Comparison of CD Printing Processes

By: Mridu Sinha

Inkjet Printing

CMYK Inkjet printers propel tiny droplets of liquid ink onto specially-coated CD-R and DVD-R surfaces with ability to absorb ink. They are usually integrated into automated robotic systems that load and deposit discs individually, allowing for unmanned operation after the initial setup. With a high-quality printing surface, inkjet results can be stunning printing in high resolution, and finished with a coating of UV-hardened lacquer that protects the finish against smudging and gives more vibrant colours. Inkjets are ideal for small runs with photographic quality print, or when you desperately need a fast job. In higher volumes the unit price does not face a substantial drop, which can be uneconomical compared to silkscreen, or lithographic printing.

Thermal Transfer Printing

The thermal transfer process is based on melting a coating of colored ribbon onto the surface of the CD-R or DVD-R. Each printer contains two ribbons; one containing panels of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Each color is printed individually onto the second ribbon- the transfer ribbon. The media and the transfer ribbon move together beneath the thermal print head, sealing the surface of the disc with a highly durable coating 100% weatherproof and smudge free. The end result is a product that is highly cost-effective in small runs, with a stunning finish superior even to lithographically printed CDs or DVDs. Because the print process is done directly from supplied PDF artwork, the set-up time is very quick and allows for a very fast turnaround for urgent jobs. With great results, this process has become one of the most popular choices and feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

Silkscreen (Screen Printing)

Screen printing is a cost-effective method for larger quantities of CDs or DVDs printed as a part of full manufacturing process, but can also be applied to the printing of CD-R, 8cm CD-R/DVD-R, and 12cm DVD-R/DVD+R. Your artwork is transferred onto films each color is a separate film, with up to five colours. These films are used as 'stencils' across a monofilament fabric screen, with the coloured inks applied through them, onto the surface of the CD or DVD. The resulting finish can produce very vivid colours, and is especially effective at reproducing spot colours (Pantone). This may, however, leave a grainy effect around text and colour gradients. Silkscreen is most effective with simple designs of few colours. Please be aware that most companies will enforce a minimum run of 500 units, but with very little price difference when compared with 1,000 units.

Lithographic (Offset) Printing

Modern offset printing is the most common high-volume commercial printing technique, with a wide variety of applications. The printer will either have your artwork and layout set directly to the printing plate from the computer, or creates a physical "paste up" from your layout that they will expose to the plates using a process camera, film negatives, and chemical treatment. The plate is treated to receive an oil-based ink around the print area, while the non-print area is treated with water. The plate is then 'offset' to a rubber blanket cylinder that applies it to the surface of the CD or DVD. This process allows for highly detailed photographic images and small text to be applied to the media in great quantities. Please be aware that lithographic printing is tied in with a full manufacturing process, which requires the creation of a glass master, and an extended production run, upwards of ten days. It is the ideal option if you need upwards of 1,000 units based on highly detailed artwork, producing a superior finish to silkscreen printing at a relatively comparable price.

We always advise our clients based on their artwork and requirements, but hope that this greater understanding of the processes involved, and their benefits and drawbacks can help you make an informed decision regarding your specific project, as always we are here to help and answer any of your questions.

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