Short Run CD Printing, Outsource or In-House? Project Budget, Timing and Artwork Software

CDs versus Digital Downloads

With the increasing popularity of digital downloads as a means of getting the latest music track into your collection, the audio CD printing and duplication business has seen a decline in large volume orders but it’s certainly not a dying industry. The change has really only been in order quantities but to counter this development there has been a marked increase in the amount of short run CD printing orders that are placed. An audio track on a CD is a higher quality recording than a downloaded mp3 file and this little detail matters to some music fans, especially audiophiles. Music is as popular as ever and the recording industry is now even more accessible for artists on a budget. You can download amazingly complex electronic studio software with multitrack recording facilities and load it onto your laptop for less than a hundred pounds. High quality digital multitrack recording devices are also inexpensive to obtain and will fit into your pocket.

Do It Yourself or Call In The Professionals?

This facility of being able to very cheaply set up a home recording studio has led many artists to consider producing their CDs themselves. A CD duplication tower can be obtained for a few hundred pounds enabling people to burn a hundred CDs relatively quickly in their own home studio. Printing the CDs can be done using a regular inkjet printer and inkjet compatible printable CDs. The problem is, all this is time consuming and without putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort, it’s never quite as good as the professionals. So, do you spend the time to do it yourself, or do you spend your money with the professionals and get a short run CD printing job done with a specialist company? Let’s look at pros and cons.

Project Budget

The short run CD printing project budget is always a major deciding factor when it comes to the in-house or outsource decision. If you are a particularly talented graphic designer with experience in designing artwork for CD printing and CD packaging, it may make financial sense to try to do the job yourself. If your graphic design skills are not up to scratch, however, you would probably be much better off paying for the professionals to take care of the CD printing and packaging and putting your extra time and expertise into the studio sessions perfecting the music recordings and mixes.

If you do work something out with a supplier, then the next consideration is the quantity of CDs to order. As with most businesses, the more you order, the lower the unit cost. This is especially important for orders of less than 500 discs where there can be a significant difference in price bands per hundred units ordered. After the 500 unit mark the savings per 100 units become smaller as the fixed cost doesn’t change, but if your order goes into the thousands, then you will see a good saving. You also need to be confident that you can sell this amount of units. Obviously, it’s no good paying for 300 CDs to be printed if you can only end up selling 100 units. Selling online through a website may be a sensible consideration as it is very easy to set up a half decent website for your band or as a solo artist.


If you’re pushed for time with your short run CD printing project and you have a critical deadline, then outsourcing your CD printing would be advisable. There are many small businesses out there which can turn around 200 CDs in 48 hours. You must, however, pay close attention to the artwork that you submit to your supplier if you choose to do it yourself. Many game breaking delays have been caused by unsuitable artwork or even copyright issues where the artwork involves an image created by another artist preventing the supplier from being able to legally produce the work for you.

Artwork Software Skills

Creating artwork for a short run CD printing project and for CD packaging can be a challenge, even for an experienced graphic designer. Knowledge of design for CD printing and packaging is important but also, knowledge of the printing processes that are likely to be used to print onto the surface of a CD, is equally important in order to produce a design that can be easily and effectively printed. If you’re getting your CDs printed professionally but you don’t want to pay the supplier to produce the artwork as well, to save some money, you should most certainly ask them for their disc and packaging artwork templates and for some detailed advice about their particular artwork requirements. Different suppliers will use slightly different templates which are tailored to their particular process and, whilst there probably won’t be a huge difference, it may be enough to cause a delay if artwork has to be re-submitted to suit their process.

For those of you who are going it alone with the artwork design, the following information will prove useful and may save you from a major headache later in the project.

There are various artwork software packages available that can be used to design a CD on-body print and the CD packaging print. Some are quite basic but are designed specifically for this job. The following packages can be downloaded from the internet and some are free downloads:

· CD Label Designer 6.0 – (Free download)

· Cover XP 1.65 – (Free download)

· Nero Cover Designer – (Free download)

· Sure Thing Disc Labeler v6 Deluxe – (around £20)

· Disketch Disc Label Software – (around £17)

· Ashampoo Cover Studio – (around £15)

True to the old saying, you get what you pay for with these packages (or don’t pay for in some cases) but they may serve a purpose for you.

If you already have some graphic design experience then you may have come across or may have experience of using a professional artwork software package. The following examples are not specifically for producing artwork for CDs and packaging but they will all do an amazing job if you work with a template and pay attention to the finer details as they can be used to produce very high resolution or vector quality artwork files:

· Adobe Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop

· CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

· Quark Express

· Xara Designer

· Serif Drawplus

As you would imagine, these professional software packages don’t come cheap but if you don’t mind using an older version from a couple of years back you can pick them up for a good price from various websites if you search for them on the internet. If your experience with any of these packages is limited then you can also find many tutorials on the web to point you in the right direction. You may even be able to find a tutorial specifically assisting with CD on-body design or CD packaging design. There are also forums and communities of users who will happily advise you with any aspect of your short run CD printing project design efforts.