LightScribe vs. Labelflash: A Disc Labeling Cold War
LightScribe technology was introduced to the market by Hewlett-Packard in 2004. At that time, there was no other technology available that would let you laser etch a design to the label side of an optical disc. DiscT@2 had been developed and released by Yamaha in 2002, but unlike LightScribe technology, DiscT@2 only allowed people to burn a design to the unused part of the data side of a disc. DiscT@2 was scrapped in 2003 but later developed further into what is now known as Labelflash technology, which was released in December of 2005. In contrast to its predecessor, Labelflash technology allows you to burn images and text to both the label and data sides of a disc.
Now LightScribe and Labelflash have been competing with each other to gain recognition as the sole leader in direct disc labeling technology. Though the two may be comparable in some ways, LightScribe and Labelflash really have a lot of differences that may make each one more optimal than the other in certain situations.
What is LightScribe?
When LightScribe first came to the market in 2004, there was a three word phrase strongly associated with the technology — “Burn, flip, burn.” The idea was that a person could burn both the data and label portions of a disc with one drive, simply flipping the disc over in the process. The introduction of this technology offered people an alternative to both the smear-prone labels printed on inkjet direct-to-disc printers and adhesive labels that can cause problems when used with high-speed or slot loading optical disc drives.
Labeling with LightScribe technology requires a so called LightScribe-enabled disc drive and special optical discs that have a dye coating on the label side. In the beginning, LightScribe disc media was available only in a sepia color and in CD-R and DVD-R formats. However, one can now find discs in DVD+R and DVD+R DL formats, as well as in an assortment of colors.
When penetrated by the laser of the disc drive, the coating goes through a nontoxic chemical reaction that causes the dye to darken in color. The images are written in concentric circles, starting from the center. Burning labels with LightScribe technology results in a grayscale image. Once burned, a label cannot be erased from the disc. However, because the hub (center) of every LightScribe disc contains a series of bars that let the disc drive know the exact rotational position of the disc, one can add more to a previously burned label or burn it again to sharpen the contrast. Though Hewlett-Packard has reported that LightScribe labels should last the lifespan of the disc itself, it is recommended that one keep his discs stored away from heat and direct sunlight, as the label may begin to fade prematurely.
LightScribe compatible optical disc drives (internal and external) are widely available in the United States and Europe, for both Windows and Mac. Manufacturers of LightScribe compatible disc drives include HP, Pioneer, Samsung, LG Electronics and Memorex.
LightScribe has a collection of free templates available for download.
Labelflash was introduced to consumers in December of 2005. This project, initiated by Yamaha and Fujifilm, implements technology originally released by Yamaha in 2002 under the name of DiscT@2. DiscT@2 allowed you to burn images on the unused part of the data side of a disc. The big disadvantage to this technology was that the design size was often limited due to a large amount of written data. Because of this, the project was abandoned in 2003 until the development of Labelflash, which uses the same technology to burn images to the label side of a disc, though the ability to burn images on the data side of a disc has been retained.
Labeling a disc using Labelflash technology can only be done with a special Labelflash compatible disc drive and discs that have a special dye similar to that of LightScribe media. The discs are blue in color and are only available in DVD formats.
Unlike LightScribe media, the dye on Labelflash discs becomes lighter when penetrated by a laser. The result is a silvery, monochrome image with up to 256 different shades and 1000 dpi resolution. The label has a glossy look, as the dye is located under a 0.6 millimeter polycarbonate protective layer. Therefore, the actual image cannot be touched directly. Though this may help lengthen the lifespan of the label, there are no exact quotes on the lifespan of the labels. However, it is recommended to keep the discs away from extreme heat, dust, and direct sunlight.
Like LightScribe disc drives, Labelflash compatible drives can label and write data to a disc. Labelflash compatible optical disc drives (internal and external) are available from manufacturers such as Sony Optiarc, Teac, Quanta Storage, and Pioneer. In addition, certain computer models by Toshiba, Gateway, and Acer include Labelflash compatible disc drives.
Labelflash drives can burn images and text to the data side of any DVD media (Labelflash compatible or not) thanks to the DiscT@2 functions.
Labelflash has a collection of free templates available for download.
Which Is Best?
As one might expect, there is no clear cut winner in this small technological Cold War. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. But choosing the right direct disc labeling technology is an important question that requires taking a look at the value of time and money, the differences between the resulting disc labels, as well as the availability and flexibility of the hardware and software.
When it comes to the time it takes to burn a label, neither LightScribe nor Labelflash can stand up to the ease and speed of printing adhesive labels or simply labeling a disc with a Sharpie. Set at full quality, both drives take roughly half an hour or more to burn a label to a disc. However, of the two, Labelflash tends to burn slightly faster than LightScribe by about four to five minutes.
Another significant factor to consider is the supported media. For those looking to label both CDs and DVDs, LightScribe is the way to go, as Labelflash doesn't label CDs. Moreover, Labelflash media tends to be considerably more expensive than that of LightScribe, starting at $1.5 per DVD, whereas LightScribe media starts at $0.30 for CDs and $0.60 for DVDs. However, the DiscT@2 functions of Labelflash allow you to burn text and images on the data side of any DVD media regardless of whether or not it is Labelflash compatible, which can be quite a feature for some.
One more advantage that LightScribe media has over Labelflash media is the ability to burn a design multiple times to improve the definition. This is possible due to the way the disc drive burns the design and the fact that graphics and text are written to the disc due to the the darkening of the ink, while the ink of Labelflash discs lightens to create an image and can only become so light. Many, nevertheless, prefer the glossy, silvery look of Labelflash discs.
Concerning software and hardware support, LightScribe has quite an advantage over Labelflash owing to its longevity on the market. Another negative drawback to Labelflash is the lack of drive support for the Macintosh community, though it is possible to use Labelflash on a Mac by following a few steps.
Aside from small technical nuances and an individual's personal preference, there exists the factor of availability. For many, one technology is better than the other just because it is easier to obtain in the place where he or she lives. Such is the case with LightScribe and Labelflash. Labelflash drives and media can be hard to come by in the United States, where as it is quite popular in Europe and Asia, though rumor has it that soon Labelflash will be more widely available in the United States.
To Sum It Up...
Both technologies offer the world something that is both innovative and fascinating and has helped to solve some of the problems that computer users face every time they burn music discs, backup archives, and more. However, direct disc labeling technology also presents problems of its own that have yet to be solved. The central essential question is whether or not such technology will be able to withstand the test of time with such cheap disc labeling methods available such as the Sharpie.
If you need to use LightScribe, Labelflash, or Disc T@2 technology on Mac, check out Disc Cover.
Raymond East III
Published: July 2009