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How To Make CD’s for Music Artists

The first time I went to order custom CD’s for one of my albums I found the process overwhelming, and I made a lot of mistakes. Now that i’ve gone through the motions several times I thought i’d document it in the hopes of making your life easier. Here’s the summary of the whole process before we dive deeper.

How to print CD’s for your album:

  1. Prepare your mixed and mastered album in 16-bit 44.1 kHz format, typically WAV files.
  2. Find a CD manufacturer and learn about their packaging selections. Look at their artwork templates to see what graphics you need and the rules you have to follow.
  3. CD’s get cheaper the more copies that you purchase, so order as much as you can justify as long as you know you can sell that many.
  4. Submit your music files and artwork files according to the manufacturers instructions.
  5. Wait 2-4 weeks for your CD’s to arrive.

In this blog post i’m going to go over all of this in detail including how much CD’s cost to have made and some manufacturers i’ve personally used.

File Preparation

Once you have your music recorded, mixed and mastered you’ll need to ensure you have the proper files for the compact disc format. If you hired out your mastering then its possible your mastering engineer delivered several types of files or asked you what file types you need.

The standard audio specifications for CD’s is a bit depth of 16-bits and a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. Many CD manufacturers will require you upload to these specifications, and the rest will fix it for you but recommend you do it yourself. You really want to be doing this yourself so you can ensure the final WAV files sound exactly how you want them to.

Its possible if you send a manufacturer 24-bit audio files that the CD will have crackles or glitches after its made – definitely not what you want to have happen! Many disc manufacturers also offer mastering services if you need help with this.

You’ll also need artwork for your packaging, but in the next section we’ll talk about templates and how they work.

Find A Manufacturer

There are hundreds of CD duplication or CD replication manufacturers out there on the market. You’ll ideally want to find one in your home country to reduce shipping costs and avoid import taxes, also to reduce shipping time.

I’m in the USA and i’ve used two companies: Atomic Disc and Disc Makers. Both make high quality products but i’ve found Atomic Disc to be more affordable, as a result i’ve used them much more.

When you find a potential manufacturer you’ll want to check out the types of customization options and package selections they have to offer. Here’s a selection of the package types Atomic Disc offers.

The type of package you choose is entirely up to you. Options like Wallets and Digipacks give you more real estate to place artwork and/or lyrics, but they have a higher price tag. My personal favorite is their Wallet Lites because they allow for plenty of space for artwork and a place to autograph the album, at a price barely more expensive than Jackets (when you order 100 of them the price difference is only $10).

Even inside of Wallet Lites we have some options. Atomic Disc offers graphic design and mastering services if you need help with either of these. You can also add inserts which are basically just squares of card stock that you can have them print custom artwork onto – some ideas for them are if you need more space for lyrics or you want to autograph a band picture.

Formats like Digipacks will allow for 2-disc packages, or the option to have a CD holder as well as a pocket for a booklet or stickers (or whatever else you want to include).

Artwork Templates

Once you’ve picked a manufacturer you’ll want to find their artwork templates. Artwork templates are a file the manufacturer prepares that you can drop your artwork onto and send back to them to produce. It gives you the control to dictate exactly how each panel of your album and the CD itself will look.

In many cases these will be available in several formats such as Photoshop, Illustrator or just a PDF. Be thorough and make sure you follow the manufacturers guidelines on how to prepare your template file. They will send you a proof before they start making your CD’s to make sure its correct but its best to get it right the first time to avoid delays.

Here’s an example of what an Atomic Disc Wallet Lite template file looks like inside Photoshop:

As you can see there are outlines defined for where they will cut and bend the packaging to make the CD case. There are also bleed lines and safety lines to ensure that nothing gets ruined to the natural manufacturing tolerances. In other words, cutting and bending are not 100% accurate so it’s important your design will still look good even if their cuts are off by 1/32nd of an inch that day.

I also want to point out I hid some stuff on my template file. In the actual CD I have a QR code on the inside left panel for fans to scan and access some exclusive content. I also have some text written on the inside right panel that I want to save as special for just people that buy the album.

Think of cool ways you can take advantage of the packaging that your fans might enjoy. Inside the CD sleeve I put a funky pattern and have a secret message that says ‘I Love You’, people will only see this if they really take a look at the packaging.

Ordering CD’s

Now let’s talk about money. The specific cost of your CD will generally come down to package type and quantity. If we take a look at Atomic Disc’s Wallet Lites as an example, buying 50 copies will cost $2.58 per CD. However if you buy 100 copies it’s only $1.89 per CD, and 1,000 copies will be $0.99 per CD. Note that these prices are as of May 2022, i’m sure they’ll change over time.

In my opinion nobody should bother buying 50 CD’s, you might as well get 100 since you only go from a $129 to a $189 order. This is due to the fact the manufacturer has to prepare your files and set all of their equipment up for your order, no matter how many you purchase.

The rest of the quantity you order is really just on how many you need. If you’ve never sold CD’s before and you’re a small artist i’d probably just get 100 copies to be safe. However if you have an email list of 1,000 active fans, tens of thousands of followers on social media and a buzzing Spotify profile it might make sense to buy more. If you think you might need more one great option is to just poll your audience and gauge the interest first – you can even setup a pre-order page to reduce your risk even further.

Other Considerations

There are a few other things you may want to consider that are more general and not manufacturer specific.

Some manufacturers will give you the option for a glossy print or a matte print. Aside from preference, if you’re planning on autographing your packaging you probably won’t be able to sign a glossy print. However if you’re signing the CD itself this isn’t a concern.

Some manufacturers will allow you to choose between shrink wrap or poly-bags. Shrink wrap can look quite professional but again if you want to sign your CD or throw a sticker inside you’ll have to rip off the shrink wrap to do that, and then its destroyed and can’t be put back on. Poly bags are resealable so you can take the album out to sign or add merch inside and reseal afterwards. You can even ask for poly bags on the side in most cases.

If you’re ordering large amounts of CD’s you may have the option between CD duplication or CD replication, or you may be forced into one depending on how many you’re ordering. Duplication requires less setup work but its slower per CD to produce because they’re essentially burning your music to the CD in a similar way to how you can at home. Duplication will also have that ‘ring’ on the bottom where you can see how much of the CD was burned, and how much is empty. In very rare cases some old cars may not be able to play duplicated CD’s.

Replication requires making a glass master from your audio and then molding each disc from that master. This requires the setup time to make this master, but then its faster to produce each CD afterwards. The CD will have no ‘ring’ that shows how much is full or not, and the CD will be slightly more compatible with old car CD players than duplicated CD’s.

Another factor to consider is that replication also takes longer to produce. At Atomic Disc they say duplication jobs will take 4-6 business days and replication jobs will take 12-15 business days. For quantities less than 500 they don’t allow replication and for quantities 500+ they switch over to only replication.

Looking for more information? Check out this 17 minute YouTube video on my channel where I dive through even more.