Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 34 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals

Burning Disc Labels with LightScribe

I back up my computers to hard drives using about a terabyte of storage (500 GB in each set). But these sets are incremental and rotate. I don’t keep any permanent copies, just two separate aging sets. I also like to have some storage that isn’t rewritable, and the new dual-layer DVD writers that have come on the market can put about 8.5 GB on a single disc. It seemed like the way to go for the best trade-off on cost, permanence, and sheer capacity. The thought of burning lots of cheap CDs reminded me of those automated floppy disk loaders of yesteryear.

In searching for a good dual-layer DVD-R, I bumped into another innovation: LightScribe, a method of burning text and graphics onto the label side of specially made CD-R and DVD-R media. LightScribe uses CD and DVD burning technology to write grayscale images.


Surprisingly Affordable — LaCie announced months ago the only Mac-supported drive with LightScribe: the d2 DVD+/-RW with LightScribe 16x. I was sure it would cost a small fortune given that it included FireWire 400, dual-layer DVD+R, and full DVD+RW and DVD-RW (and CD-R and CD-RW) on top of LightScribe.

< pid=10548>

But it was only $170 for a version that also includes USB 2.0; $200 gets you a FireWire-only drive bundled with Toast Titanium 6 software from Roxio (separately $80), while it’s just $120 for an internal EIDE drive with no software. Toast has been updated to handle Tiger and dual-layer discs, as well as DVD+RW.


I bought the FireWire/USB version of the drive, which was delayed in its release by about a month after its original delivery estimate. I received mine weeks ago and was a little baffled by the separate LightScribe software included by LaCie. Call me an idiot, please, as I didn’t read the directions fully and couldn’t get a label to burn.

The secret? You have to flip the disc so that the label side is down and the lasers can etch it. Burn, Flip, Burn is plastered all over the media, the software, the associated Web sites. In my defense, I’ve been a father for nine months, and we all know what that does to the synapses.

I purchased a few spindles of CD-R and single layer DVD-R media – there’s no dual-layer DVD-R LightScribe media yet that I could find – and started playing with the latest version of LaCie’s software (also recently updated for Tiger).

LightScribe Software — The LightScribe software has a decent set of editing tools for text, images, and graphic primitives like lines and squares. Because it’s highly typical you’d want type to appear on a curve on a disc label, several tools let you curve or re-center type, which can use any fonts on your Mac. You can place a background image and then use layers to control other images placed on the label.

You can burn a disc label using a number of prefabricated templates, and you can edit those templates, replacing elements. Labels can be made with varying degrees of coverage: a full disc label took about 30 minutes to burn onto the disc, while a title label which uses just a thick band around the center took 7 minutes. There’s even a very thin band setting that takes just 2 minutes.

The software enables you to burn multiples of whatever you create, and even add to the burned image. For instance, you might burn a pile of discs with the same title band and then go back and use a mask to just add images to special ones.

Images so far are in grayscale, but there’s no good reason that technological advances couldn’t allow for some manner of color. You can import and use color within the LightScribe software, which converts everything at the printing stage to a grayscale BMP image.

Labeling Trends — If you look at the trend for CD and DVD labeling, it started with providing a surface on which permanent markers would write – although there’s evidence that those markers could degrade media over time – and progressed to various ways to put fancier labels on discs that simulated the silkscreening used for mass-produced discs.


That took us through sheets of disc-shaped adhesive labels designed to be printed on, and then the labels applied to discs; to special disc printers that could use special ink-jet receptive media; to general-purpose printers that can handle printing to discs with the right coating.

LightScribe is a natural extension of that desire to label the disc with as much ease as burning it, as well as to produce a label that looks as good as what you’ve put on the disc. I compared prices for low volume silkscreen printing with LightScribe media and LightScribe comes out quite well. CDPrintExpress will silkscreen 50 CDs for $110 including media, shipping, and handling, while 60 blank LightScribe-capable Verbatim CD-Rs cost about $42 with shipping. That’s $2 versus 70 cents. (Of course, burning 60 LightScribe disc labels would take approximately 30 hours and involves direct action on your part to load and flip the discs.)

< Printingonly.aspx>


LightScribe speeds are slated to double later this year, and I expect that this first wave of technology will seem quaintly slow in a year or two, just as an original CD burner taking 30 minutes or more to burn a single disc seems ridiculous in an era of 40x CD-Rs that can do the same task in three or four minutes.

Subscribe today so you don’t miss any TidBITS articles!

Every week you’ll get tech tips, in-depth reviews, and insightful news analysis for discerning Apple users. For over 33 years, we’ve published professional, member-supported tech journalism that makes you smarter.

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA. The Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.