Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
As a musician or music collector — or likely both, if you’ve landed here — you already know some of the distinctions that separate music mediums and packaging formats. And for you indie musicians, selling CDs and music merch is an excellent means of bolstering your music income and spreading the word about your music.
At Disc Makers, we’ve been in the business of packaging, audio mastering, and manufacturing music since 1946 — long before the dawn of the compact disc and the various CD packaging options that have endured (e.g., the Digipak® and jewel case) and others that have gone by the wayside (anyone remember the long blister pack displays in record stores?).
There are other professional CD packaging options that remain popular — the jacket and Eco-Wallet among them — but the dominant CD packaging options for full-length albums and EPs are Digipaks and jewel cases.
What is a Digipak?
While Digipaks have a variety of possible customizations, a basic Digipak includes a four-panel cardboard package that opens like a book to reveal a plastic tray that houses a CD. Digipak-style packaging provides ample room for a graphic designer to get creative with design, artwork, and credits, and the eco-friendly (mostly paper/cardboard stock) material contributes to make this our most popular package — and one that can be billed as “premium” packaging, and therefore sold at premium pricing.
What is a Jewel Case?
The jewel case has long been the standard for CD packaging since the CD format emerged in the early ’80s and features a clear plastic cover that houses a printed insert. The cover is attached by a hinge to a second plastic base that houses a CD tray, and a printed panel housed underneath the tray serves as the graphic for the back cover of the package.
Key differences between a Digipak vs. Jewel Case
There are a lot of similarities between a Digipak vs. a jewel case. Both offer sturdy protection for the CD encased inside, and both offer opportunities to flex design muscle and house simple or elaborate inserts to increase the appeal and perceived value of your music product.
Either packaging option allows for black print or full-color print on the CDs themselves, and both provide a spine wide enough to print the artist and album name — along with other content — so the packages line up evenly with the bulk of your fans’ CD collections and can be identified while sitting on a shelf, just like the spine of a book.
That said, there are a number of differences that set these formats apart and will factor into an artist’s choice of packaging when it’s time to release an album.
The most obvious difference between a Digipak vs. jewel case is the material of the package itself. Where a jewel case is predominantly comprised of clear plastic — the entire shell, front and back, is made of thin, but sturdy, plastic — the Digipak is made from 15-point recycled board stock, folded and glued to offer hefty protection and an environmentally friendly appeal.
Tactilely, the Digipak feels less rigid and more natural, adding to the premium appeal.
The size of both of these packages is nearly identical. I just measured two random CDs from my collection, and the Digipak clocked in at 4 15/16″ high x 5 10/16″ long while the jewel case measured 4 14/16″ x 5 9/16″. So, considering minor discrepancies in cutting and binding, they are virtually identical in height and length. The spines are also nearly identical, though there’s more uniformity to the jewel case. Digipaks can have four, six, or eight panels, which increases the width of the spine slightly, but again, the difference is nominal.
Along with the material and feel of the packages, how the graphics are displayed — and how the packages unfold — is the thing that really sets these formats apart. A jewel case offers predictable design options, while the Digipak offers a bit more creative opportunity.
Jewel Case display
The traditional jewel case uses the front page of the insert as the album cover; the way the insert is housed in the front panel makes it visible as the cover of the package. Once opened, the insert can be removed and opened, which is where the graphic punch of the package can be expressed. You can print anywhere from a 2-panel insert (basically a 4 3/4″ single square pane of paper printed on the front and back) to a 24-page stapled booklet.
The jewel case also includes a back panel that serves as the imagery for the back of the package as well as the two spines. When you select a clear tray, you can also print on the front-facing side of that panel, displaying another image beneath the CD that can complement the CD printing.
A Digipak’s cover and back cover can be designed to be viewed individually as their relative different parts (front cover, spine, and back cover) though they can easily be conceived as one large design element.
The Digipak also provides the opportunity to expand the gatefold into six or eight panels, providing more room for design and a more impressive visual display. In addition, an inside panel can be used to house an insert, so you can provide another two-to-twelve panels of graphics, lyrics, credits, photos, etc. The panel underneath the clear tray can also be used as a graphic, just like with the jewel case.
You can select clear, black, or white CD trays to house your CD for a Digipak or jewel case to complement the colors of your package design.
Time it takes to produce a Digipak vs. Jewel Case
Since we do all our manufacturing in-house, there really isn’t a difference in the turn times for either of these popular CD packages.
There may be slight variations on the production times based on some of the options you choose (number of panels, inserts, etc.), so for timing and pricing, I’ve chosen the following options — decidedly not bare-bones, but not super extravagant for either.
- Digipak: 300 CDs in a 4-panel Digipak with an 8-page booklet and full-color on-disc printing.
- Jewel Case: 300 CDs with an 8-page booklet and full-color on-disc printing.
The estimated turn time for both these packages is 6-8 days via standard turn, with a 4-day priority option or a three-week economy option (pricing changes with the different turn times).
Using the same package option as above with a quantity of 300 CDs, the price breaks down like this:
Digipak: Disc Makers cost is $1,424.78 (including shipping). Let’s round up to $1,425. If you were to keep/give 50 of those away and sell 250 at $12 each, you’ll make over $1,500 in profit. Sold at $15 each, you’ll make $2,325 in profit (you can likely sell them for more). Sell 1,000 and you’re on your way to over $9k in profit.
Jewel case: Disc Makers cost is $1,176, including shipping. 250 units sold at $12 gets you $1,824 in profit; you’ll earn $2,574 at $15 each. Sell 1,000 and you’ve earned over $10k in profit!
Of course, there are other factors to weigh in, including UPC bar codes and design, but these are real-world prices for these packages. You can earn real money selling CDs!
How to choose which CD packaging is right for you
Lots of factors go into the decision as to which package, which options, and which add-ons make the most sense for your next audio project. Hopefully, this post has helped you understand some of the variations you can consider when it comes to CD packaging, but you’ll learn a lot more by connecting with a product specialist who can help you determine what the best option is for you.
Andre Calilhanna is a decent writer, drummer, and vocalist, as well as a terrible pianist and guitarist. He’s also a book editor and blog manager of the Disc Makers and BookBaby blogs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.