Setting Up a Duplication System

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Technology advances in disc duplication and printing means faster equipment, better supplies, and lower operating costs for churches that are getting in to duplication ministry.
The process of creating your master disc, your printed blanks, and ultimately copying, packaging, and distributing the discs, dictates most of the decisions around the purchase and use of hardware to enhance your ministry. The two questions you need to consider with regards to each step and each piece of equipment are: How are my volunteers going to use this? Is it going to meet our needs?

Ultimately, the speed with which you can get discs out is your biggest concern. Extra features are nice – with duplicators, for example, there are some neat add-ons ranging from track extraction and a hard drive for image archival to connecting multiple towers together. Again, measure the usefulness of these frills in the context of workflow. Sometimes a church will think of ways that they could use technology, without considering the ways that ultimately their volunteers will use technology. Every feature can be considered from a common-sense standpoint. This is not to say that, for example, a hard drive on a duplicator is not a useful thing – it is, for a number of reasons – but sometimes we get excited about certain features when reality prohibits ever using them.

The key, in the end, is to make a good quality master disc and then find a way to get the printing and copying done fast and well – and, in the case of most churches, to do it using only volunteers.

That depends – do you realistically expect to have printed copies of the video and audio for people as they leave the building? In a church, a large portion of the demand for any given disc is immediately after the services. And many churches are doing it – every week! But to do this the master should be created on a machine that records live. For audio, a CD recorder such as the CWL-6200 ($699) will do well. It has dual disc wells for uninterrupted recording even if a sermon runs long. It works much like any tape recorder. It can take an audio feed from the XLR or RCA inputs right from the mixing or sound reinforcement board and finalize a master disc within a minute of pressing the stop button at the end of a service. Similar devices are available for recording Video to DVD, such as JVC’s line of mini-DV to DVD recorders.

But if you have visions of authored video with menus, edited footage, or properly mixed and mastered audio – well, that’s a process that has to be done after the content has all been captured – and that means a significant chunk of time between the end of the service and generating your first set of copies. But it isn’t nearly as technically challenging as it sounds. It is best done on a desktop computer with a software editing program. CakeWalk manufactures a strong, well-reputed basic multi-track recording software – I use a very old version of it and it suits me fine. And iDVD is the amateur solution for creating video DVDs – import your clips and audio, add some chapter points and transitions, and pick one of several generic menus, and you’re on your way. If you really want to step it up – use Adobe Premiere for editing video and Pro Tools for editing audio – they are the primary products for discerning professionals.

This software is not terribly expensive either – Cakewalk SONAR 7 Academic Studio Edition lists at $269, and I came across offers of a church version for $199. iDVD comes as part of a software suite with 4 other programs for only $79.

When it comes to printing and copying your discs, it doesn’t really matter which method you used to create your master. Some churches have both mastering methods available – regular live service recording along with the occasional souped-up disc professionally edited – usually for a special series and event that will live well beyond its original delivery.

Since a single automated disc printer (which costs as much or more than a ten-recorder tower) makes one disc at a time – not ten, you’ll want to print on the disc beforehand. You can print anywhere from 25 to 250 per hour depending on the type of printer you choose, and the type of label you design. An inkjet machine that does full coverage prints at one per minute is pretty fast. If you are just doing some light graphics and a couple of lines of text you can use that same printer to do hundreds of discs relatively quickly. With a good printer, you only need one machine to run for a few hours to have hundreds of pre-printed discs ready for services.

What is it going to take to get a decent looking disc?
Designing the print image is not as hard as it sounds. Most disc printers come with a simple software program that is point and click. If you have a graphics guru in your congregation – give them some digital pictures of the church or the pastor and let them work their magic in Photoshop or whatever their preferred program is. They’ll need to provide to you a 12cm square image (jpg or tiff) when they’re done – preferably with no text or only fixed text (such as the church’s name) on it. You can drop that image into the label design software and drop any variable text (such as the date or sermon series title) that you want on top of it in a matter of seconds. By having them leave the variable text off in the original design, you give yourself flexibility and the ability to reuse the background design week after week.

Want to give it a try? Go to and download the free 15-day trial version. This is the same software that ships with many of the leading duplicators and printers – and you don’t need a disc printer to try it out.

When you do get your disc printer, you’ll find it’s not hard at all to print a disc— and the right media will make it look even better. Inkjet disc printing has become even more viable for churches with the onset of glossy inkjet discs, which provide not only a nice shiny finish to a full color print, but afford a large degree of water protection – something that flat white discs were lacking and many churches objected to. Of course, a flat white disc can be handled under normal conditions without issues, but exposure to the elements or a well placed coffee cup could be detrimental to the print image. Taiyo Yuden, one of the best reputed manufacturers of recordable media, leads in the field with WaterShield™ media – sold at a premium but worth the extra expense.

Inkjet disc printers are somewhat expensive – but the printing makes a disc a legitimate saleable product, not just something you give away. If your ministry wants to break even its costs in the duplication ministry, or even make it a profit center, then having a professionally finished disc is a must. After all, if you hand out a retail disc with the title printed with a sharpie marker, your congregant knows that it only costs a few cents for the disc and has a sense (from their own home downloads experience) of just what kind of technical capacity was required. But when it is a professional disc – well; now it’s worth paying for – and it reflects well on your church too.

Buyers beware: when it comes to inkjet disc printers, cheapest is not always best. Besides questionable print quality (lower end printers can give a washed out look or have ‘banding’ a visual artifact of the inkjet process that just looks bad), cost-per-disc in ink becomes a big issue on a small printer. Most of the less expensive printers have a high cost-per-disc that ranges between 35 and 65 cents per disc. You might not ever notice that if your organization is doing only three or five discs at a time. But if you do just 100 discs per week and you have to use a new cartridge every week – now that printer is costing over $200 per month to operate.

Your best bet for managing ink costs is to look for inkjet printers that use an HP print engine. The world’s largest inkjet manufacturer has, not surprisingly, a strong reputation for keeping ink costs reasonable and print quality strong. Ask about the ink cartridge price and typical number of discs per ink cartridge. The recently released Microboards PF-Pro is impressive in this regard – not only does it boast a cost of 9 cents for full disc coverage; the average is backed up by the fact that it uses separate C, M, Y, and K cartridges – so if your church uses, for example, a design that heavily utilizes red, you won’t end up having to throw away cartridges that are only 30% used because the red ink well has gone dry.

Packaging the disc is also optional – but it’s a plus. Paper sleeves are the cheapest way, but a jewel case with a nice insert is better -here again you’ll want to print before the service.

A single CD with an hour’s worth of audio on it takes around 3 minutes to burn. So if you had to hand out all of your discs within three minutes of a service, you would need a recorder per parishioner. If you have 800 parishioners, you would need 100 eight-drive towers (and the volunteers to operate them) to have a disc for each of them in three minutes. More realistically, let’s assume that 10% of your visitors buy or are gifted a disc and you have ten minutes before the crowd disperses to have them done. That means you can make three runs to do 80 discs. Three ten-recorder towers will do the job. You could start your duplication ministry out with as little as one ten-drive tower – and it would only take about a half an hour to get your eighty discs done

If you’re really trying to turn discs quickly there are a couple of ways to be sure you’re getting the best possible speed out of recorders.

Use a good master and good media. Duplicators slow down when they detect a problem, in order to ensure a good burn. That means getting Taiyo Yuden, Verbatim (not the ones from a retail store), or another professional grade of media.
For CDs, use a CD only tower. CD recorders are rated at 52X, where DVD recorders burn CDs at just 48X. In some instances, especially with a small amount of recording content, this won’t make a big difference. We did some duplicator testing for this article – and we found that a 65 minute audio CD burned in 2:50 with a CD recorder and 3:32 with a DVD recorder. Other factors than record speed, specifically in how the brain of the duplicator – called the ‘controller’ – manages DVD and CD drives, may factor in to the difference. Both machines used the same manufacturer and model of controller. A forty second savings per disc can make a big difference when you’re doing hundreds of discs.
Use a reputable duplicator manufacturer with a good controller. There are a host of inexpensive duplicator controllers on the market, but spending a little extra on your duplicator means you’re getting something solid – well-engineered, with a two-year warranty instead of 90 days. In our testing, the same recorder with a cheap off-the-shelf duplicator took 25 seconds longer to record than it did to record with the premium controller. That’s a 15% savings in time!

It’s a simple equation, isn’t it? A disc printer gets the blanks ready ahead of time. A source, such as a microphone or a video camera, goes through your mixing or amplifying device to a recorder or editor. The master disc comes out of the recorder and goes into towers. And you’re ready to package or hand out media right away.

New products are announced every day in the duplication industry. From intuitive recorders like those from JVC and Microboards, to new media formats like Blu-ray, to higher quality printing from HP and glossy recording media like Taiyo Yuden’s WaterShield, to simpler and more powerful editing software from Apple and Cakewalk – it’s getting better and easier for churches every day.