The Process Layout Is Most Appropriate For Make-To-Stock Production CD Printing – Selecting the Best Printing Method for Your Project

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CD Printing – Selecting the Best Printing Method for Your Project

The method you choose to print CDs depends on some key factors. These are the following:

  1. How many CDs do you need to print?
  2. What is the intended use of the final product?
  3. Is the project budget limited?
  4. What design is intended for discs? Photographic images or block colors?

After considering these factors, you can decide which CD printing process is best for your particular project.

Let’s take a look at each of the processes and their pros and cons.

Digital CD printing

This method of printing CDs uses a printer that uses the same process as the inkjet printer that many home users are familiar with. In fact, many home printers can be equipped with a CD printing tray for use with pre-made CDRs with a printable surface. A professional CD printing company will most likely use an inkjet printer designed specifically for CD printing. These printers have an autoload mechanism that allows you to print up to 200 CDs unattended. The printer automatically loads unprinted discs and unloads finished discs onto individual spindles.

Printing digital CDs using one of these printers is slow, but there is no fixed set-up cost. It is normal if the ordered number of disks is less than 100, or 200 if there is no fixed fast time for the order.

This printing method allows you to create very professional looking CDs as the inkjet printer can print at a very high resolution. However, the printed surface needs protection and the discs need to be coated with a clear coat to prevent moisture from coming into contact with the ink during handling or exposure to wet environments. This need significantly increases the overall project time. Printable discs are available that have a specially formulated surface that becomes waterproof after printing, but they are more expensive than conventional printable discs, so the decision must be made based on the urgency of the project; extra costs for waterproof discs or extra time to apply a coat of clear coat?

Screen printing CD

CD screen printing is ideal for artwork that includes solid color areas. Screen printing is done using a rotary bed machine that has 5 separate stations where different colors of ink can be applied. CDs can have a primary color applied first to the entire surface of the disc, which means that the stencil design of the CD can consist of up to 6 different colors.

The ink used in the screen printing process on CDs is UV sensitive, and as each color is applied to a station, the disc moves under the UV lamp, rotating to the next station. The UV lamp hardens the ink and only requires a momentary exposure.

As the name of the process suggests, screen printing is applied through the use of very fine meshes. There is a separate screen for each color in the illustration design. To create a screen, a film is produced, on which the areas where the ink is not applied to the disc are darkened. The new screen is initially coated with thermal emulsion. The film and screen are aligned with each other using guide marks and placed in the exposure unit. When the screen is exposed to hot, bright light, the area of ​​the thermal emulsion not protected by the dark area on the film hardens. The screen is then washed with a water spray and the areas of uncured emulsion are washed away to reveal the mesh.

The screen is then secured to its station. When all the screens are prepared in this way, you can start printing. CDs are loaded into the machine by an automated robotic system. They are placed in a roller that firmly holds the disc. At each station, ink is added to the top of the mesh screen and a rubber squeegee blade runs over the top, pressing the mesh against the surface of the disc and forcing the ink through the fine holes in the mesh onto the surface of the disc. The inking process takes about a second and each station inks a disc simultaneously once the first 5 discs are fed into the system. This speed means that the screen printing machine can print more than 3,500 discs per hour, so large orders can be completed quickly.

However, there are significant fixed set-up costs due to the need for screens and films. These can be reduced by limiting the artwork to fewer colors, with single color silver disc printing being the most cost effective printing. The ongoing costs really mean that this CD printing process is only really viable for orders of more than 100 discs.

The screen printing process for CDs allows you to create truly amazing CDs with very high resolution thanks to the use of extremely fine meshes. However, it is not ideal for printing photographic materials due to the presence of subtle color gradients in these images. What makes the screen printing process really unique is the availability of fluorescent and metallic inks that can really add the WOW factor to your CD printing.

Lithographic (offset) printing on CDs

This printing process is very different from the screen printing process and the two printing machines are set up differently. The lithography process takes advantage of the fact that printing ink and water do not mix the way oil and water do.

The image of the artwork is applied to the lithographic printed form of the CD using a laser. The surface of the printed form has a rough texture and is pre-coated with a thermally reactive emulsion.

The printed forms are treated with chemicals so that the exposed area of ​​thermal emulsion can be removed from the printed form. Once the printing form has been prepared, the area containing the image of the artwork is made receptive and water-repellent to the ink. The non-printable areas of the CD printing plate are designed to attract water but not ink. The printed forms are then collected on a rotating cylinder on a lithographic printer.

As the printing plate passes through each revolution, it passes over a set of rollers that apply water to the plate, the water is attracted to the rough surface where the ink is not applied to the disc.

The printed form then passes over rollers as ink is added. The ink is attracted to the smooth areas of the printing form. Then the cylinder, wrapped in a rubber blanket, rolls over the plate and collects the ink. The CD image is then transferred from the rubber cylinder to the CD, which is held securely by a metal roller. Again, this process is very fast, with many parts of the process happening simultaneously and many discs being printed together.

The inks used are UV sensitive, just like screen printing, so when the discs are exposed to UV light, they harden immediately.

Lithographic printing is ideal for printing photographic images as it can handle areas of subtle color gradient very well. However, this is not very good for large solid color areas, as there can be inconsistencies in the ink coverage, which can result in a “split” print on the CD.

Like screen printing on CDs, lithographic printing has a fixed set-up cost regardless of how many colors are involved in the print, in this case. This only becomes economically viable at runs of 100 discs or more, and the more discs printed, the lower the unit cost.

Illustrations for printing on CDs. What to check

It is very important to provide your provider with the highest resolution image possible. The better the image, the better quality the final product will be. Make sure you check that all images, especially photos, are in their original format. It is not enough to transfer a low resolution image of 100 dpi to a file template created at 300 dpi. The original image will not print well and you will be disappointed with the result.

Make sure dark photographic images print well by running test prints before starting production. If the image is to be screen printed, then providing the supplier with the Pantone reference code for each color in the artwork will ensure that the print will look exactly as you expect. If you already have a printed disc and are looking for a reprint, check with your supplier about color matching. Most suppliers will provide this service and this will give you peace of mind that the final product will remain consistent with previous designs.

Summary

To summarize the above information based on the intended end use of your CDs:

  • If you need a small print run of less than 100 discs, digital printing will be the most cost-effective method of printing CDs. There are certainly no compromises in print quality, but there are no fixed setup costs.
  • If your print image is based on a photograph, then lithographic printing is the way to go.
  • If your image consists of 1 or more solid color areas, screen printing is the CD printing method to choose for a crisp result. Fluorescent and metallic artworks also require screen printing.

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