If you're like me, you probably label most CDs by reaching for the nearest felt-tip pen or magic marker. For special ones you'll spend the time to create a nice color label, but most just get a quick few strokes of the pen.
When it comes to CD labeling, however, not all magic markers are created equal. Using the wrong marker can literally destroy your disc and make it unreadable. According to a librarians' organization, the only safe CD markers are water- or alcohol-based. If you can smell your marker, it is probably solvent-based, and can cause the thin lacquer coating protecting the top of the disc to dissolve. A ball point, even a rollerball, is also a nono, since it can literally scratch through the coating. DVDs are a little less vulnerable, since they have polycarbonate coatings on both sides of the disc, but we prefer to simply be on the safe side for all optical discs. If your backup photo disc is unreadable five years down the road, you're not going to remember what marker you used, only that you've lost your precious photos.
So where can you find CD-safe markers? Wanting to find the best way to label our discs, we went on an online search for the perfect CD pen. We were amazed to find a large selection of markers specially designed for CD and DVD labeling from Sharpie, Staedtler, Dixon, eFilm, TDK and more, none of which we'd ever seen in stores. So we ordered up samples and put them to the test. Two clear favorites emerged: the Sharpie CD/DVD Permanent Marker and the Staedtler Lumocolor CD/DVD Marker.
Sanford Sharpie (left) and Staedtler Lumocolor (right) CD/DVD markers.
Both come in red, blue, green and black so you can indulge your color whims. The Sharpies are double-ended, with one ultra-fine tip and one fine tip that is also good for marking jewel cases. We really liked having a choice of thicknesses. They are also non-toxic, for use around small children. The Lumocolors have a fine tip for precise writing, plus the advantage of being dry-safe, which means you can leave them uncapped for days without drying up, and they are always ready to start writing. Both sets of markers dried quickly and were reasonably smudgeproof and waterproof.
For more great information on safe labeling and storage of CDs and DVDs, including how they react to light, moisture and x-rays, check out the Council on Library and Information Resources' guide to the "Care and Handing of CDs and DVDs."