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Use Standard Image Formats For Your CD Art

6:00 am Home Recording

Sharing your home-recorded music with others is easier than ever in these enlightened days of the Internet Age.  Your DAW, whether hardware or software, undoubtedly has a way of exporting your song as a WAV or AIFF computer file, which can be easily converted to a space-saving mp3 file.  The mp3 file can then be carried around on your thumb-drive keychain, loaded into your iPod, or even uploaded to the web for all the world to hear. Cool!

Still, there’s a special satisfaction in having an actual high-quality CD with your recordings on it to give to people - like family, friends, booking agents, whoever. And, for those who treat their music as fine art, the ability to design the CD label and the booklet and the back cover of the case presents a wonderful opportunity to extend the artistry and themes of the recorded album into the visual realm through its packaging. Let’s face it, a CD with well-designed artwork is a lot more impressive than one with “New Songs 09″ scrawled on the label with a Sharpie!

A Tale Of Woe

When I started creating CD cover art for myself and others, I used a very nice CD design software package that stored my creations (typically the CD label plus the front and back of a cover card) in a proprietary format that only it could read. At some point I got a new computer, and the CD design package would not run properly on the new machine. The support staff at the software company was unable to resolve my problem. Now what?

I ended up buying a different CD design package (which used its own proprietary format), which of course was unable to read in the earlier designs, forcing me to recreate them (ugh) if there was a request for more CDs. Meanwhile, the new designs I was creating were stored in the new proprietary format. Hmm. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Well, as the old saw goes, “I fell for that trick twenty times - then I got smart!” I finally realized that my CD design package, like most others, allows me to import images in standard formats like TIFF and BMP. Obviously, then, the best way to protect my CD-art designs from being marooned in a proprietary format is to create them in a standard format using a graphics program and then import them into the design software. The design software is used to print out the resulting images, since it knows much more than the graphics program about the many different printers and blank-page styles used to print CD labels, cover cards, booklets, etc.

Just Following Procedure

My new procedure is to use Photoshop Elements 5 to create two images, each 4.75 inches square, to be the front and back of the cover card, and one image, based on the “CD Label” template included with Elements, to be the label. I save these three images as BMP files (JPG is a “lossy” format, and my current design package chokes on TIFF files for some reason). Then I fire up the CD design package and use its “import BMP image” function to bring in the entire design for each of the three elements, which can then be printed out as needed.

This way, if my CD design software goes bad on me for any reason, I don’t lose the original artwork for the CD! Plus, Elements is more powerful than the graphics editors built into the design packages, so you get better results.

A final note regarding CD label printing. The cover card can be printed out (preferably on heavy stock paper) by any printer, but to print on a CD label, you need a printer set up to do this. (Nobody uses those awful stick-on CD labels any more.) The printer I use for small runs is an Epson Stylus Photo R200 (now discontinued), which was inexpensive and does a good job on both CD labels and cover cards. For larger runs I use a Primera Bravo II burner/printer.

I use Taiyo Yuden inkjet-printable blank CDs for all of my projects. I am hyper-concerned about disc quality and reliability and these are the best available.

(You can see some examples of my CD Art designs here.)

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