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A Review of CD Labeling
options for the Mac OS

06/12/01

By Ted Bade

Steve Jobs might have missed the boat on getting CD recorders into Macs, but that didn't stop Mac owners from buying external recorders! Most of the more experienced users I know own a CD burner. However, if there is one thing I found lacking:it's good CD labeling software. I decided to go on a quest to discover options for making labels on the Macintosh and found some new and exciting items. 

If you intend to stick a label on the CD platter (be sure to put the label on the correct side!!!), you should seriously consider some form of CD label applicator. Generally these devices hold the CD and label so the self-adhesive label sticks perfectly every time. Often these packages include sample labels and perhaps software to help create them.

If you follow news on the Internet, you might have heard some rumors that placing home-made labels on CDs might cause the CDs to play poorly or not at all. Although I haven't seen any personal evidence of this, it sounds possible. My CD disc labels tends to be simple. I imagine a dense image on half of a CD label might cause an imbalance problem, but I haven't seen it. 

The Neato disc labeler consists of a top or dreidel-like device and a raised cylinder into which the dreidel fits. Place the CD label (sticky side up) on the platter and place the CD disc (recorded side up) on the dreidel. Drop the dreidel into the hole on the cylinder and the label is applied to the disc. It works pretty well. The Neato package does not include Mac OS specific software (it does come with software for Windows), instead, if offers a variety of templates that work with Mac OS applications. Of course this means you need to also own one of these application such as Apple works or Photoshop. (More on Templates later in this article).

The Stomper is another applicator worth mentioning. This device consists of a cylindrical base with a spindle in the center held up by a spring. To apply the label to the CD place the label sticky side up on the base. Then place the CD on the spindle, recorded side up, press down and it's done. The Stomper package includes software for the Macintosh, which works, pretty well. (We'll go over that software in a moment).

There are other CD label applicators, but I feel these two are the best. If you plan to label your CDs you should definitely consider one of them. Being a bargain hunter, I'll mention that the local (Manchester, CT) CompUSA sometimes offers one of these packages for next to nothing. I picked up the Stomper for less then $1 (paid $15 with a $15 rebate) and have seen good deals on the Neato package as well. Note that any label applicator will work. Getting software or templates for the Macintosh is a bonus. 

There are two labeling making options, using software designed to create labels or using a template designed to work with another program. A template, provides an outline to draw and write upon. When a template is designed for a specific application, it means the template file was created using that application. If you double click on the template, the application will open. Fill the outline with the text and graphics you want and send the job to the printer. Of course, you need to own the software the template was created for, or another similar program which will use the template properly. If you are experienced using a particular application, for instance AppleWorks, locate a template for that application. Also, consider what brand of label you plan to use.

Templates are also designed to work with a particular brand of CD labels, so you need to decide which brand of CD labels you have or plan to buy before choosing a template. For instance, use Neato labels with AppleWorks as the application. A number of label manufacturers offer templates for their labels and often software (such as Corel Print House) which are designed for making cards and banners, include templates for CD and other disk labels.

You can also make your own templates. If you buy a particular brand of labels, check out their web site, there might be templates to use there.

Printing the CD label can be a challenge. Although the image on your Mac's screen might look great on the template, it might not be centered correctly on the actual label when you print it. Because of this, it is a good idea to run a test print on a regular sheet of paper, then compare the test print to the label sheet. You might need to adjust the image this way or that to fit it onto the label.

Templates don't keep the information inside the lines. If you place a nice photo over a template of a CD label, you might have to shrink or expand it to have it fit nicely over the label. A large image will cover (and sometimes hide) the template outlines. Also, while you are working with the label, you might accidentally move the outline, which will throw off your printing.

Being familiar with the application you plan to use templates with really helps. You might already know how to adjust printing and how to manipulate text and graphics quite well. Consequently the labels you make will be better. 

It is always best to do a test print before printing on the fancier (and usually more costly) paper. A cheaper lighter paper will allow you to hold the test copy over the actual label form and see how it fits.

Templates serve Mac users very well and are an excellent choice if you are experienced with a good graphics or printing package. You get the benefits of a powerful graphics application when creating labels.

Software specifically designed to create labels seems like a good idea. My experiences with some labeling software packages left me thinking that templates were the best option. However, recently we have seen some improvement in this area.

My favorite program to date is a relatively new program called Discus produced by Magic Mouse Production cost: $39, (you can try a demo for 30 days before you must pay). This product works with both the Mac OS and Windows. It is easy to use, includes a number of wonderful tools for creating labels, and comes with lots of graphics. I noticed the newest version of Toast for the Mac OS (Titanium edition V5) includes a version of this product.

Discus gives you a powerful set of tools and some great graphics to help produce excellent labels. The interface is intuitive. First select a type of label (disc, mini-disc, Business card CD, jewel case lid, and more), then add text and/or graphics, finally print.

What makes Discus exemplary are the tools provided to let your create your label. They provide the best text manipulation I have ever seen in a CD labeling software package. Not only can you insert and edit the text, but you can paste it onto the CD label either horizontally or following the curve of the disc. There are several other ways to manipulate text as well.

If you create an audio CD using from Toast or Jam, you'll be able to import the text information this program creates as you add titles to the CD.

Once the label is created, there are several printing features. Discus supports many different types of CD labels and they promise to add more as they are developed. Additionally, this program offers an easy tool for shifting the label image, so the printed image fits perfectly onto the label. The only real failing of this program is it is limited to 256-color graphics, making imported photos look terrible.

A truly excellent program! I intent to write a full review of it in the near future. Stay tuned.

Disk Labeler Pro is another program for creating CD labels on your Mac. Created by Pay&Play Software. It costs $25.

Disk Labeler Pro supports a number of label manufacturers and offers some useful features for creating labels. You can add an image to the label and insert text. However, the text remains horizontal, and you must push it this way or that to get it onto the label surface. I was disappointed to find that when you enter text, the text insertion point is actually off the label!

Although the software is basic, it does the trick and makes it relatively easy to make small adjustments on where your printer places the image.

The software that comes with The Stomper package is pretty good and will do a nice job of getting a label done. While text is only horizontal, it keeps your work well within the template border and the CD offers a large stock of graphics and clip art to enhance your designs.

The interface it a bit non-Macintosh. It doesn't use regular menus, but has icons on the window that perform every function. It also works only in 256 color mode, which limits the quality of the graphics. Also, you are limited to importing .bmp images. So if you want to use a JPEG or PICT, you'll have to depend upon another program to convert them to .bmp for you.

Output was pretty good, but there was no way to adjust the printer to center images on labels. Although this program lacks the standard Mac OS interface, it is easy to use. The Stomper package includes templates for label forms included in the package. When you consider that you can get the labels, applicator, and software for a song at a special sale, this is probably the best deal out there!

Avery, a giant in adhesive labels and forms, has been offering templates for Microsoft Office on their web site for a long time. Recently they began offering software (MacLabelPro $65) for the Mac OS to edit and create labels.

They offer a free trial version, but it will cost you some information about yourself.

Needless to say, this software gives you the ability to print to every Avery label and form! You select an appropriate template from the template menu and begin your creation. Labels are listed by name and number and organized by type.

I was not impressed with the abilities of this program to manipulate text.

You can insert horizontal text only. This program works with item boxes, if you want to insert a block of text, you create a text box and type or paste your test in. The box can be expanded or shrunk to suit the label. If you want to add an image, it works the same way. This program keeps things inside the template lines very well. Too well in fact, you cannot affect anything outside the template line, so if the drag handle of the image window gets moved outside the line, you've lost it. Since the graphic is rectangular, you'll need to move and stretch it several times to get it to fill the circle of the CD template, since you cannot begin a graphic box outside the template lines.

I feel this program is a bit overpriced when compared to the other specialty programs discussed here. Very overpriced compared to Discus, which offers considerably more ability to format text.

As you can see, there are many options for creating useful labels for your CD's and their cases. If you are really an organized type of person, you may be pleased to know that most of the software discussed above will help you create labels for other types of disks, such as Zip disks, and even floppies (what ever they are!)

I like to keep my CD's in Jewel cases on a shelf, with the name of the CD on the end of the jewel case, so things are easier to locate. All the applications above include the ability to create nice jewel case labels.

Neato offers an interesting new bend on making business cards. They offer recordable CD business cards and a label applicator for them. Record the information you like on the CD, add a business card label, and you have a great way to promote yourself or you company. The business card CD store 50 Mbytes of data, enough for a resume and a short movie! Again, some of the label making software above provides support for these smaller labels and Neato (an probably others) offer templates.

What you place on the label is up to you. It can be simple with some song titles, or complex, including fancy graphics and home made art work. That is what makes creating labels so much fun! Your imagination is the limit.

Since I liked the program Discus so much, I will follow up this article with a detailed look at it and go over any limitations I find on the version included with Toast Titanium edition. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Good luck with you label making projects!

Look for the Discus Review on Thurs 6/14 !


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"What makes Discus exemplary are the tools provided to let your create your label"