Sending out a CD/DVD to a duplicating service can cost hundreds of dollars--and
requires a minimum order, usually in the neighborhood of several hundred copies,
which is not a practical solution for most of us. Yes, there are inkjets capable
of printing on pre-labeled discs, but one thing they can't do is duplicate
CDs and DVDs--and the process is limited to one disc at a time. And in
this day and age, when we're handing out discs with pictures, videos,
and music like they were Halloween candy, it would really help to have some
means of efficiently duplicating discs and printing labels at home, in our spare
time--on the same machine. There are pricey machines that will do the job,
but if you don't mind the no-frills approach and are willing to spend
under $500, then consider the Aleratec 1:3 DVD/CD Tower Publisher HLS. This
peripheral device lets you publish 1-3 discs at one and the same time, practically
hassle-free. It was something I had to see for myself.
Aleratec three-disc tower uses the same laser to burn data and labels
(in monochrome). It takes up little space, is plug-and-play compatible
(on PC and Mac), and each drive can be used for any purpose, just
like a typical CD/DVD drive. But take it to the next level and burn/print
three CD or DVD discs at once.
All Photos © 2008, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved
The Aleratec uses HP's LightScribe technology for imprinting on the surface
of a CD or DVD. This is a monochrome (gray scale) process, producing silkscreen-quality
labels. The process involves laser-etching into a specially embedded coating
on the disc. The finer the setting, the deeper the etching, and the more pronounced
the result. But this can take a while. Printing graphics could take upward of
a half hour per disc, or longer. However, when you consider that you can imprint
three discs simultaneously, the time it takes to burn the label becomes more
On the flip side, there are no cartridges to deal with or replace, since the
device uses the same laser that is used for conventional disc burning. This
means no running to the store at the last minute when you realize your printer
is low on ink, and no added expense. For those of you who have been using adhesive
disc labels, well, just think of all the work you'll no longer have to
do. And you'll no longer have to worry about discs wobbling in the drive
because you didn't center the label exactly.
How many times have you printed on a disc, only to realize you left something
out? Well, if you print over an inkjet label a second or third time, all you're
left with is mush. With LightScribe, you can preprint a whole bunch of discs,
and then personalize them with additional text or graphics--without ruining
your work! And the printing can't be marred by fingerprints (although
continued exposure to strong sunlight may have adverse effects). But you can't
undo it either--it's there to stay, kind of like a tattoo. What's
more, the laser-etching process does not affect the life of the disc (at least
that's what they say).
There are other external CD/DVD drives available with embedded LightScribe technology,
including some home computers. But, again, with the Aleratec tower, you have
the option of burning up to three discs at once. What's more, do the job
in your computer (especially the printing), and you'll be tying up some
of its resources and the CD/DVD drive for some time.
The bottom tray is holding a LightScribe CD with label-side up,
which means the disc is ready for a data write. Flip it over so
the shiny side faces you and it's ready for laser imprinting.
To show how easy the process is, think of it as flipping pancakes
for Sunday morning breakfast.
There is a wide range of media that can be used with this device when simply
reading or writing to disc, including rewritable media. The media for label
printing, however, is limited to LightScribe-compatible discs--CD and DVD.
But if you're into Blu-ray, there's good news and bad: there is
a Blu-ray-compatible version of this machine--but at a cost of $3000.
While the cost of LightScribe DVDs is not much more than CDs for this purpose
($89 vs. $75 per 100), the significantly faster write speeds for CD makes CD
a more prudent choice than DVD, unless you really need the DVD's acreage
for data-intense writes.