How Do Lightscribe Burners Work?

By Katy Lindamood

How Do Lightscribe Burners Work?
i LightScribe

The Disks

Lightscribe is a system used by many CD and DVD burners to inscribe labels directly onto the surface of optical media. The labels and graphics are laser-etched onto the surface of the disk, but only the upper side of the disk is written.The label's image is limited to grayscale tones, and it takes a special type of disk for the Lightscribe process to work properly. The Lightscribe technology works far better than stick-on labels or disks, and users can create labels with nearly limitless designs and themes. The Lightscribe process allows users to make disk labels with their CD or DVD drive, rather than using labels that can peel off during disk usage, rendering the drive unusable.

The Drive

Lightscribe users must use both specific types of media and a writer designed with Lightscribe technology. After the date is written onto the disk, the disk can be removed and inverted to present the label side to the laser head. The laser etches the chosen graphic or text onto the disk surface, and the image cannot be changed once placed onto the disk. The disk surface is coated with a reactive substance which reacts and changes color when exposed to the light of the drive's laser head. The image is color-fast, and generally lasts at least 4 years under optimal conditions. Of course, the light level of the storage area and the temperature of the room both can affect the quality and longevity of the image. While the color of the Lightscribe disk is variable, the etching itself does not offer anything other than shades of gray. In order for the image to be properly written, the drive must be able to know the precise specifications of the disk, so that the Lightscribe laser will be able to write the image without overlapping itself. The lightscribe process begins at the center of the disk and extends outward toward the edge, working as the disk rotates. The Lightscribe disks include a label on the disk itself that allows the drive to learn the disk specifications, and those specifications don't change between write sessions. That means that the same disk can be written with the same image several times, leading to a much deeper etching with darker coloration.


Lightscribe disks require special care and handling, and direct sunlight will noticeably degrade the disk image within months. The Lightscribe lasers are of a specific wavelength, and only that same wavelength will affect the disk's surface enough to produce a defined image. For that reason, lightscribe disks are more expensive than standard disks, since the processing and materials required to create the etchable disk surface takes several extra steps.