CD Face Printing: DIY Or Not?By
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
If you’re considering selling merchandise at gigs and including physical CDs (both are great ways to increase your profits from music), then you’ve probably wondered if it would save you some money by making those CDs yourself.
Your choice should primarily focus on just three things: quality, cost, and available time. Some options for printing on a disc face should not be considered regardless of your situation, but you still have a choice to make—should I do it myself or get professional help? For the most part, professional production will provide a less expensive and better product than DIY disc face printing, but DIY might be best if you’re on a super-tight schedule. Read on for some crucial tips.
To help you make your decision, we’ll look at the various options and add up the related costs. This article will focus on duplicated discs since this is the only option available to DIYers.
CDs With Printed Labels Applied
Short of writing on the disc face with a permanent marker, CDs with a label applied to the face is the standard image most people associate with DIY CD printing. We do not recommend this method unless you have absolutely no other options. Labels are expensive, cumbersome, unprofessional looking, and—most importantly—they can come off of the disc and create a real problem for your fans. Can you imagine your fan’s reaction to your disc jamming their car’s disc player? Not good.
Pros: This method is something you can do at home with most standard printers, and it gives you a solution for short run projects. This option is more acceptable for very short runs (10 discs or less) or when you have absolutely no time to get your discs made by the pros (i.e., the gig is tonight and you have to get these on the merch table in just a few hours).
Cons: For one reason or another—whether the image smears after handling or the label is slightly off-center—this method always looks homemade, which can cheapen the value of your product. CDs with labels are also fairly expensive; most of the time you can get a better product that is also cheaper by buying your CDs from a professional supplier. Lets discuss each of the potential problems in more detail:
- An off-center label can cause balance issues with the CD, affecting playability; this happens a lot since it is difficult to place an adhesive label on the disc at just the right spot.
- A wrinkle in the label can cause issues with players (particularly slot-loading players) as the CD may become jammed in the player. If this happens, you have to dislodge the CD; in some cases, that requires taking the player apart (not much fun if the player is in your car’s dashboard). Additionally, the label adhesive can wear off over time; this can cause a big headache if the label comes off while the CD is in a player.
- Most printers that print CD labels use inkjet technology that is not waterproof. If anyone touches the printed surface with a slight amount of moisture on his fingertips, the image will smear.
- Lastly, it takes a good chunk of time to print and apply labels on CDs, and the supplies are not cheap. Your per disc price will still be very high when compared to professional production.
Cost: To make your own CDs with labels, you’ll need a few things:
- Label stock
- A printer (starting around $40 and up to $100 for a basic model)
- Ink (between $35 and $80 for a set)
Assuming you don’t have any supplies beyond your computer, creating your 100 CDs with this method could cost $130 bucks or more (buying the cheapest printer available). If you have the printer on-hand and don’t buy the software/kit for design/positioning, the price for 100 discs and labels is roughly $65 – $85, or about $0.65 to $0.85 per disc (depending on ink coverage). You still have to attach the labels to the disc face. Since it is likely that some discs and labels will be damaged and made unusable in the process, you should factor this in when calculating your final cost.
Keep in mind that these costs don’t include putting the content on the discs. External disc burners or professional-grade disc duplicators can take the price up drastically. If you choose to burn the discs on your computer one at a time, then no additional investment in equipment may be necessary, but it can take quite a bit of time to burn the discs.
CDs with Directly Printed Faces
Another DIY method of CD printing is printing on the disc face itself. In recent years, a decent number of home printers with this capability were released. While many models have since been discontinued, there are still some available. The majority of these printers are geared toward at-home photo printing, and this is where most of these models shine. The printers come with a special attachment that allows the printer to print directly on a disc face instead of paper. Please note that these machines are not intended for a production environment. Do not go down this path if you want to print a large quantity of discs or use this technology for an extended period of time.
Pros: This method results in a more polished, professional product than labels, since the design is printed directly on the disc face. There is no label to come unglued. Time is on your side when you need a short run quickly—no need to send the project out to get it done.
Cons: Not every home printer is able to do this; special equipment may be necessary. Many of the same challenges that face labels also face direct print. Most printers that direct print CD labels use technology that is not waterproof. If anyone touches the printed surface with a slight amount of moisture on his fingertips, the image will smear. Direct printing your own CDs is also fairly expensive; you can expect to spend $0.85 or more per disc if you already own the equipment, much more if you need to purchase the printer. Most of the time you can get a better product that is also cheaper by buying your CDs from a professional supplier (if time allows).
Cost: To make CDs with direct print on the disc face, you’ll need a few things: (prices are estimates)
- Printers (from $300 to $800)
- Ink (from $125 to $270 for a set)
While this option provides a more polished product than printed-then-applied labels, the expenses can add up quickly. Going with a more affordable printer, it can run you over $475 to get started. Even if you already have the printer, the cost of ink and CDs alone starts at $175. This is significant because you can usually purchase your discs from a professional supplier for less money, even if you already own the equipment.
These costs don’t include putting the content on the discs.
Instead of applying CD labels or investing in expensive printing equipment (that you may or may not use for other items), you might consider ordering professionally-created CDs. If time allows (most can manufacture bulk discs in just a few days), then this option will save you money and provide a better product than the do-it-yourself methods. You may have to pay shipping costs (if the company you choose has to ship the CDs to you), but you might be able to avoid sales taxes.
Most importantly, the quality of printing will be better than either DIY option. Check with your supplier to confirm that they use inks that will not smear when exposed to water and that all printing will be done directly on the disc face. No labels of any kind should be used. You might also ask if they can print close to the hub of the disc, which gives you more printed surface on the disc and looks better. Some manufacturers can only print part of the disc face and leave a large unprinted ring (up to 1.25” in diameter) in the middle of the disc face.
Pros: Ordering CDs frees up your time and energy to focus on your music, and you don’t have to worry about putting the content on the CD. Using a supplier has a variety of other benefits, including packaging options, a variety of quantities, price breaks for ordering in volume, and even programs to help make getting the product you want more affordable.
Cons: You’ll need to find a reliable supplier who puts out a quality product at a fair price, and you’ll have to work with production timelines. If you have to get discs for tonight’s gig, then professional production is not likely an option. Plan ahead for next time and save some money.
Costs: You might be thinking that ordering CDs is outside your price range. Think again:
- 50 duplicated discs with full color face and content on the disc: $43*
- 100 duplicated discs with full color face and content on the disc: $77
There are so many choices to make regarding selling merchandise, even when narrowed down to a CD. Whichever you decide, be creative and remember the content matters the most!
* Professionally-created disc prices taken from our parent site, www.nationwidedisc.com.