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DIY CD Manufacture

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DIY CD Manufacture

Posted on Mon, Feb 7, 2005

Now that there are actual copies of my CD in circulation, I know that it's possible to make completely do-it-yourself copies and not go insane (anymore than I already was). For the benefit of anyone considering doing the same, here's what I've learned in the process.

CD Burning

Got a CD burner that burns quickly? This will be your bottleneck, so be sure you've got at least a 40x drive if you're going to be making more than a few copies. I used Nero to burn mine. It has a great feature: you can tell it how many CDs to print. Stick the computer next to you as you do other stuff, and periodically the CD will pop out of the drive. Replace it, shut the drive, and it automagically starts burning the next copy. Do this in the background for an afternoon and you've got 100 copies before you know it. It takes about four minutes to burn a 45 minute CD.

CD Face Printing

It was a requirement that I be able to print on the CD face, rather than using those lame sticky labels. You may have seen my CD printer roundup post where I looked at the various options I have for physically printing on the CD face. I decided on the Epson R200 R380 (or whatever the current model happens to be), and I very highly recommend it. The print quality is exceptional, and it comes with a very nice program that makes it easy to design the labels. Best of all, it's cheap - $100 - and the ink usage isn't bad at all. It took about a "quarter of a tank" to print off 50 copies of a dark, full-coverage color CD face. When you get the cheap off-brand replacement cartridges, this works out to about $0.10 per CD. You do need special printable CDs, which bulks up the price (I got a batch of 500 for about a $0.25 a piece). The white-faced blanks are probably best for this task. The printing program that comes with the printer makes it easy to to multiple copies - just swap CDs and hit a button. Since it takes about three minutes to print a full-face CD, I just get in the groove of burning a CD, then printing on it while I burn the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Printing Inserts

You can do this at your local Kinko's if you aren't feeling the DIY love. I priced it around and printing color, front and back on 11x17 100lb paper (which would give you eight non-folding front covers) would be about $4/page, which would be $0.50 per CD. The back would be a little cheaper, since you can use less beefy paper, and it's not two-sided.

But I know you. You're a DIY-er. So head on down to your local office supply store and pick up some paper. I used 67lb cardstock for my paper, which is a nice heavy weight. You can fit two CD faces or backs per page on an 8.5x11 sheet, and it's about $0.05 per page. You could go the glossy route, but the CD face itself will make matte paper appear glossy. It's your call.

Update, 2008: I used a local copy shop to run 200 copies of "The Simple Life". For full-color, glossy 2-panel cardstock inserts and tray cards, it was about $100 ($0.25/CD) and it saved a ton of work. I'm slacking from now on.

Use your favorite graphics editor to create the images for your inserts. Here is a nice page with the dimensions you'll need. For the CD face, I print two fronts centered on the page, then flip the paper over and print two backs. For the traycard, just use a ruler or something to give the crease in the right spot for the spine.

Other Stuff

You'll need CD cases. I suggest eBay, which has the best prices. Since I'm doing a double CD, I needed special ones that run about a quarter a piece, but regular ones are a lot cheaper. You'll probably get nailed on shipping, but it's still a better deal.

You'll really want to get a real paper cutter for the next step. You know, the kind with the big guillotine blade on the arm. That makes cutting the inserts a cinch.

Inkjet printing has an unfortunate side effect of possible smearing if the CD face gets wet. To get around this, you can buy a waterproof protective spray. I haven't tried this yet, but it seems like a good concept if it works. Let me know if you try it.


Yes, it's a good amount of work to do this. It's gotta be a labor of love, and it's not for everyone. The beauty of it is that once you've set yourself up, it's really easy to do your own little short runs. For instance, I burned a four-song sampler to give away at open mic nights the two weeks before the CD release party. They looked spiffy because the face was printed instead of Sharpie-d, and it didn't take me any extra time.

The broken-down approximate cost per CD:

  • Blank printable CD: $0.25
  • Jewel Case: $0.25
  • Inserts - Ink: $0.25
  • Inserts - Paper: $0.05
  • Printing CD - Ink: $0.10

Grand total per CD: $0.90. Even after you factor in the price of the printer, you can't beat that with a stick.

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