Burn Pictures On A CD-R, No Special Drive Needed

When we routinely carry devices holding tens or hundreds of gigabytes of data, it’s sometimes a shock to remember that there was once a time when 650 MB on a CD was a very big deal indeed. These now archaic storage media came first as silver pre-recorded CD-ROMs, then later as recordable CD-Rs. Most people eventually owned CD writer drives, and some fancy ones came with the feature of etching pictures in the unused portions of the disc.

Haven’t got a fancy drive and desire an etched CD-R? No worries, [arduinocelentano] has a solution, in software which writes a disk image for a standard CD writer whose data makes the visible image on the disc.

CD-Rs have a thin layer of phthalate dye sandwiched between the polycarbonate disc and a silvered layer of lacquer. They’re often gold coloured, but the silvering is in fact just aluminium. The data is encoded as a series of pits and lands crested by the laser vapourising small portions of the dye to make holes.

The code creates a data structure of a standard CD-ROM session which doesn’t contain any usable data, instead whose pits and lands are arranged to form the image. You can find it all in a GitHub repository, and have a go at creating your own offerings. We would have made a Wrencher disc for our pictures, but sadly for some of us who were once in the thick of it we don’t have any CD-Rs any more.

63 thoughts on “Burn Pictures On A CD-R, No Special Drive Needed

    1. Bear in mind also that in many cars, the fuel pressure regulator bypasses a lot of the fuel back to the tank, so to avoid using second hand gas that your engine has already rejected once you should only use the top third of your gas tank and then drain the rest into a sewer.

      Oh sorry, thought this was the wasteful tip of the day thread.

    2. I really can’t think of a good ‘use’ for them any more. Last year I burned a set of Blu-Ray disks as a photo backup and that took at least 11+ BR disks if I remember correctly….. And a cheap ‘very’ small external SSD could hold all of that and more…. So why? That said, I still have a few spindles of DVD and CD-ROM around also beside BR and the drives to burn/read them. Definitely won’t have to buy any new ones!!!

          1. It obviously depends on the quality of the optical media. I’ve seen real failures of “archive quality” disk in 10 years. Cheaper disc might fail even sooner, but still approximately twice the life of an unpowered SSD. I don’t know how modern magnetic storage compares though, even cheaper than an SSD and I expect better life.

          2. From what I ‘glean’ from doing a simple web search …

            SSD – 8-10 Years powered off is a good number for ‘typical’ environment.
            HDD – 9-20 Years powered off. Just don’t pass magnets over it ….
            DVD – 30 years, but some say 100-200 years in right environment.

            Thing is though, how many plan to ‘use’ or have a method to retrieve the backup after that period of time? Or have a need for it? I rotate my backup devices worst case ‘maybe three years’ on yearly backup media. There is none that just ‘sits’ (unless optical media of course). Point is anyway, by the time the media goes bad, you have probably moved on to another storage technology anyway. So best way is to just keep your wanted data spinning, and backup periodically for those times when you have a disk failure. You’ll always have a backup of your ‘data’ if you do that. No need to try to go back 30 years or 100 years ;) . Your not going to care, and your relatives will be spinning and doing backups on what they want to keep…. So it goes.

            Not a worry.

          3. Whatever you do, make sure your CD/DVD-R’s are stored away from sunlight.
            Unless you just want to make pretty patterns, in which case, a CD-R left in direct sun for a several years will change colour, and you can see the shadow of anything placed on top.

          4. Do not trust optical media with anything you care about, no matter what the manufacturer claims.

            I used to work at an archival company where we recovered data from thousands of CDs and DVDs of all different qualities and from different storage environments. On average, you can trust the data on a DVD for about 4 years. After that, the probability that some data on the disk is corrupted is very high. For 10+ years it’s virtually guaranteed to have large amounts of corrupted data.

            Most of these DVDs were video disks, and often we could recover “playable” footage from them but with large sections of macroblock artifacts and garbled or unplayable audio. We had fewer CDs come through but the error rate was very similar.

          5. > HDD 9-20 years …
            Unlikely to ever see even the low end. The biggest issue w/mechanical hard drives is the bearings and lubricants in them. Over time w/out being actuated, the lubricant tends to leak, settler (pool in line w/path of gravity), and/or get gummy/sticky (increase viscosity).

            These issues result in a resistance of the platter motor to movement greater than it can overcome. This, in turn, results in failure to spin up which prevents access to the data.

            That stated, the data is likely fine (outside of magnetic disurbances/issues), it will just take a data recovery service to recover it.

            In the order of ease of access to one’s data preservation-wise, optimizing for cost/capacity/longevity, tape the current leader. LTO tapes stored w/in the proper range are slated to last 30 years. The archival optical media are 2nd due to capacity/cost as they are more reliable than HDD and flash. Then HDD and finally, lastly, flash. Flash is the absolute worst option for an archival (e.g. cold storage) medium.

      1. Giving data and what not to family and friends. When people are at my home visiting if they have an optical drive I will give copies of various data to them on cd/dvd since I have a half a spindle of each. For our kids especially, send 19-20 years worth of pictures. Cause they won’t bring back my thumb drives like the bowls they take my groceries in. Plus it’s like a beginning of adulting demarc.

    3. Try your local Freegle/Freecycle/Trash Nothing group if you have any more unwanted tech. One person’s trash is another’s treasure!

      Someone near me is currently looking for printable blank DVDs.

  1. > crested by the laser vapourising small portions of the dye

    The dyes respond to light and break down photo-chemically. It’s a misconception that a CD-R is literally “burned” by the laser – there’s simply not enough time or power to put enough energy down to blast a hole in the dye layer. Then there’s the point that the laser diode does not like being turned completely on and off (too slow, unstable), so it is actually on all the time and the amount of power is modulated just above or below the amount needed for the dye to respond.

    The most shelf-stable phthalocyanine dyes are pretty particular to how much energy they need to change state: too little doesn’t accomplish any change, too much reverses the effect. This sensitivity also made these discs difficult to burn without high bit error rates right out of the burner, which ironically made them more likely to become corrupted over time.

  2. I commented on the project on hackaday.io but what if you burn the image in then dissolve away the aluminized layer of the disk leaving just he plastic with with the image in it, would be sort of neat.

  3. I’ve been looking not more than a year ago for a software like this, and I was really surprised that arranging pits and lands to form an image was something so hard that nobody, apart specialized CD drive makers, managed to do that.
    I’ll definitely try it, especially if it can be used to fill just the empty part of a CD, as a decoration for a working disc.

  4. Half the readership here probably has a 405 nm laser etcher widget. That ought to make great writing on a disc. Never thought to try it until now.
    Hmm, now where did I put that old spindle of discs…?

  5. As this is about art, not data storage. Has anyone tried a laser cutter on CDs? I once had a CD Burner that could write graphics on CDs, the result was hardly recognizable.

  6. There are TONS of cd-r’s and dvd-r’s left out there. Just go to any given estate sale. They can’t give the things away. Hell, i picked up a ton of them off the curb in the leftovers of a yard sale someone threw out. Did it just in case I found an artful use for them… or to throw at people.

  7. I’m wondering if you could burn have the disc, close it, and do the art on the other half?

    Furthermore, I know cds have a slight photovoltaic property. I wonder, perhaps one could make a really terrible but usable array of solar cells out of cds? Any thoughts? Lol

    1. ISTR, long ago [i.e Caleb Kraft days] HaD had an article about artwork on [audio?] CDs in the unused portion of the playing side. It may have been done in the stamping process though….

  8. Any ways I used a DVD with a “Star Wars ” hologram for a KALEIDOSCOPE project and it works great.

    It’s not easy to find such materials

    and I wonder if this software could be used to generate such disk.

  9. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this for more than 20 years!

    Shame the vast majority of the comment feed, right at the top, is utterly unrelated. I was about to close the window ashamed not only of humanity, but feeling even more alone as an eWaste-repurposer than before I discovered HaD.

    I’m glad I scrolled that one last scroll to come across folks’ inspiration. Custom Diffraction-grating, QR-Code links to music online (hah!). More…

    Am thinkink when things like this [finally] come ’round, it’d be amazing to follow/participate in contests for how to use/improve them…

    Personally, I’m now wondering if there is a way to overwrite the original (random=white noise=”gray” background) data on old discs with images… better’n a disc shredder!

    This is really awesome. It’s about time.

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