I sometimes make demo CDs for artists as a kind of sideline from maintaining their websites. While working on one of these demo discs, I began to wonder whether it was possible for an artist to paint directly on the label side of the CD without the paint causing damage to the CD drive.

My inner hacker wants to try this, but I'd like to know a little more about it first so I don't destroy my CD drive in the process. I don't know much about the physics of a spinning CD, or the chemistry of the plastic, but I bet someone here does.

Before this is closed as subjective, I'm not asking for aesthetic advice or opinions here. I've got a studio full of artists for that. I want to know if this is physically/chemically possible, and for what types of paint.

I have used the printable sticker labels, and I've used the CDs with the special white surface that you can print on. Both are advertised as safe for CD drives. I'm thinking that a thin layer of paint could work as long as it doesn't eat the plastic, flake off while spinning at 10k rpm, catch fire, or do other bad things.


Very risky.

Even the slightest bit of weight can unbalance a disc and cause it to wobble violently when it spins up. You can try this reasonably safely by placing a small piece of tape on one side; when you use the disc now the sound is clearly different.

Oil and acrylics I think would be out of the question. You may get away with watercolour if you can find a thin enough piece of paper to cover the whole disk.

  • 2
    Even many of movie dvds are wobbly with what they have "printed" on the dvd, and it's an industrial process. So doing it "by hand" is almost sure to be unbalanced. – Gnoupi Jan 25 '10 at 8:30
  • I elected to abandon this project rather than risk damage to hardware. If I had had a cd drive available that was old enough to be disposable I'd have tried it. I'm sure I'd have lost fingers or an eye in the process too. :) – Mnebuerquo Mar 29 '10 at 22:19

This is a very old question, but since it's been resurrected anyway there is a solution which may be cheaper than a CD printer.

You could get a LightScribe drive and disks and engrave pictures on disks using the drive.

Here's an example from Wikipedia of such disk:

LightScribe disk from Wikipedia

  • That's amazing! – RJFalconer Apr 9 '11 at 23:09
  • @RJFalconer It's also good to know that the disks can be scratched and image damaged, so the engraving is a bit more fragile than a real printed image, but it's cheaper. – AndrejaKo Apr 10 '11 at 1:04

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