Category: CD Packaging

Five Tips for Designing Your CD Packaging

Five Tips For Designing Your CD Packaging

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

As an experienced musician, you know your instrument like the back of your hand. You’ve spent thousands of hours with it, memorizing every last detail, exploring every feature, and learning every sound it can possibly produce. You know how to care for it, how to tune it, and how to make it produce the right sounds at the right times.

That knowledge produces some pretty incredible results, and after hundreds or thousands of hours, you’re almost ready to order your new album. All that’s left is creating your album artwork… while that’s something you haven’t spent hours mastering, there are steps you can take and tips you can learn to make the process easier.

If you’re thinking about designing the album artwork yourself, here are some quick tips you should know about setting up your design files.

Bleed is Important…

When you print one copy of something, it’s easy to take time to ensure that it is trimmed precisely. When you have hundreds (or thousands) of the same something to cut, the task of cutting out individual sheets, with precision, becomes daunting.

Commercial printers do have equipment that speeds up the process—either by using pre-programmed measurements to cut each piece, or by cutting large quantities all at once—but even the best pieces of equipment aren’t 100% accurate all of the time (due to the limits of technology and paper stretch). The discrepancy is usually small, but, without bleed, even being half a millimeter off on cutting produces a noticeable white line down the edge of the paper. That’s not what you want for your jewel case insert or digipak. The solution? Extend the artwork slightly beyond the desired cut line—i.e., add bleed. This gives the print shop a margin of error when trimming. That way, if they happen to be slightly off when cutting, the continued artwork shows up instead of the white paper.

In the printing industry, .125” is a commonly requested bleed setting; this means the artwork extends .125” from the cut line on each side. This will be cut off, so do not include anything like text or titles in this area; please see the next comment about safety margins for more details.

Bleed and Safety Cushion

… As Are Safety Margins

While bleed extends artwork out from the cut line to provide a margin of error, safety margins move inward from the cut line for the same purpose. If critical elements—such as your song titles, lyrics, album credits, or a portion of a photograph—are lined up right on the cut line, they run the risk of being trimmed off. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to leave a gap or cushion between essential design elements and the desired cut line.

The size of the margin changes from one print shop to another, but .125” from the edge is a great place to start.

Colors Are Not Created Equally

If you’re not immersed in the design or printing worlds, you might not have heard of CMYK or RGB, let alone know the differences. But if you’re designing your album’s artwork, it’s an important distinction to know.

RGB colors—where each shade is created by combining red, green, and blue pixels—are used by thousands of electronic devises: televisions, phone screens, computer monitors, and cameras. Higher quantities of the contributing colors result in lighter tones, and lower quantities create darker tones. RGB colors can appear to be very vibrant, but this is in part because they are lit on a screen. It’s also important to note that different displays and devices can have different RGB profiles.

On the other hand, CMYK colors are the standard format for the printing industry. With CMYK printing, the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black inks are combined to create colors. Because physical surfaces like paper don’t generate light like screens, less ink means lighter colors (less ink covering the white paper), and more ink mean richer or darker colors.

These two different color profiles can create issues when designing your album artwork. Not every RGB color has a CMYK counterpart, and vice versa. The two profiles also represent very different technologies—a back-lit computer screen vs. ink on paper. This means two things:

  1. Files designed in RGB can look very different when converted to CMYK for printing. Some CD manufacturers offer digital proofs of your order. If your proof file looks different from the file you submitted (for example, the colors are off, or the blacks look gray), it’s probably because your submitted file was created with RGB and it has been converted to CMYK for printing.
  2. The color you see on your computer screen will not match the printed material. Even if the file on the screen is CMYK, it’s still back-lit. There will always be some discrepancy in appearance between the screen image and the printed product.


To reduce the chance of a drastic color shift, it’s best to design and export your file using CMYK settings.

Understanding Resolution

Resolution is described in terms of pixels per inch (ppi) or dots per inch (dpi). When fewer dots are needed to fill a space, the resolution is lower/worse. This is because the dots have to be larger, making them more distinguishable.

Think about a fence. If the boards are eight inches wide and seven feet tall, you’ll be able to pick them out fairly easily from twenty feet away, and it won’t take many boards to span a section of fencing. However, if the fence is made from tiny wooden sticks—the size of toothpicks—all lined up perfectly, identifying individual sticks from twenty feet away becomes difficult, and it’ll take a lot more sticks to cover the same section.

It’s important to design your album artwork at a high resolution and at the proper dimensions. For example, if the image will be used at 4″ x 5″ in the printed material, then it needs to be that size and high resolution in its original form. Trying to increase the resolution of a low-resolution image (say, resampling from 72 dpi to 300 dpi) causes a loss of quality, since it just samples nearby pixels to meet the desired resolution settings. Likewise, taking an image that is high-resolution and scaling its dimensions up (from a 1” square to a 5” square, for example) results in a lower resolution, since each pixel is stretched to meet the file’s new dimensions. Taking a large image and scaling it down in dimension can result in a higher resolution image if you don’t change the number of pixels.

Image Resolution

For printing, 300 dpi is the industry standard for photographic images; higher resolutions are acceptable for other types of artwork.

The Right File Type

Saving your album artwork file in the right format is important, but the right format will vary from one CD manufacturer to the next. Submitting the right file type can prevent errors and delays on your order.

Some print shops will accept design files (IDML, INDD, or PSD files, for example); however, since these file types are not usually readable by the printers themselves, they’ll need to be opened and exported into readable file types. This creates a chance for error, especially if links and fonts aren’t submitted with the design file.

To avoid potential errors and the extra step of exporting files, other print shops will only accept already-exported files. These include PDF, TIFF, JPEG, and EPS file types. Some will even request that you use specific export presets.

To know for sure which file type is right, check with your print shop or CD manufacturer.

Bonus Tip

When you’re ordering your CD and CD packaging, the CD manufacturer wants your order to be as right as possible. It’s true. They don’t want to bug you about missing files or fonts, text that’s cut off, or low-resolution pictures, and they don’t want to ship you finished product that has all of these issues or more. They do want to manufacture your order in a timely, efficient manner and ship you quality product with beautiful artwork—something they and you can be proud of.

To help achieve this goal, many manufacturers have a design team ready to create artwork for the musicians who can’t do it themselves.

For musicians who want to tackle this step on their own, the CD manufacturer might also offer templates for a variety of design programs. These templates are set up to include the correct bleed settings, guide marks, and dimensions. Be sure to use the right template for your project—there is a difference between a 4-panel digipak and a 4-panel jewel case. You’ll also need to open them in the right color profile and resolution settings and save or export them correctly. Using the provided templates will greatly reduce the odds of production issues on your order.

And that’s it! Five tips, plus one, to help you create your own album artwork. Now, get back to that instrument you love!

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Ordering Band Merch: CD Packaging Options

Choosing the Right Packaging for Your Band’s CD

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Disc Packaging Options

When you go out to eat, you expect the food you order to be good. But if it shows up in front of you looking sloppy, with sauce dripping off the edge or a fingerprint in the roll, you’ll probably suspect that the quality of the food is on par with the poor presentation.

The same can be said for your music. If you’ve spent long, meticulous hours perfecting your newest album only to throw it on a poorly packaged CD, those who see it won’t anticipate a quality product inside. Make sure you put the same amount of care into creating your CD packaging as you have the music itself. To do that, it’s important to know what your options are.

Jewel Cases

Jewel Case

Ten years ago, jewel cases were the go-to option. Nearly every music CD was sold in them, and for good reason. Their clear cases let the artwork shine, there was room for multi-page inserts, and the structure of the hard plastic case protected the CD itself. If you’re like us, you have stacks of CDs in jewel cases lying around somewhere.

But, unless you already have artwork designed for this format and find it difficult to change, you probably don’t want to order this package for your music project. Think back to those stacks of CDs in jewel cases… how many of them have cracks on one side, are scratched, or are missing one (or both) of the hinge tabs that keeps the front attached? How much space do they take up, for how few CDs? Is that what you want to lug around from one gig to another, not to mention pay shipping on? What is the fan experience like if their jewel case is broken or all scratched up? Don’t stacks of CDs in jewel cases send you right back to 1989?

Jewel cases might have been the standard; while they still sell surprisingly well, they’re bulky, fragile, and a little outdated… maybe they aren’t the best choice for your project.

CD Sleeves

CD Sleeves

This envelope-style packaging is a very simple and basic way to protect the CD. They get the job done and are very cost-efficient, but they’re not super special. With only the front, back, and disc face, there is little room for extra artwork or information.

If you’re wanting to engage and connect with your fans, sleeves could work, but they’re not the best option. If you’re super concerned about saving space (like, you’re flying out for an overseas tour and can only take one bag and your instrument), then they might be a good choice. CD sleeves are also a solid choice for sending demo CDs to promoters or venues, since your press kit will have other material about your band.


CD Wallets

A step up from sleeves, wallets are another all-cardstock packaging option for CDs. However, they offer artists a lot more flexibility with design and the amount of information that can be included than sleeves do, since they commonly come in four, six, and eight-panel options with one, two, three, or four pockets and up to four discs. They also take up very little space (slightly more than a sleeve does).

If you’re worried about space and durability but want to offer your fans more than the very-basic sleeve, wallets might be your answer.


Digipaks are the ideal combination of practical materials, flexible design choices, and that little touch of special that your fans want. These factors help explain their surge in popularity over the last few years.

Digipaks for CDs

Unlike jewel cases, digipaks are made of cardstock, meaning they won’t break nearly as easily as the plastic jewel cases. This also makes them a bit more eco-friendly, if that’s your thing. (If so, note this: Digihubs, which replace the plastic tray with a rubber hub, take the green thing a little farther.) Depending on the size of your digipak, they also take up roughly half the space that jewel cases do—a bonus if you’ve got a van full of bandmates, instruments, snacks, and merch.

Where digipaks really shine is their flexibility in design. You can order them in four, six, or eight panels and they can hold up to seven discs. If you add a slit or pocket, you could even add a standard insert or booklet on top of that. Think of all the lyrics, liner notes, credits, and stories you could share with your fans in that space, of the extra band photographs and graphics you could include. No more deciding between thanking your wife or your grannie for supporting your passion; thank them both. In fact, thank everyone. And tell that story about that one gig and your drummer. You know the story.

Not only do digipaks allow more room for artwork, photographs, and text than jewel cases or sleeves, but they allow room for more media. You can include multiple CDs or turn your merch into a CD/DVD combo, with a recording of a live show or “behind the scenes” video of the recording process. This upgrades your item from a standard, run-of-the-mill CD to a keepsake.

What About Cost?

We get it. You’ve spent money on instruments, maybe some lessons, band promotions, your website, the recording studio, touring, and so on. Being in a band can be expensive, and buying CDs can involve parting with a big chunk of change. So, let’s look at the costs*. Really.

Jewel Cases: For 1000 replicated discs with the most basic two-panel, full color jewel case available (with over wrap), the cost is $878, or $0.878 per CD.

Digipaks: For 1000 replicated discs in Six-panel digipaks (with over wrap), the cost is $1,036, or $1.036 per CD.

Look at the cost per package. For the same quantity and method of production, the price between the different packages varies by about $.16, just a little more than a dime.  A dime. Think about your fan. What would they rather have: a two-panel jewel case or a six-panel digipak? You have a great opportunity to make the best first impression possible by giving your fan the superior digipak packaging. They will appreciate your extra effort, and you have the opportunity to use the design space on the six-panel digipak to tell more of your band’s story. Everyone wins.

Remember, you’ll probably be selling your CD for at least $10. If you include extras (like a second CD or a DVD and a booklet or insert) and use top-of-the-line materials, you can bump that price up a little more. Even at $10 each, one CD sale covers your cost of almost 10 CDs, even if you choose nicer packaging like the six-panel digipak. Another way to think of it – you make 85% to 90% profit on every disc you sell. Nothing else on your merch table generates this kind of profit.

Picking the Right Packaging for Your Band

As far as packaging goes, really consider your options. Again, think about your immediate needs. Are you traveling and short on space? Is the CD going in a press kit? Or is this going out to fans? Then think about the difference that $.16 can make in the product you offer your fans, and the difference it can make in how those fans view your product and your band. Is it going to cause frustration for you with toting it to gigs, or for fans as it breaks and takes up shelf space? Is it going to strengthen your fans’ connection to your band and become something they treasure?

After all the time and money you’ve invested in creating the perfect sound, it would be a shame for that work to be overshadowed by sloppy or even just average presentation. Because when it comes to selling merchandise, presentation really does matter.

* All prices are taken from our parent site, Prices do not include shipping.

See also: Ordering Merchandise: CD Duplication vs. Replication, How Many CDs Should I Purchase for a First Release?

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