Isn't it amazing that for all of the careful design they put into CD and DVD technology, the engineers never stopped to consider how discs might be labeled on the desktop? Thankfully, the marketplace has come to the rescue with its own solutions—some good, some not so good, but all ingenious in their own regard.
Adhesive labels occupy one end of the spectrum, and multipurpose and specialized devices that print directly onto the disc surface occupy the other end. Convenience, cost, speed, durability, and the appearance of the result distinguish each alternative.
Labeling technologies have improved tremendously over the years and are now to the point where affordable options abound for producing good-looking, robust discs to suit most applications and environments. It is important, however, to note that manufacturers warn that some labeling techniques may impact disc performance and longevity or even compromise recording and reading drives. Since any labeling modifies a disc from its original factory-specification media and drive manufacturers often shy away from responsibility for any consequences and may even warn against certain practices (for example, Ford recommends against using discs with adhesive labels in its CD players). Such cautions may reflect legitimate concerns regarding unpredictable quality, possible transference error, and application unsuitability or simply lack of investigation into the technology. Overcautious or not, warranties may be affected, so it is prudent to follow manufacturer instructions and to use only products from reputable sources.
Over The Top: Adhesive Labels
Sometimes frowned upon by the technical community, adhesive labels for CDs and DVDs enjoy an ever-increasing popularity and respectability thanks to advances in construction, versatility, appearance, and physical application. At the same time, greater competition, broad distribution, and big brand name promotion are reaching out to the masses. Among those now marketing these products are powerhouses Avery Dennison and Fellowes/Neato, media vendors Verbatim, Imation, and Memorex, and commercial provider Kyso.
In terms of their basic layout, adhesive disc labels have evolved from troublesome wedges and half-moons to round doughnut-style designs (sometimes with separate hub stickers) and now to full-face products with the same printable area as is found on commercially produced DVDs. Even eccentric business card and 80mm mini formats are available.
Labels traditionally have suffered from a reputation for affecting disc balance and readability, not sticking properly, and even sometimes wreaking havoc with drives and players. Hank Emmons, a consultant for Kyso, stresses that while these are justifiable concerns, technology has come a long way in addressing them. "The first company to put out labels used a rubber-based adhesive that could not stand up to the heat and high-speed rotation inside a drive," according to Emmons, "but these issues have been solved." And beyond the labels themselves, disc manufacturers contributed to problems by using troublesome silkscreen inks. For example, according to Mark Mannon, senior product manager with Avery, "Silicone does not work with adhesives, but our latest survey of available media shows that it's no longer present in the market."
Recently, improved tools have been introduced to apply labels so that they are better centered and smooth. Most gadgets now are variants of a flat base incorporating a spring-loaded plunger. In its upscale Afterburner kits, Avery takes the flashiest approach by using a compressible plastic saddle and labels employing detachable tabs to keep fingers away from the adhesive surface and to provide alignment points. And for high volumes, Kyso's VS-450 fully automated labeler applies up to 1,600 labels per hour.