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Your Disc Printing Options
Thermal, inkjet, silkscreen, offset printing: deciding on a printing option for your preprinted CD-R or DVD-R can be a little daunting. A disc printing specialist can help you reach the right decision for your project and budget, but here's a handy guide to help explain the basics.
For more information on any of these disc printing methods, click on an image above or scroll down the page and read about them all.
For your small quantities of printed CD-Rs and DVD-Rs, also known as "short runs" of discs, your options pretty much come down to thermal or inkjet printing. For a long time, thermal printing was limited to simple graphics and text while inkjet printing was reserved for more detailed images. With improvements in print technology, however, you can have printed DVD-Rs or CD-Rs with photo-quality images using either method.
There are a couple of different ways that thermal disc printers work, all of which involve the use of a fixed print head and a polyester ribbon coated with ink. As a disc and the print ribbon are forced under the print head, tiny pixels are heated and cooled to melt the ink off of the polyester film.
CustomPrintedDiscs.com uses what called thermal retransfer printers. These types of disc printers use these same basic steps but, instead of printing directly to the disc, the image is printed on the underside of a retransfer ribbon. The retransfer ribbon is then fused with the disc. This method will help cover any irregularities that may be on the disc surface and provides additional UV protection to your disc art.
Inkjet printers work by spraying droplets of ink onto the CD or DVD being printed. CustomPrintedDiscs.com uses thermal inkjet printers, which have a series of electrically heated chambers that propel the ink. The chambers heat the water-based ink to create a tiny steam-filled bubble, which pulls the ink through the ink head and onto the disc. The ink's surface tension also helps propel the ink to maintain a steady stream.
The printing options for large quantities of discs come down to silk screening and offset printing. With both of these methods, the bulk of your expense involves the set-up prior to running the print job. So your cost per disc comes down dramatically as you increase your quantities.
The silkscreen process begins by creating a very fine nylon mesh that is stretched over a frame that forms the screen. Next ink is squeezed through the screen onto the disc using a squeegee. This process is repeated multiple times, once for each color. Once all the states are complete, you have a disc that comes out looking glossy and professional. Silkscreen printing is best suited for high quality text and simple illustrations.
The offset printing process starts by splitting an image into four colors – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – and transferring each of these values onto separate ink plates. Each place is then covered with a rubber mat that is attached to a cylinder. A single color image is then transferred (or offset) onto the surface of the disc as it passes by the runner roller. The disc will go through all four colors individually to produce a 175-line/inch resolution image.
Offset printing is best suited for high volume jobs due to the nature of the printing process and is best suited for photographs or graphical elements that have a lot of color variation.