There are two options for printing text and designs on CD-R or DVD-R media – inkjet printing and thermal printing. These two processes have different methods of transferring ink onto the surface of discs, so they use different types of materials that work with either inkjet printable or thermal printable blank media.
CD/DVD inkjet printers spray tiny dots onto specially designed “inkjet printable” CDs which have a surface that is specifically created to absorb this ink. These dots are smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and can combine from basic ink dyes to form the whole color spectrum. The process of printing on inkjet CDs and DVDs is just like a standard paper inkjet printer, only you’re printing on the disc surface instead of paper.
Primera and Microboards have consumer and commercial grade CD/DVD inkjet printers that can produce results varying from printing basic text to photo quality images and range in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars for automated systems. With a quality color inkjet printer prints can be of extremely high quality, up to 4800 dpi. In other words, you can essentially print a photograph on an inkjet-printable CD or DVD with the correct printer settings and an appropriately detailed design.
However, because of the nature of ink and the variable quality of CD-R and DVD-R printing surfaces, the images on inkjet-printed discs will fade over time. For instance, you would not print a commercial barcode with an inkjet printer and expect it to be permanently useable for 10 years or the life of a CD. Inkjet ink is also susceptible to weather, dampness, heat, and light over time.
Thermal printing is more often associated with professional duplication and design work. A CD or DVD that you purchase from a store as a movie or music album has been silk-screen printed. The printed surface is permanent, the surface can be shiny, the edges of the colors are sharp, the text is crisp, and there can be the feel of raised ink. Thermal printing has similar characteristics to silk-screened printing. Thermal printers produce a permanent image; they use heat and pressure to transfer print materials to the disc surface rather than spraying ink. Single, dual and multi-color ribbons are used during this transfer process for full-color output. Results from thermal printing are very durable and resistant to weather and wear, but the print resolutions can be less detailed than inkjet printing, topping out at about 300 x 600 dpi.
As far as cost goes, the initial investment in an inkjet printer is less than a thermal one. Both types of printers are designed to run in a production environment where discs are being created every day. Thermal printers are typically more durable and suited for the production environment that requires high-quality permanent color printing. Beyond this, full-color prints cost about the same for both. Blank printable media for inkjet or thermal printing are also very close in price.