In January I wrote about installing a $35 OEM dual-layer, Lightscribe DVD burner in a $30 Firewire/USB case. Since then I’ve been playing with Lightscribe CDs and I must say, I like the technology. It isn’t perfect, but for the extra $5 it cost to get a Lightscribe burner, it is a worthwhile tool.

What is it?
Lightscribe uses a burner’s laser to create monochrome images and text on the surface of a a specially coated CD or DVD. The background is light and the scribed area is darker.

How does it work?
The coating darkens where the laser toasts it. You put the disk in upside down so the laser can reach it, and then flip it over to read or write the disk.

What is it good for?
Labeling disks with optional decorative flourishes. I burn music CDs from iTunes for car use, and the hastily scribbled “Favorite Rock” isn’t much information 3 months later. With Lightscribe it is easy to burn the playlist on the disk.

Lightscribe quality
Given a print engine of over 2.4 billion dpi, you’d expect pretty high resolution. And indeed the resolution is excellent.

Yet there are two problems with Lightscribe quality: the printing is monochrome; and the contrast is limited. So while the detail is there, it doesn’t leap of the disk at you.

Burn time?
For some reason it takes 10-20 minutes to scribe a disk, which is a little odd when you consider that you can burn 700 MB of data faster than you print a 100 KB bitmap. You can cut the time by scribing smaller areas of the disk as you might for labeling backups.

There is free software for PCs, Macs and Linux available on the web, including an open-source labeler and a product from LaCie. For Linux and Mac OS I recommend the LaCie product because it has a reasonable number of designs to choose from and is fairly flexible. The software worked fine with my homebrew burner. Play with it though: it took me a while to figure out how to get a long playlist on disk using the LaCie software.

Kudos to LaCie for making the software freely available. They get a nice big LaCie logo on my desk when I use it, which must be worth something.

A quick scan suggests that most commercial disk labeling packages also support Lightscribe.

Playing catch the iTunes playlist
iTunes doesn’t make it easy to get an editable playlist. You can export a playlist, but it includes much junk, like file paths. The workaround I found: select the playlist; go to Print Setup; select an all text design; select Print; then Print Preview. Select the preview’s text, copy, and paste into the label creation software.

Hey, Apple, how about a cleaner way to get an editable playlist?

Lightscribe vs printable media
Color inkjets can produce very nice labels and the media is a little cheaper than Lightscribe. I did see a report of a printed disk that delaminated in an optical drive, destroying it, which seems to be an uncommon experience. Lightscribe disks are coated, so I wouldn’t expect that to be a problem.

On the other hand, once you’ve bought the disk, you don’t have to pay for ink or wrestle with carriers or what-have-you to get the disk printed. The total cost of ownership is probably similar once ink coat is factored in.

The StorageMojo take
I’m hell on my car CDs, so I’m not totally sold on paying the extra money for Lightscribe media, but maybe you are more careful than I am. I definitely like being able to see a playlist on the disk. Since I use a laser printer, inkjet printable media isn’t all that attractive.

The sweet spot for Lightscribe, IMHO, is low-volume back up media. You can label each disk with a fair amount of detail and file it. When restore time comes, you don’t have to guess what you’ve got. That is worth something in peace-of-mind.

Comments welcome, of course. How do you label your backup media? Other insights into labeling media, inkject media printing or ???