In the world of project studios, additional revenue streams can make the difference between survival and oblivion. From voiceover work to commercial jingles, it all adds to the bottom line.
Product PointsApplications: CD or DVD disc duplication
Key Features: CD-R and DVD-R/RW duplication with on disc printing; heavy-duty construction; onboard computer with peripherals included; upgradable; label design software
Price: $4,690 with CD-R, $5,290 with DVD/R
Contact: Disc Makers at 800-468-9353, Web Site.
+ Impressive build quality and reliable operation
+ DiscJuggler software
+ No external computer necessary
– Inkjet printing less durable than silkscreen
The Score: The ElitePro delivers an excellent result and does it reliably.
The latest trend takes advantage of the advances in CD-R and DVD-R duplicating technology, allowing studios to offer high quality duplicating to customers who do not necessarily need duplication on a larger scale.
A number of companies have entered this market with models of varying complexity. Some are simple duplicators while others automate the entire process and allow printing directly on the disc. One example of the latter is the ElitePro series by Disc Makers.
At its heart, the ElitePro is a computer with one to four CD or DVD writers, depending on the model. You can choose between 48X CD-R or 4X DVD-R/CD-R writers.
The PC-based system uses an Intel processor and comes preloaded with Windows XP Home edition. It also comes with a 15-inch monitor, keyboard and mouse as well as a CD printer.
Attached to the frame of the computer is a mechanical picker arm designed to automate the duplication task, allowing the user to work on other projects rather than spend time loading and unloading discs. There are also a series of metal rods that at first glance, look out of place. But in reality serve a very useful purpose. Three are used to hold the unrecorded CDs in position for the picker arm while the fourth becomes the holder for the finished product. You can load the stacker with up to one hundred and twenty five discs for hours of continuous duplication.
The software that controls the process is called DiscJuggler. Designed by Padus, this program takes care of all formatting and processing and allows for many different types of disc to be made, including enhanced CD, VideoCD and PhotoCD. This only scratches the surface of what this software is capable of. Fortunately, it comes with a 154-page manual.
The Autograph IV printer is based on a standard ink jet design with a CD tray replacing the usual paper feed set-up. It prints on printable CDs, which have a coating that allows the ink to adhere to the surface. The design utilizes a single cartridge, which means it makes black by combining all three inks (cyan, magenta and yellow) rather than using true black ink.
This type of system tends to be a resource hog when printing designs with lots of dark colors. You can substitute a black ink cartridge for the color cartridge if you have a mono-color project, otherwise, be sure to factor in the cost of cartridges when figuring pricing for clients.
The unit also includes an upgrade option, which allows the EliteProOne to become a Two. The upgrade kit includes a second burner, as well as the appropriate software, wiring and instructions.
Installation of the ElitePro was a fairly simple matter. Plug in the monitor, keyboard, mouse and printer and you’re just about done. The only unusual task is the installation of the pick arm, which took all of ten seconds. All the software is preinstalled and other than a minor adjustment of the printer position, everything was aligned and ready to go at power up.
The test system came with the upgrade kit so I decided to install it before I got down to business. The burners use a FireWire connection, which simplified the process. Remove a cover, slide in the new burner, connect the FireWire harness and make the necessary software adjustments. If the alignment is correct, the job is done.
To test the ElitePro, I took a set of mixes I was working on and burned a reference CD on my DAW. This gave me a disc with fifty-three minutes of music on it to use as a master, fairly representative of the average job a studio would get.
Once I had the music, I needed to design the artwork to go with it.
The ElitePro comes with two separate software programs for designing artwork, SureThing and a light version of Discus. Both come with some nice templates and were easy to figure out, but I found myself favoring Discus more and wound up using that for all design work.
I chose a template that I liked and quickly put together the artwork for the disc as well as jewel case inserts (which I printed on a color printer later).
Finally, It was time for the fun to begin.
I opened Discjuggler, chose to copy and print, imported the file for the artwork and told it how many copies I wanted, then clicked on the start button.
And the electronic arm came to life before my eyes, picking up the reference CD, loading it into memory, dropping it onto the output guide and then grabbing the first blank to begin the duplication process. It was a sight to behold… at least the first few times.
Eventually, it blended into the background, quietly going about its business while leaving me free to do other things. I would return later to find a stack of finished CDs on the output guide with a detail report on the monitor that I could review for errors.
The finished CDs looked fabulous and played on just about every system I tried (the lone exception being an early DVD player). While not as durable as the silkscreen printing done by the professionals, the ink jet printer still made a splendid looking product, especially when printing at 1200 DPI. This is definitely an improvement over peel and stick labels.
After 75 discs were finished, I looked at the level of ink remaining and found it at 97 percent. The template I used contained a light background, which meant a minimal usage of ink. Changing to a template with a black background increased the ink usage substantially as it lost seven percent over the next 25 prints.
I finished with one hundred CDs duplicated and printed. There were no rejects and the average time per disc was about six minutes, start to finish.
The ElitePro showed itself to be a solid performer, with reliable duplicating and quality printing. The CD or DVD burner option allows you to tailor the machine to your needs. At its list price it may not be the cheapest option out there, but in this case, you get what you pay for.