By definition, augmented reality provides users with an opportunity to integrate virtual 3D objects into their real-life environment in real-time. But, there are different ways to do so, including marker-based, markerless and GPS-based solutions. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Augmented reality presents a growing market and it is expected that by 2025 it will grow to more than 198 billion U.S. dollars (From 3.5 in 2017). Although the sector has huge potential, it is currently at a stage where the technology both in terms of hardware and software is undergoing a massive revolution. Currently, augmented reality is accessible via mobile devices and three distinct experiences are offered: marker-based, markerless and location-based. All of those have certain limitations and developers are working on eliminating years in the coming years. Here I look at the present state, bet there are improvements to all challenges coming up.

Marker-based augmented reality

Marker-based augmented reality experiences require a static image also referred to as a trigger photo that a person can scan using their mobile device via an augmented reality app. The mobile scan will trigger the additional content (video, animation, 3D or other) prepared in advance to appear on top of the marker. Marker recognition can be local or cloud-based, it means that marker databases can be stored on device and recognition also happens on device. The databases can also be stored on a cloud and recognition happens on a server, phone is only sending point clouds to server. Device-based recognition can happen immediately, but if cloud recognition is used, then it will take a while longer for the content to be downloaded from the server. Usually it takes a couple of seconds before the user can see any augmented reality experience.


The trigger image (marker) has to be unique, avoid using stock photos by all means (if you are using apps which are cloud recognition based) as these may already be utilized by other projects or apps. It’s better to capture your unique content or create a custom design to avoid such issues. 


To bring this unique photo to life and show your augmented reality content, the mobile device regardless of the app you’re using, will use computer vision.


  • If the marker image is prepared correctly, marker-based AR content provides quality experiences and tracking is very stable, the AR content doesn’t shake
  • Easy to use, detailed instructions are not required for people who use it for the first time


  • When the mobile camera is moved away from the marker, AR experience disappears and the trigger photo has to be scanned again. It is possible to use extended tracking, but in most cases, extended tracking makes things worse.
  • Scanning will not work if markers reflect light in certain situations (can be challenging with large format OD banners in ever-changing weather conditions)
  • Marker has to have strong borders/contrast between black and white colors to make tracking more stable. Smooth color transition will make recognition impossible.

Below are several marker-based augmented reality examples from the Overly app, but there are other providers on the market that can provide similar experiences.

Markerless augmented reality

Markerless augmented reality works by scanning the surrounding environment and there is no trigger photo necessary to retrieve the augmented reality content.


Apps that offer such features usually will ask the user to find a flat surface such as a table or floor for placing the AR elements as the objects will not always make sense floating in the air. For computer vision to detect a flat surface, it has to be textured. You will find it challenging or even impossible to use on a white background or on other single color surfaces.


  • Once the content is placed in a room, it is more flexible than marker-based alternatives.


  • The augmented reality content may not make sense in a certain context.
  • For better experience, it is required that the surface has a texture for computer vision to recognize it.

A cool example of markerless content was designed by the TIME publication to create the Apollo 11 ‘Landing on the Moon’ experience. I’ve included the video below to give you an idea of what it is all about.

A more practical example of markerless experiences comes from the interior design tool, Myty. This tool allows users to place furniture in their surrounding environment once they scan a flat surface.

GPS-based augmented reality

GPS or location-based AR solutions respond to the sensors of your mobile device. It allows for objects to be placed in a certain location and as long as the public has the app, they can retrieve it regardless of the time of day or weather conditions. 


An example of this is, where its author, Gints Gabrāns, uses solely GPS to place his augmented reality artworks around the globe.  Another example, which addresses the challenges of GPS sensors whilst still offering location-based AR experience is the brand new Google solution for walking. One thing to note in the latter example is that Google asks the user to scan their surroundings and finds itself based on urban static objects aka buildings not solely on GPS.


  • Allows for geographical targeting in tourist hotspots  without requiring expensive outdoor banners
  • Allows for practical applications in terms of directions


  • It is challenging to get precise GEO-located experiences on mobile devices because of lack of sensors accuracy in phones.

Get in touch with our team if you’d like more detail on each of the solutions or if you need help in establishing what’s best for your project.


Leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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Jon Glover
Jon Glover

Appreciate the article! Very helpful in understanding the differences between the AR varieties. I am researching AR for a project and would love some feedback!

Elīna Karole
Elīna Karole
Reply to  Jon Glover

Hey, Jon! Great this helped. Do get in touch with us at and we may be able to help you out/provide some feedback! 🙂

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