Originally I had a different idea for this weeks’ article, however after a discussion about how I created the CD for the latest chiptune compilation, I decided I thought I’d write about my own method. When I created the last compilation for Superbyte all those years ago, other than the artwork, I had no idea about the logistics required. It’s because of this, it set me back £40 ($52.81) for 100 inkjet CDs with cardboard sleeves. This time around for the Square Sounds compilation I had more knowledge in the area and in doing so I managed to create 25 b&w thermal heated CDs with a pearlescent cover and plastic case for just £20.
Shortly after seeing how successful this was, it made me realise that independent artists could easily produce their own merch on the cheap; it just requires time & the knowledge.
However, you maybe thinking; “Richard, this is good n’all, but I don’t have the time nor skills to pull off a feat like this!” Well I’ll be showing you some tips & tricks in both sourcing, creating & even printing your own covers for your CDs. Let’s begin!
Before for we go ahead and send the CD off to be duplicated, we need
the masters! Masters are audio-balanced versions (mostly saved as wav.’s) of your songs that will sound well on the majority of hardware, from headphones to car stereos.
I won’t go into depth in this section as there are countless ways to master songs, and I’m not the best at this. For my masters, I created them in Ableton Live as it’s the software I work best in. As you want them sound relatively the same in volume & contrast, you’ll want to have them all in one project. This lets you transition easily from one track to the another & pick out flaws that you wouldn’t normally notice. However, if you’re using Ableton, make sure each track has warping set to ‘off’ in the ‘Sample’ panel, or
else you’ll find your songs coming out faster/slower.
To help get the best sound from a your songs, it’s best to experiment with different effects, starting with compression. This is one of the best ways to balance your tracks as it brings out the quiet parts and lessens louder parts. I would say this the most important thing to start with, as you’re going to want to get the right balance in your tracks. For more info check out this handy beginners guide to compression.
Another go to effect to help with sound is the EQ, which allows you find and either heighten
a or flatten the sound of a track. You’ll find that by just raising the high shelf in one part such as the left will brighten the bass & everything associated within that vicinity.
Always have a friend listen to your mix. You may think your track is bomb, but others may find it hard
er to listen to. That goes the same for different hardware too. It may sound good to you on your laptop speakers, however the song may sound tinny as hell on a car stereo. Always use a good set of speakers, switching to headphones when possible. Also, do not use laptop speakers to make mixes.
One last note I will say on mastering is that putting too much into masters is overkill. You can ruin a track by adding too much. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a small compression.
Once you’re happy with how all your tracks sound it is time to Duplicate! Now, there are the 3 ways you go down this route. You can either:
- Contact a company and have them do it (plus printing and everything else)
- Duplicate via Ebay or a trade seller
- Duplicate yourself
Through a Company
Although easy and the end product may look good, choosing a company to do your duplication is burning your money. With the majority of companies looking to make a 40% profit on any project, you can see the benefit of doing it DIY. I’ve been given quotes where I was looking at £180 in fees, whereas by using a trade seller, I saw the price slashed in half.
Through a Trade Seller
This is generally the route I go down, albeit there’s a slim chance you may find yourself with a subpar finished product. However, when their prices and turn around time are compared to companies, you can see why it’s a good idea. Just looking on Ebay, you’ll find someone who can print & duplicate CDs for £16.80. A very tempting offer! However, always check whether the CDs are thermal or ink, as ink will wash out. This particular seller doesn’t say, but does gloss finish the CDs which, while it may look a bit tacky, is in the long run durable.
If you choose a trade seller, they will often ask if you can send a Master CD in the post for duplication. This is to cover their backs, but most just ask for an ISO file so they can mount it, and make a master. The one I used for the Square sounds compilation, gave me a digital proof as an ISO, which was also a huge plus, as it allows you to double check everything before duplication.
Although most just print CDs, some will print the covers as well as supply cases. If that’s something you’d like, then jot down some quotes and find one you like. It just depends on the direction you want to take. I will say if you look even harder, you’ll find a better price. Just looking on ebay I found 50 used CD cases for only £10.00! Adding that to the CD duplication price, We’ve got £26.00 for 50 fully colour printed CDS!!!
Going It Alone
While it’s not something I would do, ( I don’t have a CD Printer for one thing) anyone else is welcome to try it. For this direction, it’s all about getting the cost down no matter what. This’ll take some death defying acrobatics in finding the best price possible. A good start is to find an auction ‘blank printable CDs’. That way you can always take a sharpie to them if you want to get creative. You can even print on them if you have a CD Printer (they’re more common that you might think)!
In this example, I’ve managed to find 50x ‘blank printable CDs’ for an astonishing
ly £3.76 (with free p+p). For the cases there are few avenues to try:
- Find old CDs that don’t need a CD case.
- Gather as many cheap cases you can find via auctions
- Use the previous CD cases mentioned above.
One other interesting idea that I came across was using paper sleeves. Although some what ‘tacky’, they do have a nostalgic vibe of sorts (some 90s kids will remember taking the Lego Island disk out of the paper slip), and you can also print on the backs quite easily.
The only factor that is left duplication. Duplication is just a fancy word for ‘burning a disk’, so you’d use your own desktop computer/laptop. It’s a long process, with generally 1-2 minutes per disk, so if you have an order of 50x CDs, you best budget a couple hours. However, it’s free with time the only thing being used up.
Now with that taken care of, the only thing that is left is…
Now this is my jam. Having worked in the printing industry for 2 years, I’ve learnt quite a bit about layout. For example, every artwork should have a margin of 5mm all around, to allow for safety in cutting. I can tell you that I’ve bought a CD only to find the zine artwork had been sliced incorrectly by some cowboy printer.
I’ll start off by going through your choice of weaponry: design software!
I’ll start off with the best, Adobe InDesign. I only started properly using InDesign in the print industry, and I have to say, for anything print related it does the job x10 better any other. The only problem is that it’s incredibly expensive (unless you have ‘other’ means).
Although not as extensive as Indesign, Illustrator still does what its sister software can do. It’s also the best for crafting quality artwork in vector format. Again, it’s price is very expensive.
Although more primitive, it’s slightly more easy to use than the dreaded Quark.
Inkscape is Open source and has the ability to add bleeds.
There are plenty more more software options available, we simply need those options that offer bleeds and printing marks, as we’ll be using them as a guide for cutting.
The In’s and Out’s of Printing
A lot of people will assume Photoshop can be used for this. Unfortunately, it isn’t the best. This is because when it comes to printing, we need printing marks so when the work has been printed we can both cut easily and see that both the front & back covers line up well. Below is an example of a CD cover template, including folds. As said before the margin is the dead zone where no content other than colour can go. The bleed is what you cut into, with 3mm of room to play with.
To help give more of an understanding in what I’m talking about, I’ve written up an extensive tutorial. I’ll be working with 120 x 120mm and using InDesign. Back covers for jewel cases can be done, however it all depends on how much paper you have. Just to remember to score & fold the sides!
Below, I’ve put a couple of other tutorials relating to other software people have on how to add bleeds and print marks in more depth:
Begin creating a new document at 120mm x 120mm, with 5mm margins all around and finally a 3mm bleed (see below).
Next add your work making sure the background stretches out over the bleeds, but the content remains
in within the margins. Once you’re happy, export your artwork to PDF, ticking off the boxes below and making sure that the bleeds are enabled.
Finally, place the the newly made PDF into an A4 (297x210mm) document by ‘file’ & ‘place’ (note: USA uses the letter dimension 8.5x11in; just replace the A4 dimensions with letter). Make sure all the printing marks are visible, then resize the artwork to 126x126mm, so you can only just see the bleed marks. Duplicate the artwork, put them top-bottom, followed by placing them in the middle of the sheet. Once this is all done take the bounding box of both artworks and stretch them all to the edge of the sheet. By the end you’ll have something like this. Repeat the same process with the back cover.
Now we need to decide on the paper. Before you starting buying heavy 400gsm stock and shoving into your printer, listen to this. The majority of home printers have been designed to handle 80gsm paper; that’s your standard paper. However, you can’t print on double sided, especially with an inkjet as the ink will run through the other-side. So for an all rounder, it’s best sticking with gloss photo paper, or anything 120gsm.
The maximum weight I’d say a home printer can run is probably 200gsm. Any heavier and you’ll risk destroying your printer. Every stock paper will come with a weight, so check accordingly. Finally, always design with printer movement in mind. This is because when the printer is fed the paper, some kind of movement will happen no matter how careful you are.
If you still wish to use 80gsm paper, then you don’t actually need to print on the back. Just place the front cover on the right, with the left being the back cover. Remove the bleeds in the middle, with the covers still touching. Once all this is done and printed you can fold the sheet and…voila! A front and back cover.
Going back to paper stocks for a moment, one particular question I was asked was where I got the particular paper from for the Squaresounds compilation. This was a special paper that shines in light. It’s called Pearlescent paper and can be easily bought on Ebay cheaply. Again, just shop around!
Once you’re ready to print get your paper ready and settled in the printer, making sure there’s no room for large movement. It’s important that you do this as when you print the back you want the print marks line up within the bleed.
Flip the finished paper over to the back, do the same process. Check the bleeds by shining the paper in light so you can see the other-side. Once you’ve done all this, you’ll end up with the front/back cover!
Cutting your work
This is the last step, but it’s the most important. Do this incorrectly, and you could end up ruining your artwork, or worse, hurt yourself. If you think you’re not skilful enough to cut, get someone to help you.
Because we’re doing this DIY, you’ve got two options – either using scissors or a scalpel. I would use a scalpel over a pair of scissors as it is both sharper and more precise. However, if you only have a scissors, use one side of the blade and score the artwork to cut.
To do this with the best accuracy, we’ll need a ruler as well as something rubber/wood as a mat underneath. The ruler helps give support and alignment to the cut. The mat gives support to your cutting tool so you don’t break it,
or hurt yourself, or ruin an underlying surface.
Whilst cutting keep measuring and making sure that you’re cutting 120mm each way. Don’t stress if you’re over or under by a couple mm. Use the first one as a proof to see if it fits properly. Just keep repeating until you’re finally finished!
‘COMPACT DISK IT YOURSELF!’
I hope this article was very beneficial and allows you produce your own CDs for a extremely good price. I was actually surprised at how I was able to further flatten the price of creating CDs. I thought I’d not be able to get cheaper than £20.00, however I was wrong.
50 CDs for £16.00 wrong!
If you need anymore advice on design work and sourcing, please do not hesitate to ask by using the contact details below.
This has been a blog post from Chip Bit Sid, a UK based Chiptune Blogger. Along with monthly features here on The ChipWIN Blog, I post once a week on my own blog. To get in touch, please message via the social media links below! I also do my own music under the banner as ‘Kojin’.