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The Correct Way to Lay Down a CD

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Hardware & Peripherals, Uncategorized
 
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Jenna asks:

When I have to lay a CD down, I lay it down shiny side up. Yesterday my husband Todd and I had a rather heated argument about it; he says that I am wrong and that the data side is the one you have to be careful of (which is the label side) so I need to lay it down shiny side down to protect the data. Which one of us is right?

I really hate to get in the middle of you two, Jenna! I can see it now:

“See? Lori says I’m right! HAH!”

To which the other replies:

“You’re on that website again? Worldstart? I forbid you to ever go there again!”

To which the other replies,

“Forbid me? Who are you…?”

And on and on. I think I’ll just tell you how to clean CDs and kind of forget to answer your question. But then I wouldn’t be helping either of you much, would I? So here we go. (Sigh)

Let’s start with the basics: Which side does the CD player use when it plays the CD back? In other words, which side is the data read from?

The shiny side of the disc is the side that holds the data and is the side that the CD player reads. Thus it seems that to protect the disk, you would put the CD label down, shiny side up. (But hold on, Jenna! Don’t start singing, “Nanny-nanny boo-boo, I won!” just yet – keep reading.)

I decided to do a little extra research for your question and found that trying to explain how a CD is made would take so long and be so tedious that you would quit before the end of the article and you still wouldn’t know how to lay a CD down. Thus I decided to just deal with the immediate problem and give you the best answer that I can without getting too complex:

First: The CD starts with a soft, thick plastic polycarbonate disk that stores the data; the little pieces of data are called “pits”. These pits (millions of them) are “pressed” into the plastic, from the center of the disk outward.

CDs are read by a tiny focused light called a laser. On top of the data, a thin reflective spray of aluminum coating is applied. (Some manufacturers use gold or silver instead of aluminum.) This layer acts kind of like a mirror and reflects the laser back (after it has read the data) to the CD player’s detector. This is the play side of the disk; it is the shiny side.

Are you with me so far?

On top of that layer, an ultra-thin hard layer of plastic coating is applied. It seals and protects the reflective coating underneath and forms the surface that the label can be applied to.

Finally, the label is applied. Now here’s the important part:

The label itself is very thin – ultra thin – and offers little-to-no protection for your CD. If you scratch your CD on the shiny side, it may become distorted: have you ever had that “skip” in a CD that makes you nuts and you have to hit the table or shelf it’s playing on to make the CD continue? (That’s what I do, anyway.) It could be dirt or a scratch. If it’s on the shiny side and it hasn’t gone too deep, you can generally go a long way towards fixing it by cleaning it or getting some CD scratch remover.

If, however, you so much as breathe on the label side – well, it’s not really that bad, but because the reflective layer is so near the surface of the label side, it is a lot easier to damage. And if you damage the label side of a CD, you can pretty much just throw it away.

image

So who’s right? Let’s go over it:

The label side is easily damaged, so if you damage it, your CD is history. Period. No way to fix it. This makes it seem as if you should place the CD shiny side down.

Score: Todd 1, Jenna 0.

However, if you damage the shiny side badly enough, it makes the CD unreadable. Granted, it is a bit harder to damage than the other side, but that doesn’t really matter; the point is that it can be damaged beyond repair if you put it down on that side. This makes it seem as if you should place the CD shiny side up.

Score: Todd 1, Jenna 1.

In going over all of this, it is obvious which side to put a CD down on – neither! You should always put it back in its case. Both sides can be equally as damaging to data on a CD.

So there you go! You both can call a truce and I can breathe a sigh of relief, because in giving you the correct answer, I am now in the clear.

Thanks for writing, Jenna!

~ Lori Cline

3 Responses to “The Correct Way to Lay Down a CD”

  1. K.Vee.Shanker. says:

    Thanks for this eye-opener Lori!

    I was also under the impression that only the shiny side of the CD is to be protected!

  2. Bill Wacker says:

    Good tips on damaging CDs. One other thought on scratches:
    A scratch on the Label side: It’s toast.
    A scratch on the clear side: Possibly recoverable by carefully filling the scratch with some sort of clear material (eg. RTV, clear laquer, etc.).

  3. Keith says:

    If I can’t put the DVD/CD back in it’s case to protect it I have a row of “push pins” that I hang the DVD on (protecting both sides). The only one I couldn’t do that with was “The Passion of the Christ” because the hole kept healing up! :) )

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