Rather than print on the top surface of your recordable CDs or DVDs, or apply adhesive-backed labels to identify disc contents, you can etch gray-scale text and graphics at the equivalent of 1000 dots per inch directly onto optical media -- if you use LightScribe-compatible discs and hardware. Developed by HP in the early 2000s, LightScribe technology etches an image into a dye-coated under-surface in response to the heat of the same laser that produces a data recording. In a LightScribe-savvy design program, choose among type-only layouts or fill an entire disc with artwork.
Verify that your optical drive includes LightScribe capabilities and that you've installed the LightScribe system software on your computer (see Resources). These files provide OS-level support for the process of controlling the optical-drive laser to act as an inscribing tool. LightScribe-compatible devices display a corresponding logo on the drive-tray edge or, on laptops with slimline recording devices, on the computer's bezel or casework. Inside the open drive tray, a LightScribe drive incorporates a small sensor enclosed inside two concentric circles, placed adjacent to the hub that holds the disc in place.
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Set up the files you want to burn to the data side of the LightScribe disc. Insert a LightScribe disc into your drive label side up and record the contents to the medium in your compatible disc-burning application.
Remove the disc when the data recording process completes. Reinsert the CD or DVD label side down.
Launch your LightScribe design software and choose a layout type. Most of these applications offer three basic template styles: title, content and full. Title layouts use text placed on a circular baseline that follows the shape of the disc. Content layouts include track or file lists. Full layouts can cover the disc surface with information.
Add graphics from your favorite image-editing application. Incorporate bitmaps in TIFF or JPEG formats, choosing images that display high contrast after you convert them to grayscale. Because LightScribe drives don't support PostScript or vector artwork, you must rasterize the output of your illustration program to use it on your media. Set type to identify your disc, and, optionally, its contents.
Choose Best recording for greater subtlety in fine details or Normal mode for quicker recordings. Start the labeling process. If you forgot to turn over the disc after you recorded your data, an error message alerts you to remove and invert it so the drive can burn your artwork.
Remove your disc from the drive when the labeling completes. The process doesn't produce byproduct heat, so the disc remains ready to handle.
Things You'll Need
LightScribe optical drive
LightScribe system software
LightScribe design program
LightScribe labels burn in concentric circles incrementally from the center of the disc to the outer edge. Place your label content closer to the disc center to reduce burn time.
Select from LightScribe CD and DVD media, including double-layer DVDs, in an assortment of background colors -- blue, green, orange, red and yellow -- beyond the sepia-tone finish of the early versions of these discs.
Add content to a LightScribe label you've already burned to include more information. These media include position markings on the inner rim that enable the drives to orient discs precisely. Burning the same label graphics multiple times increases their darkness and intensity.
In addition to LightScribe drives, software and media, you may find similar options that support Labelflash (see Resources), a DVD-only alternative that uses blue discs you can label only once. Labelflash's normal mode burns a label in about 10 minutes, with high-quality and draft modes that require twice and half that time, respectively. Like LightScribe, it labels the side of the disc that doesn't contain data.
Once you start the labeling process, avoid bumping into your CPU. Physical disruptions reduce the fidelity of the label.
Keep LightScribe media out of direct light sources to avoid fading the designs you apply. Heat also can degrade image quality.