Magazine Article


CD Archiving: Don't Get Burns

Tech Tips


In December, released the white paper
"The 7 Fatal Mistakes You Can Make When Burning Data, Music, and Photos to CD."
The report's researcher and author, Mark Goggin, developed the following summary of key points for SP&D's readers. To download a copy of the complete 102-page paper, free of charge, visit Now, step lively as you enter the CD

Seventy years from now, will the digital photographs you are taking-and archiving-still be around? It may seem like an obvious question, but all too few photographers are asking it.

As it turns out, there are several distinct and major ways that a digital "negative" can be ruined or rendered unavailable over time.

Archiving photographs on CD is a very delicate and tricky process. It must be approached with a lot of knowledge because time is your enemy. In other words, it is only over the long-term that damage is done and catastrophes are revealed-or avoided.

Disaster Prevention 101

1. The first way to avoid catastrophe is to use only archival-quality CDs. These CDs "guarantee" you they will be good for at least 100 years. If they guarantee that, I think you can be fairly sure they will endure for 50. If you need a CD that will endure even longer, Mitsui has a CD on the market it claims to be good for 400 years, so you might want to go with that brand.

You are not likely to find any "cheapo" CDs that fit the bill. They're inexpensive because they're made from materials that can be sold economically. There's nothing wrong with that, if you just need to burn a CD for marketing or other immediate and short-term purposes. But, they are not appropriate for long-term storage.

This means you have to check the sell copy of different companies and see if they have done tests to back up their claims. With an archive-quality CD, you're off to a great start and should be able to store your photos in a stable way that will allow access for years from the date of creation.

2. Next, you'll want to quality check every CD you burn. Seems obvious, but so does the advice to back up your computer every day and how many people do that?

If you have something as seemingly minor as a fingerprint on your blank CD, it can block that portion of what you are burning. A fingerprint is several orders of magnitude greater than the size of the laser beam you are working with and that's why it can block portions of your picture from being burned.

3. Did you know you can lose portions of your data by burning a CD at one of the faster burning speeds? This is something you will have to experiment with. Try burning at the highest speed. If that works, you're set. But, if it doesn't, go to the slowest speed and work up until your quality check shows you are losing portions of your picture.

4. Once you've burned your CD and checked it, you'll need to turn your attention to labeling. If you're doing a relatively large volume, you can safely label your CDs using a thermal printer. These are, however, relatively expensive, so you would need to have enough volume to justify the cost-per-CD.

Also, note that paper labels are generally not chemically inert and are, therefore, not recommended for CDs intended for archiving photographs.

5. If you are labeling just a few CDs at a time, several markers have ink specifically formulated so that, over time, they do not damage your CD. Some authorities argue that Sharpie pens are okay. Others say the ink has not been formulated to be CD-safe and worry that, over time, it may cause problems. That's why a marker that has been formulated specifically for CD labeling-such as the one TDK offers-is best.

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