Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is power." Ignorance, I then suppose, is weakness. The unfortunate thing about the music industry (as it probably is with every other business) is that the industry uses its power in order to take advantage of those without knowledge. While hardly fair, such is the way of the world. The best way to defeat, or at least negate, this imbalance of power is to learn as much as possible before dealing with these people.
Nowhere is the imbalance of knowledge in the music industry more obvious than it is in the area of printing. This is in part due to the nature of the task. A musician never thinks about the CD graphics layout while composing music and this makes it, the printing aspect of CD manufacturing, seem irrelevant. The "irrelevance" of printing is the thing that gives the manufacturer its power.
While I have no actual statistics, I am intuitively aware of the importance of the printing aspect on the industry's bottom line. When I assembled my last CD, I was repeatedly told that my inserts/films could not meet "specs". I was told that I could not possibly produce films that would meet the industry's incredibly strict standards. I was even told that my printer could not possibly comprehend the complex process of producing "to spec" films in spite of the fact that my printer makes films for a living. The manufacturer did everything possible to get me to give up on printing my own materials. It was fairly obvious that the rep was not going to make near his normal commission if I chose to do everything myself.
I probably would have given in to the manufacturer's demands but I could not get a straight story on their design fees. I kept getting things like, "...on an hourly basis", "...depends on the size of the project", "...it depends on the number of colors" and other vague nonsense. Needless to say, I was not about to hand them a blank check and let them run up a tab on an "hourly basis."
I think the thing that really bothered me is that the rep had no idea what the printing process was actually about. I remember asking if the label positive needed to be "emulsion up" or "emulsion down" and he just looked at me like I was from Mars. (I'll explain the "emulsion" thing later on.) He knew I couldn't meet "specs" but had no idea what the "specs" were. He could not tell me if the manufacturer needed an inner register on the label positive because he didn't know what an inner register was. All he knew was that I couldn't do anything myself.
While I could have forced the issue and made them give me the specs, I decided to just let the manufacturer print the raw discs and provide the jewel boxes. I did my own printing and shrinkwrapping. In the end, it cost me a total of $1.35 per CD on a lot of 1000. (This is just the manufacturing price, this does not include things like studio time, advertising, promotionals and other stuff.)
Anyway, the industry's near anaphylactic reaction to the Do It Yourself-er indicates that the printing part of CD manufacturing is probably the cash cow of the industry. All the more reason to do it yourself.
The silliest part of the DIY printing is that the hallowed specs are nearly nonexistent. If the damned thing fits the case and you are going to "stuff" the cases yourself, who cares about the specs? My first CD's inserts were produced in exactly this manner. I drew up a prototype that fit into the CD case and asked my printer if she could print it up "as is." She had no problem with it and did exactly as I asked.
I realize that this approach may seem distatseful to 'real' artists but the bottom line is this: No matter how pretty the design is, the fact of the matter is that you are not likely to sell a thing. You will be 90 years old and telling your grandkids why it is that you have an attic full of, "weird looking discs" that you made when you were a stupid (x) year-old. This leads me to my main point in DIY production...
If you knew that you weren't going to sell anything, how willing would you be to cut costs at every corner?
Cutting costs and doing so creatively is the appeal of a DIY production. The more underground the approach, the more unique the product is likely to be. Another thing to remember is that less spent on design means more that can be spent on recording. And recording is the entire reason you started down this path. Anyway, on to the design stuff...
Designing inserts is a fairly simple process if your printer is good. (A good printer is one that is willing to do whatever you ask regardless of his or her "better judgement." Or... A good printer is one that uses his or her better judgement without running up a huge bill.) The method given here is one based on an artist willing to do their own CD packaging.
First are the basic "specs":
I currently do all of my printing in black and white. This reduces my costs significantly. If color must be added, think about doing only two color printing. Again, two color separation is cheaper than four color separation. One really cheap trick is to start out with colored stock and then printing black ink on top of it. This gives the illusion of two color printing without the cost of adding another film to the process. I choose scoring of Inserts to perforations because perforations tend to tear with repeated handling.
I used to send to people an informational insert that read:
In Spite of what the manufacturers may tell you, CD graphics aren't that big of a deal. Many companies often put out warnings that read like this:
Improper graphics may result in untimely delays, unwanted errors, additional costs, penalty fees, low birth weight, cancer, runaway inflation and complete destruction of the universe as we know it.
If you understand nothing about CD graphics, understand this - No one can stop you from printing up your own inserts and tray cards and assembling the CDs cases yourself.
Don't let anyone give you any guff about dimensions, resolution, typeface, positives, negatives or anything else. If someone starts getting pushy, tell them that you'll order the raw discs & package everything yourself.
If the manufacturer becomes "worried" whether or not your homemade inserts will fit the package, tell the manufacturer that it's not his problem. The best way to see if your inserts will work is easy...
Assemble a prototype and see if it fits. Simple, eh?
This insert was assembled on a cheap graphics program. It's not pretty but it gets the job done. This demonstrates that even the most lo-fi acts assemble CD inserts with nothing more than rough masters and a photocopier.
Your printer should be able to tell you if he or she can handle a job like this. In any case, don't let 'em scare you.
At this point, you probably know more than the manufacturing rep about this stuff. Cool, eh?
Write me if you have any questions or suggestions...
Note: Since tray cards are not ordinarily handled, perforations are not likely to be torn by the listener. Perfs make insertion of tray cards easier than scores because perforations are easier to fold.
In order to print on the face of a CD, you'll need to produce a label "film". Actually, the word "film" is incorrect, a positive is used to produce the CD label printing screens. (A film looks like a negative while a positive looks like a transparency.) Any printer should be able to produce a positive from your work.
The "ink" used on your positive is known as the emulsion. It is important to know whether the emulsion is to be "up" (on top) or "down" (on bottom). The manufacturer will also specify if the positive is to be "right reading" (normal) or "wrong reading" (backward).
CD label "films" are usually Right Reading/Emulsion Down. (My printer had to produce my positive backwards in order to create this effect.)
Multi-color printing will require multiple "films", one "film" for each color. I say print one color and be done with it...
For those with a S&M predisposition, you can print your own CD inserts and traycards at home. This approach, while considered by many to be insane, has its appeal. I would likely buy any CD whose author had the huevos print the inserts at home on an inkjet printer. In order to facilitate this approach, PTI has Microsoft Office 97 compatible templates to use in designing your inserts and traycards. This company makes microperf cards that allow you to print your inserts and traycards on your home printer.
Unfortunately, I had to go through three or four printers before I found one that didn't try to sell me everything and the barn gate. As with the music industry, the printing industry is filled with salesmen trying to help fools part with their money. The key to dealing with bad printers is simple: Don't be talked into anything that you don't want. If more consumers were responsible for the way they spent their money, most of these losers would be out of business.
Shop around and don't be afraid to drop names. A good printer is always happy to hear what his or her competitors are quoting for a job. Another thing, trust your gut reactions. If it sounds too good to be true (as if you haven't heard this a billion times already) it probably is. I also don't deal with printers that take a long time to get back to me with a quote. Leisurely printers do not produce timely results.
Here's an interview I did with a printer. It was originally published in my now defunct The Underground.