5 most forgotten CD design elements

When I design or layout a CD or DVD for a client, they are responsible for providing me with the text and photos they want to include. After over 400 projects, I have noticed a few commonly forgotten elements. I don’t have time read everything, as I am usually concentrating on the design, but I do try to watch for a few critical things.

#1 Contact info, website

This is probably the most obvious, important and the most overlooked of all, and the one everyone kicks themselves over forgetting. Try to only use websites or phone numbers that probably won’t change.

TIP: One great way to get people to actually USE your contact info is to post your lyrics and other exclusive content (more pictures, free downloads, etc.) on your website with a place for them to sign up for your mailing list.

#2 Track times

DJs need these times to schedule their playlist.

#3 Musicians and other credits

Anyone who has contributed to your album deserves to be listed. And by the way, DO be sure to spell their names right. It’s nice to also provide contact info for them if they want it (especially photographers, studios, etc.). Honor the people who have made the CD and the music possible. Good Karma.

#4 Publishing and copyright info

This is as important whether you wrote the songs or you are covering someone else’s.

#5 Photos of other players (especially of them playing)

Not required, but few CDs feature a single player. Fans love to see the faces and instruments of the music they’re hearing. They love to see you in a less formal setting and in the process of making music. Furthermore, it shows appreciation for your players, even if they’re a session player and not a regular part of your band. (Don’t forget to identify the people in the pictures).

A few other optional and often ignored liner notes ideas:

  • Discography of your other projects and how to buy them
  • Biography
  • Notes about each song, especially if they are originals. People love to learn about the creative process you went through, and what the song means to you.


5 most common mistakes made in CD liner notes

1. Songs not listed in correct order (ouch)

2. Hard to Read: Tiny Print or text over background in a color combination too faint/dark to read. (This is generally my job, but I get a lot of requests for design concepts that aren’t readable that I have to speak up about. What’s the point if no one can read it?)

3. Misspelled words and poor grammar. Don’t rely on spell check.

4. Misspelled names. (big ouch)

5. Pointing people to a web address for your lyrics or credits and then not posting them! (Boo)

Proof carefully. Proof again. Show it to someone else. And then read it backwards.


We are all only human and mistakes WILL happen, and when they do, don’t stress. It happens to even the big label names – Beatles’ albums are notorious for all sorts of errors. A Google search for “liner notes errors” returns hundreds of posts about big name mistakes. Fix it in the reorder and the first run will become a collector’s edition.

Further Reading

FREE CD Project Planner EBOOK

Writing Liner Notes

Preparing Your Text

Project Checklist


Stock Photo Sites

Green Disk mus073a Blue hills Eagle Nebula

Stock photo sites are especially good for finding backgrounds and enhancements to complement your own photos for your CD/DVD insert.

Here are some sites you can search to see if anything jumps out at you. BE SURE TO CHECK IF THEY ARE TRULY COPYRIGHT/ROYALTY FREE and always check how the credit (if any) should read.

What’s the Difference Between Free and Royalty-Free Images?

“Royalty-Free” may not mean FREE. It usually means that when you PURCHASE the right to use an image, you can use it as many times as you like without any additional payments.  A royalty payment is a payment that must be made each time an item is used or sold. So royalty-free images for sale, means you pay a one-time fee for the use of the graphic.

These are my favorite sites:

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml (free) – Photos only – some require permission.

www.stockvault.net (free)

http://www.stockexpert.com ($5 or $10 each for the sizes I would need) – Photos only SEND ME THE IMAGE NUMBER AND I’LL DOWNLOAD

http://www.dreamstime.com ($4-$6 each for the size I need) – Photos and illustrations SEND ME THE IMAGE NUMBER AND I’LL DOWNLOAD

http://cgtextures.com/ FREE. Be sure to download the Largest size. Limits you to 15 MB downloads per day unless you pay for a membership.



Here are a few others you can try:

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ royalty free photos and illustrations. Every image is free, with an option to buy high resolution versions for use in print or graphic design.

www.morguefile.com – not the best quality images (more like people’s snapshots) but you might find something here (especially for backgrounds, etc.)

http://graphicleftovers.com/ $1-20

http://www.pdclipart.org/ Clipart, public domain. Free. Most are very small though and probably unusable for print.

http://publicdomainpictures.net/ Many free. Some $1.50 each.

http://graphicriver.net/category/all Be sure to check resolution and format.

http://www.imageafter.com Photos. Free. You’ll need to download and email to me – they don’t seem to have numbers.

http://www.mediabakery.com. Medium resolution should be fine for a cd cover. Those run $5-$40.  Try using couponcode BAKER25 for 25% off.

www.lcweb2.loc.gov/detroit/dethome.html – US Libray of Congress – Old/Historic Photos – most copyright free, but must credit. Check collection copyright restrictions first. If you download a photo, get the wording of how they want it credited (in your liner notes).

Space – http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/ Public domain, just credit NASA. Also http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ (may have same images)

“Our Earth as Art” Satellite images – public domain – just include credit. http://earthasart.gsfc.nasa.gov. Be sure to download the hires version. Great for backgrounds.

http://www.clipart.com I do not have a subscription to this, but it’s not too expensive if there’s something you really like. Illustrations, photos, fonts.

http://www.bigfoto.com Free. bigfoto.com must be credited with the image. May not be high enough resolution, but I can probably use.

http://www.123rf.com – $50 for use on resale items. $3-4 for items not for sale (personal use).

http://us.fotolia.com/ $4-5 each for personal use, $10 for resale.

http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php large for $15

http://www.bigstockphoto.com/ large images cost $5 to $15. Try code HW2333 for a free image (got this from an ad)

http://www.microstockphoto.com $2 each. EITHER DOWNLOAD THE HIGH RES IMAGE or give me the image number and I’ll pull down the high res version to use. If you have me download, I will pass on any costs associated with obtaining the image(s) you want.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ royalty free photos and illustrations. Every image is free, with an option to buy high resolution versions for use in print or graphic design.

Disc Face Design Instructions

Creating artwork for disc requires different techniques than creating artwork for paper printing.

Furthermore, manufactured and Short Run disc templates are different.

Duplicated Discs

Download template or

Create your own template.

Software: I recommend using Photoshop or Illustrator.

  1. Set your page size to 120 mm (4.72″) square – do not alter this size – The duplicator will try to resize your image if you change this and it may not size correctly.
  2. color mode: CMYK or Greyscale – discs are printed in either full color or black only. No spot color with duplicated discs.
  3. Resolution (raster effects) High (300 ppi)
  4. Outer circle is at 116 mm
  5. Inner circle is at 24 mm

Create your artwork

  • Use high res images – DO NOT USE AT 72 AND THEN INCREASE!
  • Do not use copyrighted images
  • Allow enough margin inside the inner and outer circles.
  • Type: No smaller than 6 points. Serif type faces for small text is not recommended. Consider using bold type to increase the legibility of small text. Use bolded 8pt or larger for reversed text (light on dark).
  • Note: The ink may appear differently on the clear inner hub, the mirror hub, and the silver surface of the disc.
  • Note: Colors can shift from how they look printed on paper because of being printed on a reflective surface (plastic).

Create production file

  1. DO NOT MASK or knock out the inside or outside – your artwork should bleed past.
  2. Hide anything you don’t want to print (crop marks, template elements, notes, etc.). What you see will print.
  3. Save as a PDF, using High Quality or Press Quality settings.

Upload / email file

  • Name file with artist name, project title and “label” (example: “Beatles Abbey Road CD Label.PDF”)
  • ZIP files before uploading.

Manufactured Discs

Download template or
Create your own template

  1. Set your page size to 120 mm (4.72″) square
  2. color mode: CMYK
  3. Resolution (raster effects) High (300 ppi)
  4. The inside print diameter is 24 mm. The outside diameter of the disc is at 116 mm.
  5. Allow enough margin inside
  6. Create a small cross hair registration mark in the exact center in a small white circle no bigger than 15 mm.
  7. The mirror band runs from 36-46 mm.

Do NOT knock out the inside or outside – your artwork should bleed past.

For Spot color discs: Use standard PANTONE (PMS) numbered colors only. Use a PANTONE “solid coated” chip guide. Be sure to notify me of what spot colors you use.

File submission:

For Manufacturing:
  • if disc print will be CMYK: TIF, PSD, PDF
  • if disc print will be SPOT: AI with all text converted to curves and attach all linked files.
    Warning: TIF and JPG files cannot maintain spot colors. If you don’t know what I’m talking about please call Diana for assistance in preparing your files.
  • Name files with artist name, project title and “label”
  • ZIP files before uploading.

Determine whether you will use CMYK or SPOT colors.

Shortrun (duplicated) discs are printed with CMYK (or black). CMYK printing is the way magazines are printed.

Manufactured discs can be printed with either CMYK or SPOT. Spot color disc printing is similar to how T-shirts are printed. Each color gets printed one color at a time like painting a wall – you only get the colors you indicate.

CMYK disc printing

  • Create your disc art as you would for paper printing using Photoshop and/or Illustrator.
  • Colors can shift from how they look printed on paper because of being printed on a reflective surface (plastic/silver).
  • Using a white flood fill underneath is standard to help reduce color shifts and effects from the silver beneath. You do not have to indicate this in your file, but please let me know if you want a white flood fill.or

Spot Color Disc Printing

  • Use standard PANTONE (PMS) numbered colors only. Use a PANTONE “solid coated” chip guide – this is not something you can just run out and buy. It is an expensive swatch book ($70-100), which you can usually ask to see at a local service bureau or printer. It looks a lot like a paint chip book at your paint store.
  • Please alert us if you choose Metallic, Flourescent or Pastel PMS colors.
  • Do not use RGB or CMYK or hexachrome colors.
  • Be sure to tell us what PMS color numbers you use.
  • Tif and Jpg files cannot maintain spot colors.
  • Spot color process is best chosen when you have solid backgrounds or other simple designs. Spot color printing is more even and solid than CMYK.
  • Do NOT rely on a screen or inkjet printer representation of PMS spot colors, as your results will vary. That’s why they make the swatch books.


  • Avoid thin fonts or fine lines and detail.
  • Lines: minimum thickness for lines within positive images is .25 pt; and for reverse or negative images, .5 pt.
  • Type: No smaller than 6 points. The use of serif type faces for small text is not recommended. Consider using bold type to increase the legibility of small text. Use bolded 8pt or larger for reversed text (light on dark).
  • Screens: Keep screened areas between 20-80%. Lower values will not be visible, higher values will fill in. Screen printing is a relatively coarse output. Complex designs are possible, but the simpler designs tend to look better. Avoid gradients.
  • Trapping: Multiple spot-color designs are printed in order of lightest to darkest tonal value. We recommend that wherever two colors meet, you provide a .5 pt. stroke. This will guarantee that no silver disc (or under-color layer) is visible between colors. A final black layer may always be overprinted.
  • The ink appears differently on the clear inner hub, the mirror hub, and the main silver surface of the disc.
  • Flood fills: All images will be printed on the silver reflective disc unless indicated that a flood fill background needs to be printed first. Whatever is white on your computer screen or printout will be the silver background of the disc. If you want a solid color background, just request a flood fill and tell us the PMS color number. You do NOT need to create a layer for this color since no film will be output (as long as you use one of our standard template sizes). A flood fill does count as a color. Use caution with colors other than white, since it can alter the shade and tone of other colors printed on top of it (because the inks are slightly transparent). If you are concerned about this, then don’t use a flood fill – create a new layer under so that it separates and knocks out.
  • Design Tip: Request a clear matte finish over the top of a coated ink to achieve the look of uncoated ink. Not recommended for small or highly detailed imagery. (Matte finish is considered an additional color for additional charge.) Get fancy and apply the Matte Finish over only parts of your design for a two toned effect. Varnish counts as an additional color and will have additional charges.
  • REMOVE ALL EXCESS GUIDELINES, TEMPLATE MARKINGS AND MEASUREMENTS. The only thing that should be visible is what will print on the disc, the registration marks, the center cross hair, and any identifying text such as release number, color names, etc, (set outside the image of course).


Delete unused layers and colors.

Save Illustrator file for submission

1. Make a backup of the finished layout. Once you create outlines there is no going back to re-type words and sentences. Save a version of the non outlined layout before proceeding. You’ll need the original file with text as text in case you need to go back to fix something.

Save the file, then Save As and call same name plus “curves” at the end of the name.

2. Convert all text to curves:

Select, Objects, Text Objects

Type, Create Outlines

3. Remove all circle guidelines in the template – Leave center cross hair.

4. Save File (with the “curves” in the name)

Proofs and Proofing

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Proofing tips and guidelines

The most common and most frustrating problems I see with CD projects are typographic errors and omissions by the artist. Please use this proofing checklist to try to avoid as many errors as possible, ideally before even submitting your text to the designer. Some of these things may seem obvious, but when you get to the design stage and you’re tired from long hours in the studio, or late for an appointment, it’s easy to miss things.

  • Print out a copy – don’t proof only from the computer screen. Proof from both – you’ll see things on the screen that you won’t notice on paper and vise versa.
  • Get someone else not directly involved in your project to proofread. Many errors are missed because you already know what it’s supposed to say and you actually read missing words and typos correctly. There is a rule of thumb in the business – don’t proofread your own work.
  • Have several people proof. Ideally, only a single printout should be marked so that all changes are made on the same proof and all your proofers can see what the other proofers have caught.
  • Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be distracted.
  • Slow down.
  • Mark corrections with a red pen.

Proof Reading Techniques

  • Scan for specific problems, such as mixing up the spelling of there, their and they’re.
    Read through in different page/section orders – start from the back, for example, or read from the bottom up.
  • Use a closed pen to point to each word as you read it.
  • Cover all of the paper except the sentence you are proofreading, and read one sentence at a time.
  • Read out loud.
  • Don’t take anything for granted.
  • Don’t rely on your spell checker.
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • Do not expect your designer to be your editor. You are ultimately responsible for making sure everything is right.

Proofing checklist

  • Spelling and punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Dates
  • Names are spelled correctly
  • Fonts
  • Fonts and color are consistent
  • Text is legible
  • Pay extra attention to special symbols.
  • Images are correctly cropped and placed
  • Song titles correctly spelled, punctuated and capitalized.
  • Song titles are consistent in the different places they are listed
  • Song order and times are correct for master supplied.
  • Song order for lyric section matches song order for master and traycard.
  • Spine info is correct and the same as on disc and cover.
  • Barcode number is correct (if applicable).
  • No missing elements.
  • Look for extra spaces and double punctuation in text.
  • No text is missing because of text shifting on page (look at the end of each text section)
  • Contact address, phone, email, web address
  • All facts are correct.
  • Pages or panels in the correct order
  • The mock up is correct regarding folds and panel placement.
  • Last minute changes were made correctly.

PROOF: A general term something used to see what your file will look like when printed. There are many different types of proofs. The most common proofing method these days is a Soft Proof. This is usually a PDF sent via email or downloaded. It is the most economical and expedient, but it does have limitations that you need to be aware of.

Important: Final output can vary DRAMATICALLY from what you see on your monitor. Because your files are printed in CMYK, not RGB, which is what the monitor displays and your ink jet printer normally prints, you cannot rely on your screen or printer to proof colors. They’ll be CLOSE. In addition, each monitor is calibrated differently and therefore the same PDF will look different on yours and the person sitting next to you. Even the angle at which you view your monitor and the lighting in the room can effect how colors look on screen.

Printing it on your home printer is helpful and should always be done, but also problematic. Every printer is calibrated differently, and will produce different results. Even how much ink you have left or what grade paper you print it on can affect certain colors.

So, if color reproduction accuracy is super important, be sure to mention this to your designer – you may need to request a HARD PROOF from a calibrated proofing printer.

Note: PDF proofs are also usually low resolution to keep files small enough to email, so the images may appear a little blurry. You should always look at a high resolution file for at least your final proof. This will be a larger file, but more accurate.

Every time you get a proof

Check that all requested changes were made.

Keep a copy of changes so you can refer to it against the proof.

Do not send replacement files for text already placed and formatted by your designer – you will incur extra charges to re-place/re-format. Only individual changes and additions that refer to these proofs should be sent (unless you need drastic changes). Send all changes together in one email once everyone involved has reviewed the proofs. Do not allow more than one person to send changes to your designer.

When you get subsequent proofs, besides checking that all requested changes were made, check to be sure that nothing else was altered. Sometimes text shifts when words are added or deleted, so check to make sure copy hasn’t rewrapped or dropped off or accidentally changed when other things are changed or added. Look one more time for spelling. Look at EVERY proof as if IT IS your first proof.

Once you are satisfied with your final proof, you will be asked to approve it in writing. Usually you can just reply “Approved” on the email that had the PDF proof. If you are approving a hard proof, you will be asked to sign and return it.

Remember, when you approve your final proof, you indicate that everything on the proof is correct. If a problem is discovered later, you will definitely incur additional costs to fix it and may even entail scrapping a print run.

CD & DVD Logo usage rules

The compact disc logo is actually owned by Philips Electronics N.V. The DVD logo is controlled by the DVD Format/Logo Licensing Corporation of Japan.You do not have to include disc logos on your artwork if you do not want to. If you do include the logos, then you must follow the rules regarding size, shape and color. Logos must remain Black and White – do not color the logo

The shape must remain unaltered – scale the logo with constrained proportions (width and height scales + / – equally)


Clean your scanner glass and photograph with a soft cloth before placing each item.

Do not scan at a lower resolution and then enlarge it later! This actually lowers the resolution and can turn it into garbage. For example, a 2.5″ x 2.5″ image scanned at 300 PPI that is later doubled 5″ x 5″ becomes 150 PPI. Photoshop cannot invent pixels that were never present in the image to begin with. So you need to scan something that will be used at twice the size of the original picture at twice the resolution (600 PPI at 100%). I’d rather you scan too high.

Black & white and grayscale are NOT the same type of file! A 1-bit black & white scan contains only black or white pixels; there are no shades of gray at all.

The bigger and cleaner the original artwork (such as a logo), the better it will scan.

Convert your color scans to CMYK color mode to get a sense of how they will look when printed – some colors, such as blues, greens and oranges, can change dramatically.
Grayscale images should be saved in grayscale (8-bit) mode. Avoid RGB or CMYK – it tends to add a magenta tinge to them.

Save your scans as TIF. If you use EPS files, save the image with an 8-bit TIF preview.

Do not open and resave a JPG mutliple times – every time you do, it degrades the image. If you plan to tweak the image and resave, save as a TIF first and use that file to edit.

MOIRE Crisscross patterns or checkerboarding in a scanned image. This occurs when an image was previously printed using the offset process (i.e. a picture from a book or magazine or newspaper) which converts the image into little dots. This may not show up on inkjet or even laser printouts at home. Moire problems do not occur with scans of actual photographs. One common occurrence is scanning an old CD insert you want to reprint. I do have a fix for this, but be aware that the fix includes slight blurring, so you should always scan from real photographs if possible.