Different packaging styles and sizes communicate different messages. A jewelcase with a 20-page booklet obviously informs your audience more than a 4-panel insert, and will probably impress them even more.
There are literally hundreds of different packaging options for CDs. They range from paper and board products, an array of plastic products, to tin containers. People have even used a brown paper lunch bag with the band name rubber stamped on the outside. Your choice of packaging will be based on your genre, your image, style, intended use, how much information you need to include, how well and how long the disc needs to be protected, and, of course, budget.
Unfortunately, when you’re doing small quantities on a small budget, you’re limited to industry standard packaging and often smaller inserts. Furthermore, retailers and big record labels have set the standards for the CD package to conform for transport, storage and display purposes. Likewise, our home storage systems are often designed with standard formats in mind.
Generally, there are four classes of packaging: Unprinted, Jewelcases, Board Products, and Custom/Alternative.
Unprinted packaging includes paper envelopes with see-through windows, clear plastic envelopes, and clear vinyl envelopes. There are also plastic clam shells in various colors. These are usually used for small-run or low-budget projects where image is not a issue. They usually do not protect the disc well, and leave little room for information.
JewelCases (also called jewel boxes) are still the standard packaging for CDs and can be assembled by machine quickly and cheaply.
There are things you can do to make your jewelcase stand out from everyone else’s. You can use a colored tray that compliments your design such as orange or red. You can even get the box itself in various colors and tints. Another fun thing is to use a clear tray and put something in it like beads or a stick of incense (by hand of course).
Multi-disc sets are best in jewelcases, You can request a style that holds two discs with the same thickness as a single jewelcase.
Slimline Cases, about half the thickness of a jewelcase (about 5 mm), are popular for promo CDs. They are light, thin and save printing costs. The CD tray and back cover are one unit, so no printed traycard is needed, and the back tray comes in a variety of colors. They can still accommodate a 2- or 4-panel standard insert, but also look good with no paper parts at all.
Folder – An insert without staples – usually folds in on itself. Always increases in twos (4 panels, 6 panels, etc.)
2-panel – a single sheet of paper with no folds – panels include the front cover and
the back of the cover where you can put credits or other info.
4-panel – a single sheet folded in half like a greeting card.
6-panel – a single sheet folded twice like a letter.
Booklet – A folded set of 4-panel inserts stapled together. Always increases in fours (8 pages, 12 pages, etc.)
I don’t recommend going over a 10-panel folder. It needs to be printed on a larger press and usually costs more, especially at small quantities. Consider using a booklet instead. It also makes it hard for your fans to refold (sort of like a map).
If the traycard is printed on the inside, the plastic tray would be clear to be able to see the printing through it, including the left edge next to the cover
when the case is closed. If it is printed only on one side, the plastic tray is usually black or white.
TIP: If your insert or Digi has more than 1 fold, be sure to create a mock up that you can fold to be sure of how everything lays out.
Packaging made mostly or completely of cardboard is classified as a “board product.” They are often more expensive, take longer and need to be hand packaged. Cardboard is less durable than jewel cases, and tends to show wear relatively quickly.
Digi-style packaging come in 4, 6 and 8 panels. A booklet can be glued in or slipped into a slit if you need additional liner notes. You can add extra trays or hubs for multi disc sets.
Printed Sleeves (jackets) and wallets are light and thin and a good solution for bands on tour. These are usually used for CD singles or special editions of CD albums, but are becoming more mainstream as production costs have reduced. The CD slides into a pocket (which does scratch the CD over time) and can include an insert in another pocket or slit or even glued in. Wallets can be just a folded jacket, or with spines like a digipak for identification when stacked up but still about 1/2 the thickness of a jewelcase or Digi, which is great for packing.
This category is limitless. It can range from handmade packaging like paper bags, to tin containers (remember the AOL mailings?) to fabric. These usually work best for limited runs or collector’s editions. They will almost always cost more (if not in money, in time.) In this digital age, handmade packaging can make a great connection to the fans – they will often buy the CD even if they already downloaded the music – just to get the special packaging.