impact beyond traditional fields of use, recently also reaching point-of-care testing (POCT). This work presents the integration of QR code recognition into paper-based analytical devices (PADs) with "distance-based"colorimetric signalling, resulting in semiquantitative readout fully relying on straightforward barcode reader solutions. PADs consist of an array of QR codes arranged in series inside a paperfluidic channel. A mask dye concept has been developed, which enables utilisation of colour changing indicators by initially hiding QR codes. The colour change of the indicator induced by the presence of an analyte of interest results in gradual unmasking of QR codes, which become recognisable by the smartphone barcode reader app. To reproducibly fabricate devices, all fabrication steps were performed by commercial desktop solid ink and inkjet printing. The QR code masking function was optimised by controlling the amount of printed mask dye through adjusting the opacity of printing patterns during the inkjet deposition process. For proof-of-concept, a model assay in the form of colorimetric copper ion (Cu2+) detection in the concentration range of 0.4 mM to 3.2 mM was evaluated. Consistent results independent of the smartphone model and environmental light condition were achieved with a free barcode reader app. To the best of our knowledge, this work is the first demonstration of a semiquantitative assay approach fully relying on QR code readout without digital colour analysis, customised app or hardware modification.
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