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Creating Labels and Covers

By Eliot Hochberg (, October 16, 2002

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One aspect of making DVDs that isn’t covered by the DVD Studio Pro manual is preparing them for final delivery. In many cases authors will send files to a replication house to print thousands of discs and covers, which will then be packaged and shipped. This article isn’t about that, but rather it’s about how to go about making labels for DVD-Rs in-house.

The first thing necessary is a decent printer. Any color printer capable of producing good photos will do (I recommend at minimum an inkjet at 1440 dpi in at least one direction). Another option is to use someplace like Kinko’s, but with the low cost of decent printers out there, there’s really no excuse for not having one in-house. It provides greater flexibility and control over the output.

The next requirement is layout software. Take your pick from QuarkXPress, Illustrator, Freehand and Photoshop, PageMaker, InDesign, FrameMaker, MultiAd Creator, “Ready, Set, Go!,” Ventura, and to a lesser extent, Word and WordPerfect. Some of these may be overkill, and this is only a partial list, but most of these programs or ones like them will do the job. Word processors have limited graphic design capabilities, but it’s a good idea to use whatever’s available. Don’t rush out to buy Quark just for a DVD cover.

It’s worth noting that many die cut paper or label packages come with layout software. Almost invariably this software is only available for the PC. This isn’t a huge loss, in that the software provided typically is not much better than a word processor. However, there is at least one alternative, CD Stomper, which does have software for the Macintosh.

The next step is getting labels and paper to print on. For the labels, Avery is a good choice. They have very high quality disc labeling products, and the newest version features a larger print area and special paper types, including the preferred glossy paper. For the DVD clam-shell style (Amaray) box, Neat-O has a good product.

The reason to choose glossy paper is that in almost all cases, glossy paper will provide a higher resolution image than any other kind. This is due to its non-porous surface. Regular paper is porous, or has lots of tiny holes. These holes soak up the ink, causing it to spread. This spreading appears to the eye as blurring or muddying of the image printed. Glossy paper has a harder, less porous surface, which keeps the tiny dots of ink small, and thus provides a sharper image.

With layout software and paper chosen, next comes some kind of template for labels and inserts. Two possibilities are to make a custom template or find one that's already been done. A quick search reveals a number of possibilities. Here are a few samples:

This page includes what are called “Amaray” style DVD case templates. Neat-O provides templates to its customers if they sign up.

And here are my Quark templates for CDs/DVDs and for a DVD case.

If these links don’t give you a file you can use, just do a search for your software and you should be able to find something helpful online. Also, some software comes with templates on the installation CD-ROM, so look there too.

For custom templates, simply measure the elements of the paper and then translate them to the layout program. This is where word processors really fall short, as it’s difficult in Microsoft Word, for example, to specify an exact position for page elements; or to start with one of the above mentioned templates and alter it to suit the layout of the paper.

Once a template is selected or created, it’s time to design. I won’t get too far into what constitutes good or bad design because there are whole books on the subject, but here are a few pointers specific to DVDs. First, it’s a good idea to have the imagery appear to spill or “bleed” off of the label or insert. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but if you look at most professional DVDs, you’ll find they do this more often than not. Doing this on a home printer, however, may lead to problems with either text dropping off the edge of the disc or white parts of the label showing up around the edges.

To avoid the text dropping off the edge, be aware that there are a lot of variables in printing on an inkjet printer, and that not every label will be precisely the same. Allow for a margin of error; at minimum, leave at least 1/16″ of space between the content and the edge of the element, be it paper or label.

On the other hand, if the background image is to go all the way to the edge of the label or insert, then while making sure that the important parts of the image are on the cut out part of the paper, allow the rest of the image to go beyond the edges of the template by at least ¼″. These tips will ensure that even if the paper shifts a little while printing, that all of the content will show up and that the entire item will have printing on it.

When selecting images that you will use in your layout, it’s a good idea to create them at the actual size they will end up, with a resolution between 150 and 200 dpi. Images lower than 150 dpi will start to look blurry or low resolution when printed. Using a dpi higher than 200 may increase the quality, but some inkjet printers and/or drivers don’t handle these resolutions well. I have found even when the image hasn’t been degraded by the printer at these resolutions, in most cases the added file size and processing time doesn’t justify the difference in quality. However, do some tests and be your own judge.

Here’s an added tip for using standard glossy letter sized photo paper available for the DVD box insert. The Amaray box uses an insert that is 7.187″ by 10.787″. This poses a problem for 8.5″ x 11″ photo paper. Although the layout should fit on this paper, because inkjet printers have about a ¼″ margin of unprintable area all the way around and sometimes a ½″ margin on one edge, part of the image may get cut off. This is reason enough to get special DVD insert paper. However, there is a way around this. Set your page size wider than 8.5″x11″. Legal size (8.5″x14″) will do. Be sure to set the page to be landscape (wide). Create the insert layout against the left hand ¼″ margin. When the time comes to print, carefully use removable tape to extend the length of the paper past 8.5″x11″. This is a little risky, as the tape may come off in the process, and if that gets caught in the printer, it could cause major problems. However, I have done this many times and not had a problem. The printer should now print all the way to the very edge of the glossy paper, and can then be hand trimmed to the proper size. I only use this method when I am pressed for time, and unless you like living dangerously I strongly recommend getting the proper DVD insert paper.

Once the inserts are cut out, it is a simple matter to put them into the DVD box’s sleeve. As far as the disc goes, most labels come with instructions as to how to apply them. With the recommended Avery product, be sure to pay attention when using their applicator. Although it can do a very good job of centering the label, there is also a possibility of applying the label off center. Because these labels have a smaller center hole than most, an off center label is very noticeable. Visually verify that the label is centered before pushing the label on.

That’s it. The only other piece of advice I have is to look at professional CD and DVD boxes and discs for design ideas. The techniques used are often quite subtle, but if you pick up on what the professionals do, you can’t help but make professional looking designs yourself.

One final note: I have been looking into the legalities of putting the official DVD-R logo on these types of discs. It appears as though authors of DVD discs that are DVD-Rs are allowed to put a mark indicating they are indeed DVD-Rs on the disc. However, it is illegal to put a DVD-Video or plain DVD logo on a disc if you do not have a license, and there is a fine. Most replication houses either have licenses or use the license of their testing facility. You can find the DVD-R logo here (attached here, please note that it is just DVD-R). Once again, I am not a lawyer so be sure to double check the licensing on your project before using any logo.

The New Hollywood Workshop is dedicated to using Macintosh computers and software to do what the big boys do. Want an example? Check out Duality, a short made completely with Macintosh products.

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over seven years’ experience. Apple’s new professional tools are just the ticket for a sole proprietor like Eliot to go to the next level. Right now, he’s seeking DVD duplication services that support DVD Studio Pro. If your company does, let us know. We’ll list you in future articles.

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