The pros and cons of CD duplication vs CD replication (also for DVD duplication and DVD replication)


When you need to make copies of compact discs, what are the most likely keywords you will search? CD duplication or CD replication? To most people these two terms probably mean the same. But to the disc copying industry there is a subtle difference. It is the purpose of this article to clarify the difference and help you make the decision when to use duplication and when to use replication, no matter you want CD or DVD copies.

What is CD Duplication?

With the ever decreasing prices on CD/DVD burners, making a disc copy is now as convenient as making a xerox copy before. CD burning or DVD burning is another term people like to use for this way of making disc copies. The disc copying industry prefers to call this as CD duplication or DVD duplication.

Unless it is used by yourself, a duplicated disc will need to be marked or labeled somehow. You can do that in many ways.

  1. Mark the disc with a Sharpe
    This is the quick and dirty way of labeling. As you can imagine, the disc won’t be very attractive and presentable.
  2. Print the artwork on a die-cut paper label and attach the label to the disc.
    Die cut CD labels are sold at most office supply stores such as Office Depot or Office Max. Companies making CD labels include Avery, Meritline, Neato, Surething, etc. Labels come as matte and glossy. The glossy labels are best for high resolution inkjet printers. Normally glossy labels are 3 times as expensive then the matte labels. Matte labels are good for laser printers.
    Once a label is printed, you can peel it off and cup it to a label applicator with the sticky side facing up. The non data side of the disc is then pushed against the applicator. Air bubbles on the label need to be rubbed off immediately otherwise they will there permanently. When you print the labels, make sure to match the paper profile for your printer. For instance, if you are using the Epson printers, choose the right paper type when you print the labels. Use Plain Paper for matte labels, and use Glossy Photo Paper for glossy labels.
    One disadvantage of using paper label on CD or DVD is that the label adds to the thickness of the disc. When Philips designed the CD-R and DVD-R they did stipulate the proper thickness. When combining the thickness of the CD-R or DVD-R itself with the paper label, the overall thickness would probably be thicker then the designed specifications. Although most disc readers have the ability to re-read when there is error, this would definitely reduce the reading reliability. Another disadvantage, and probably the most unfavorable one, is that the disc might got stuck in slit load CD or DVD drives such as car stereo or iMac. If your CD is music or any audio content, try to avoid using label labels.
  3. Print the artwork directly onto the disc using inkjet printer
    This is by far the most preferable way of printing disc label. Epson makes inkjet printers that can print artwork directly onto a disc with inkjet printable coating very affordable. Media makers such as Ritek, Taiyo Yuden, HP, and Maxell also sell inkjet printable media at just a fraction higher than the regular media. The advantages are the artwork can be printed at very high resolutions and this also eliminates the thickness problem for the paper label. The disadvantages are the process is very slow and the disc surface is usually not water and finger print proof. Company such as Primera markets and sells a disc laminator which adds a thin film coating to the inkjet printable surface. Once laminated, the disc has a glossy looking and it becomes water and finger print proof. Replicator such as New Cyberian can also apply a UV dried lacquer on top of the inkjet surface to give the glossy feel and look.
  4. Print the artwork directly onto the disc using thermal transfer
    Manufactures such as Teac, Microboards, Primera, and Rimage market and sell CD printers that use thermal transfer. There are two flavors for thermal; black and white, and full-color. The media for thermal also come in two flavor; silver or white background. The price on the media is again slightly higher than regular disc. The most costly part is the thermal film and the depreciation on the machine. Your minimum investment on the equipment might starts from US$4000 for B/W and US$8000 for a full-color unit. Unless you plan to have a big volume of disc printed otherwise thermal should be avoided.

What is CD replication?

In contrast to duplication, replication is the term used for high volume industrial disc copying. In a disc replication plant, making disc copies goes through the following stages.

  1. Glass mastering
    Glass master is called the father of disc replication. A piece of glass is polished and then small holes are etched onto the glass surface deep into the substrate to represent the 1’s of the binary content. The glass master becomes an exact replica of the original master. Since a glass master is too fragile to be handled, a metal stamper is made which can sustain the heat and pressure from the injection molding.
  2. Stamper mastering
    As described earlier, a stamper is actually used in the making of the disc, not the glass master. A stamper is usually made out of an aluminum plate. It’s the compliment of the glass master meaning all the 1’s on the glass master will become the 0’s and all the 0’s will become 1’s on the stamper. This male/female relationship between the glass master and the stamper makes the stamper the mother of the replication. When a disc is molded from the stamper the data reverse back to the original.
  3. Injection molding
    A disc is make by injecting molten polycarbonate onto the stamper. The data on the disc will be the compliment of the stamper so they are converted back to the original as the glass master.
  4. Sputtering
    The polycarbonate discs after injection molding are transparent. A reflective mirror coating needs to cover up the disc so the pits of data can be read when the laser is reflected back to the disc reader. The process of making the disc reflective is called sputtering. Sputtering requires the transparent polycarbonate discs to be transferred to the sputtering chamber which is then quickly evacuated of air and filled with argon gas. The argon ions are attracted to the aluminum target by the use of a high voltage. As the ions strike the target, particles of aluminum are ejected and are deposited onto the CD surface.
  5. Artwork printing
    Before artwork can be printed a lacquer is applied to the disc surface. The lacquer is then UV dried in few seconds. Artwork is then printed on top of the transparent lacquer. There are two ways to print the artwork; i.e. silkscreen or offset. Silkscreen printing is good for vector based graphics and offset is good for photo based graphics. If your artwork is designed using Illustrator without importing any jpg or tiff file, then the artwork is most likely vector based meaning all the artwork elements are represented by regular shapes and lines. If you use Photoshop to make your design chances are the artwork will be photo based. Offset should be used for photo based artwork. Color matching can only be done on vector based graphics.

To duplicate or to replicate?

So when should we use duplication and when should we use replication? With the descriptions above it will be so obvious that when time is of essence, you have not option but use duplication. The unit cost will be much higher than replication but at least you can be sure that the discs you want can be ready in 24-hrs. Another situation you should use duplication is when the volume is small. You probably won’t here a professional printer to print 10 or even 100 copies unless it’s absolutely necessary. By the same token, when the volume is small a duplication job will suffice. That leaves the only situation when replication should be used; i.e. when you have enough time and the volume is big, say 1,000 or more. Many CD duplication companies such as New Cyberian Systems also accept replication at the quantity of 500. But when you compare the prices for 500 and 1,000, you will notice the difference is really not that much.

We hope this article gives you enough information for your decision making. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We understand other factors might drive you to choose one way then the other. Discuss with us and we will help you no matter how.