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Burning CDs and DVDs

Marilyn from Canada asks:

I have a DVD player/burner and would like to know the proper way to burn CDs and DVDs. Also, what’s the procedure for creating a DVD you can add to later?

The process of burning CDs and DVDs used to be one that only professionals were able to do. Today, nearly every household has at least one CD burner, if not both a CD and DVD burner. The technological advancements have come far enough that a separate machine isn’t needed to do these two tasks. It is very rare to find a DVD burner that isn’t able to also burn CDs. However, the opposite isn’t true.

Having a DVD player/burner available in your own home enables you to burn CDs and DVDs anytime you wish. It’s best to read the directions that came with the machine, but the prompts provided when using a DVD player/burner allow most people to burn a CD or DVD without even consulting the directions. Manuals for nearly any household appliance are available online, but finding the specific one you want might take time.

You might first check to see which DVDs your machine is able to burn. DVDs and CDs both come with plus and/or minus symbols on them, followed by an R or an RW. The best choice in DVD machines have the classification of DVD +/- RW, which means it can read and burn just about every type of DVD or CD available. The discs followed by the letter R can only be recorded onto once, while discs with RW on them can have information rewritten onto them if necessary – these discs can actually be rewritten thousands of times.

The plus and minus signs don’t mean as much as they used to. The discs with a minus symbol on them used to work best in computers, while the ones with the plus symbol would work better in other types of disc players. Today most companies manufacture discs that have both the plus and the minus, thus eliminating the chance of a disc not working in your particular machine.

Since DVD burners are able to write both audio and video files, this enables them to burn CDs as well. CDs can only write audio and text. Most computers will perform the CD burning process, but not all are formatted to burn DVDs as of yet. The option to buy an external DVD burner [1] is usually what people go for.


As long as you supply the correct commands, you shouldn’t have any problem burning a DVD. Some machines have you begin the burning process once the blank disc has been inserted. Others will signal you when the blank disc needs to be inserted in the machine.

Many people find that burning a DVD or CD can be difficult the first time. After you’ve done this a few times, it will seem much easier. If you want to be able to rewrite your DVD someday then make sure you are recording on a DVD with the letters RW on it. The discs that only contain the letter R can not be written on again. They are a one-time only sort of disc. As of yet, there’s no way to add on a little bit of information to a DVD-R or CD-R that has already been burned so you will actually have to redo the entire disc with new information. To avoid this, simply be sure you have all of the files copied over to the CD or DVD, and in the correct order, before you burn the disc.

Burning a CD or DVD involves very few steps. Most of the steps listed below are very basic and will vary between machines.


Step One – Insert the Disc

Making a copy takes place by first putting the blank CD or DVD that information will be burned onto into the machine.

Step Two – Title the New Disc

DVD burners usually give you the option to title your work. This will make it easier to determine what information is contained on the new DVD – in case the disc gets misplaced. If you are using a computer program to copy the new information to the blank disc, then saving the files being transferred will enable you to make another copy of the same information later on. It will also make it easier to edit this information if need be.

Step Three – Select what type of disc is being burned

You’ll need to let the machine know if the disc is a CD, DVD and if it is rewritable or not. Most machines will automatically know what type of disc you’ve just inserted and it will convert files as needed. Whether you are copying music onto a CD or digital documents, the blank CD used to transfer this information is exactly the same. You might need to click on the appropriate setting, such as whether the information being transferred is data or audio, but many burners automatically do this for you as well.

If you are making an audio CD, but the information is being transferred as data, it might not play in the machine you will be using the burned disc in later. When transferring computer files to be burned to a CD, simply click on the folder or highlight the files you wish to transfer and select the proper option to copy the information. Computers will often give you a few choices; ‘Copy this file’, ‘Copy this folder’, or ‘Copy selected items’. This command works both for written documents and pictures too. You can then choose to write these files to a CD, which you will then click on the proper drive containing the blank disc. Most burners will know which drive has the disc in it and this will be the only option to click on – so you won’t get confused with multiple drives from which to choose.

As for DVDs, there are typically 3 choices; burning data, burning multimedia files, or to copy and burn another DVD. If the information is on another system first, then it has to be transferred to the DVD burner and saved in a file. This file can then be selected and burned onto the DVD. For example, when copying a home DVD, the original disc must be copied into the burner before the new copy can be made.

Step Four – Burn the disc

Once all the proper information about the disc has been entered, it’s time to burn the disc. If you are creating an audio disc from music stored on a computer, most systems have a drop-and-drag feature installed. This allows you to select all the audio files you wish to copy and then drag them to the blank disc you want them copied onto. Files that are too large to fit on a CD can be transferred to a DVD instead. Transferring spreadsheets or other database files is usually done on a DVD instead of a CD, as are video files taken from a digital camera, camcorder, or television. People who store their old home movies on DVD can make copies for the family at anytime by copying the information and burning another DVD or a number of copies.

Step Five – Finalize

This prompt has been eliminated from most DVD burners, since it has been made an automatic feature. Finalizing the disc makes it playable on any machine instead of only the machine on which it was created. If you finalize a disc and it still won’t play in another machine, then check the type of files being transferred. For instance, some car stereos can play wma files, but not mp3 files. This means you’ll have to make sure the audio files are being formatted into wma files so your car stereo can read them.

I hope this information helps you and answers your questions fully. Good luck with the DVD burning!

~Cory Buford