Champagne Disc Labels on a Beer Budget

How to use LightScribe technology to give your CDs and DVDs the look of professional laser-etched labels, without spending a bundle.

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System builders looking to stamp out those smudged, mislabeled or off-center paper labels on important CDs and DVDs—either your own or your clients—can take heart. There is a convenient and low-cost way to give CDs and DVDs the look of professional laser-etched labels. It's a great technology called LightScribe.

Familiarizing yourself or your clients with LightScribe direct disc labeling technology can help you organize data, as well as put a professional face on the CDs and DVDs you produce. For a small additional outlay in hardware and media, you can also easily and accurately label your CD and DVD media in a LightScribe enabled drive. That way, you will avoid the low-budget look of sticky paper labels.

This will also help you to avoid printer jams. You'll also free yourself from the confusion often associated with mislabeled media as a result of those sloppy felt-tip markers. Finally, LightScribe lets you label discs without a printer; that's handy for mobile workers, too.

In this TechBuilder Recipe, I'll show you how LightScribe direct disc labeling works. I'll explain what it can do for you and your clients—and what it can't. I'll look at how you can make the best use of the technology to organize archived business data (on CD and DVD). I'll discuss how to produce professional-looking media for proposals, educational material and marketing materials. And finally, I'll show you step-by-step how to quickly get started labeling CDs and DVDs and offer you tips on how LightScribe hardware works with popular burning software.


LightScribe direct disc labeling technology was the brainchild of Hewlett-
Packard researcher Daryl Anderson. In fact, LightScribe is a registered trademark of Hewlett-Packard Development Co.

Anderson was curious about whether the same laser used to burn data into the surface of a CD or DVD could also be used to label it. He sparked the development of software to repurpose the laser in optical drives. HP also began research into a new layer of light sensitive material to coat the discs that could then be laser-etched to produce silkscreen-quality DVD labels. HP was the first to market a drive that could use its laser to label special media. The company coined the term LightScribe Direct Disc Labeling, or "LightScribe" for short.

Previously, the two most common labeling methods were printing stick labels with an inkjet printer and writing information on the disc by hand. Affixing inkjet labels can be tricky and expensive. And handwritten labels, liable to smudging, can be hard to read.

A third alternative is leaving discs unlabeled or mislabeled. This, obviously, can cause confusion when it comes to back-ups and important data archives. While handwritten labels might be OK for copying music or videos at home, they have no place in business where a CD or DVD represents a company or contains critical or sensitive business records.

With the universal availability of LightScribe-enabled drives and media, laser etching labels presents an easy-to-use and reliable alternative to older methods of disc labeling. Laser etching produces a polished look. Plus, it's efficient, because you don't have to play with getting paper labels centered or keeping track of label stock. System builders should like the mobility this printing technology provides, too, since you don't need to a printer. You can label on-the-go on your notebook or laptop.

Also, LightScribe is inexpensive. That's true whether you install a LightScribe enabled DVD burner or use an external burner. When you compare prices, you'll be pleased to discover that you'll only have to pay a few more bucks to get a LightScribe-enabled DVD writer.

Further, the specially-coated LightScribe CDs and DVDs cost only a bit more than ordinary CD-Rs and DVD-Rs. In practice, any costs are easily offset by the savings you'll compile with not having to purchase inkjet ink, laser toner and label sheets.


LightScribe ingeniously uses software to control the laser in a DVD burner to burn a DVD's top, or label, side. The label side of all LightScribe media is coated with a light-sensitive dye that is altered when exposed to laser light.

First, you create an image with the pertinent text and graphics, using the related LightScribe labeling software. (I recommend Nero Express 7.) Then, a high-resolution laser etching process takes place. It starts from the middle of the disc and works outward. The result: a precise gray-scale image that can clearly display text and graphics to create a professional-looking label.

On a LightScribe label, the background (that is, the unlabeled portion of the disc), is gold, the original color of the LightScribe disc surface. Printed portions appear nearly black, with varying degrees of opacity to produce lights and darks. The finished label in black and gold looks artistic and similar in respects to sepia photographs. It's a distinctive high-tech look suitable for many applications. More important, the label is clear and smudge-proof, since there's no ink or toner involved. There's no stickiness, either, since no adhesives are used. The design is always well-placed because you don't have to line up and attach a separate label.

Once a LightScribe label is created, it is permanent. You can add to the design later by re-inserting the disc and re-labeling with labeling software. But darkened areas cannot be lightened once they're "scribed."

To get started working with LightScribe technology, you'll need four things:

  • A LightScribe-enabled DVD writer
  • LightScribe-capable CDs or DVDs (available at BestBuy, Circuit City, etc.)
  • LightScribe system software
  • Labeling software that supports LightScribe.

HP has licensed LightScribe technology to other manufacturers. So many brands of laser-etching drives are available, including ASUS, Lite-on and, naturally, HP. Similarly, the special media for LightScribe drives is readily available; it is marked as LightScribe enabled. All these items are distinguished by the LightScribe logo, which looks like this:

Internal optical drives come with the system software needed for the new device. So physical installation is the same as with any optical drive. For design purposes, remember that all optical drives generate more heat, especially during burning data and labels.

Optical drives like HP's DVD940i are essentially "multi-drives." That is, they record double-layer DVDs at up to 8X, recordable DVDs at up to 18X, rewritable DVDs at up to 8X, and DVD-RAM at up to 12X.

Plus, there's the flexibility to flip the disc over and burn a precise, silkscreen-like label directly onto a CD or DVD.

All this comes at a list price of just under $80, though you can find much lower prices. Circuit City, for example, currently offers the drive for $64.99. Here's a shot of the HP DVD940i drive:

If you want more capability, Lite-On claims that its 20x LH-20A1L DVDR can write 4.7 GB of data in about 5 minutes, and for about the same price.

Store-bought drives like the two above are bundled with LightScribe software. This allows you to design and burn labels and create data and audio CDs and DVDs.

Two popular software packages provide advanced label-design templates and offer an integrated approach to disc labeling. They are Nero Express 7 and Roxio's Easy Media Creator 9 (with Express Labeler and Label Creator). I prefer Nero Express 7, and that's what I use in this Recipe.

So here are 9 steps for creating a label with Nero Express 7 software and LightScribe technology:

  1. Download Nero Express 7. It retails for just under $80.

  2. After you finish burning a LightScribe-capable disc, flip it over (handling it by the edges). Then reinsert the disc into your drive with the label side (that is, the dull side) facing down.

  3. Start Nero. Once the window opens, it will scan for a LightScribe-capable drive. Here's what you'll see:

  4. Select a Label Template. Using the tools on this window, you can design your own label using different templates. Here's a shot of the window:

  5. Select a background. Here you can browse for a picture file. Nero will help you trim it to label size. The complexity of your image and contrast options will effect the burning time (more on that below).

  6. Edit titles. Change text fonts and their appearance on your label.

  7. Select preferences. Preferences include contrast, which can determine how long it will take to print your label. The higher the print contrast, the longer the label will take to burn. Select "Draft" if you wish to burn your CD quickly and you can live with a relatively faint label. Select "Best" if you want the label to appear strongly on the disc; but again, the burning time will be longer.

  8. Preview your label.

  9. Press Print to burn your label. You're done.

One caveat: If you're working in bulk, consider creating relatively simple labels. They will print faster.


LightScribe uses control features in the center/hub of a disc to identify whether the media is LightScribe-enabled. But I found that sometimes, the drive fails to identify the media properly. When this happens, the LightScribe drive will refuse to etch the disc, even though the disc is LightScribe-enabled.

If this happens on your setup, try the following four steps:

  1. Double-check the disc to make sure it is, in fact, LightScribe-enabled. LightScribe media have a LightScribe logo in the inner hub area. There should also be visible control features located inside and adjacent to the coated label. If you don't see these indications, the disc is probably not LightScribe-enabled.

  2. Assuming your disc is LightScribe-enabled, make sure the disc is properly oriented in the drive. The label side, which contains a special coating, should be face down in the drive. That way, the laser can burn it. If the disc coating is face up in the drive, that's wrong, so carefully flip it over.

  3. Assuming you passed Steps 1 and 2, try cleaning the center area (hub) of the disc. Use a lint-free cloth to wipe the hub area. Gently remove any dirt or smudges that may be covering the control features.

  4. If none of these steps fix the problem, the disc may be defective. Try using another LightScribe disc.


For more information and support for LightScribe devices and software, check out the LightScribe site.

To learn more about LightScribe-ready software described in this Recipe, these two sites may be helpful:

ANDY MCDONOUGH is a professional musician, composer, voice actor, engineer, and educator happily freelancing in New Jersey.

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