I really love sharpies, for what it's worth.
September 19, 2006 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I always use sharpies to label burned cds, and it's never been a problem, even after years. How about all of youse? How about DVDRs? Is the expected lifespan of the media really meaningfully shortened? Are the people who are selling special markers and Lightscribe, etc. just out to make a greasy buck off of my paranoia?
posted by pullayup to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've never used anything but Sharpies, and it's never been a problem for me. Lightscribe sounds like fun, though.
posted by evariste at 7:57 PM on September 19, 2006

Presuming a 'sharpie' is a permanent felt-tipped marker, then I've had no problems with them. I've had cruddy CDs which need no help to fall apart, but no problems with the writing on them.

Still, that lightscribe thing looks nifty.
posted by pompomtom at 7:59 PM on September 19, 2006

I find that I lose, scratch, or stop caring about most burned cd's before I ever have to worry about the sharpie ink doing anything. I'd be worried about expecting true long-term (5 yrs plus) storage from a lot of the mass market recordable media, just because we haven't had most of it long enough to really know. I realize they do simulated tests, but stilll...

I would probably look into something like strongspace plus multiple backups via version control for truly imporatant data that I never want to lose (ie financial records/biz docs, not the latest JT album).
posted by rsanheim at 8:07 PM on September 19, 2006

PPT: a 'sharpie' is a Sharpie. Pullayup, you're not the first one to ask this question
Sanford has used SHARPIE markers on CDs for years and we have never experienced a problem. We do not believe that the SHARPIE ink can affect these CDs, however we have not performed any long-term laboratory testing to verify this. We have spoken to many major CD manufacturers about this issue. They use the SHARPIE markers on CDs internally as well, and do not believe that the SHARPIE ink will cause any harm to their products.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:08 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think that the fact that permanent markers use (organic) solvents such as alcohols, ketones, xylene, and glycol ethers to carry pigment and that CDs/DVDs are made of plastic (an organic material) probably sparked the initial paranoia against sharpieing media.

The amount of solvent is very little and much of it evaporates away before doing a lot of damage to the plastic.

That, and look at the cross section of media:

The label material (ink, of various kinds, usually) is likely to be more resistant to those organic solvents (which aren't particularly potent in the first place).

Your data is stored on the dye layer, which is under a metal reflector layer. If anything managed to get past the label and the polycarbonate, it has to contend with the metal reflector layer before affecting the dye.

I've been using sharpies on burnable media since 1999. No empirical evidence, but the quality of the media made vastly more different than whether I used "CD writing pens" (which I used to use because everyone said that it was better) or sharpies. I only ever use sharpies these days.
posted by porpoise at 9:09 PM on September 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

Previously. Previously.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:42 PM on September 19, 2006

I used to work for a couple of companies that tried to promote their products over the ubiquitous and colorful Sharpie, and my sales managers actively passed around information and test results that supposedly showed that the solvents in Sharpies could eventually damage CDs. So it's not just rumor--it's part of a larger marketing effort. I can't vouch for the veracity of their claims any more, but I can tell you that Itoya makes a great (black only) duo-tip marker for disks that just writes and looks better than a Sharpie. It's called the 'CD & Photo Marker CD-10'. It's writes solid dark black on CDs, glass or plastic or metal, in addition to being non-toxic. They're fairly hard to find, poorly marketed, but they work really well. FWIW.
posted by tula at 11:58 PM on September 19, 2006

Also, if long term archival is your concern, you're probably better off spending your dollars on a new hard disk (or whatever the cheapest attached-storage medium becomes) every two years and transferring everything onto that. The new hard disk will always be way bigger than the old one so your archives are always going to fit, hard disks are already far cheaper per gigabyte than CD-ROMs and rapidly closing on DVDs, the lifetime of regularly replicated bits is essentially infinite, and you won't have to worry about trying to track down an obsolete reader device to get at stuff you archived twenty years ago.
posted by flabdablet at 12:04 AM on September 20, 2006

I always use non-permanent overhead pens.

There's a story drifting around locally of a couple of radio station DJs that went to some event where they thought their (crappy) CD collection was a risk of being stolen, so they wrote either their names or the station's name on all the CDs with a big thick black pen.

They were all ruined, the story says.

It's an old story and even if it is true, "Sharpie(tm)"-style markers have probably been tweaked so they don't eat through discs anymore.
posted by krisjohn at 12:12 AM on September 20, 2006

I have CDs with Sharpie-brand Sharpie writing on them from 6 years ago and they're fine. I use only Sharpies.
posted by polyglot at 2:47 AM on September 20, 2006

If it's good enough for the president, it's good enough for me.
posted by kableh at 8:01 AM on September 20, 2006

I've used Sharpies on my DVDs for years now, even RWs. Not one problem.
posted by kc0dxh at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2006

I have CDs that I burned 10 years ago with Sharpie scribbles on them. They work just fine. Then again, they're on quality media. I opted for name-brand stuff instead of the "GQ" 100 for $5 hat.

Your mileage may vary.
posted by drstein at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2006

flabdablet writes "you won't have to worry about trying to track down an obsolete reader device to get at stuff you archived twenty years ago."

Instead you'll have to try and find an obsolete disk interface. I'd better the tech to read CD-Rs is going to be commonly available much longer than that to read IDE.
posted by Mitheral at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2006

Some of my earliest CDRs date back to 1994. I have only used non-organic solvent markers. Some have gone bad, but this seems to be related more to disc manufacture than ink (ie, the bad discs date from the late-90s, when a lot of new dye formulations seem to have been in early stages).

Given the experience of people over the years, I'd say the best solution now is to use regular organic solvent ink markers, but burn two discs, or three.

The suggestion to "archive" onto hard drive is not really very useful, or advised. Migrating data onto new disks is fine for near-line backups, but archival material needs something not so flimsy as magnetic pits easily affected by random EMFs or radioactive emissions within the drive itself.
posted by meehawl at 1:26 PM on September 20, 2006

I was a DJ at a radio station in the early 2000s and the entire library of CDs was marked with our call letters with a Sharpie (both CD-Rs and "real" CDs from labels).

The library included manufactured CDs from the mid 1980s and CD-Rs from the early 1990s, all labeled with Sharpies at the time of their acquisition. I never had problems playing anything because of writing/markers (scratches on the discs were another matter). So in my experience, Sharpies writing will not degrade a CD in ~14 years.
posted by holyrood at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2006

I think there's been some misunderstanding of my suggestion for using hard drives as "archival" storage.

I'm not suggesting you should stick stuff on an IDE hard drive and put that away in the vaults; I'm suggesting that the increasingly low per-gigabyte cost of today's hard drives is obsoleting the whole notion of an "archive" that's separate from what you store online.

Increasingly, the most cost-effective and future-proof way to retain ancient digital data is to keep it all on-line at all times, on a drive or set of drives no more than two years old.

RAID will protect against data loss from drive failure and cosmic rays, and rsync over the Internet will protect against overwhelming local physical disaster.

Files get bigger year by year as we demand more of our IT infrastructure. A single DVD movie is bigger by several orders of magnitude than my entire Apple II software and data collection. This trend shows no signs of slowing down; in fact it's accelerating.

Today's online storage is sized to deal with today's elephantine files, and most people will not have any trouble at all fitting every bit they've ever generated in the past onto drives bought today.

I agree with Mitheral that in twenty years you might be scratching to find something that will understand what to do with an IDE interface. This is precisely my point! In twenty years, your data won't need recovering from an obsolete IDE drive or an obsolete Blu-Ray DVD or an obsolete 1.44MB floppy or an obsolete 5" floppy or an obsolete 8" floppy or obsolete 8-track 6250bpi magtape or or obsolete 9-track 1600bpi magtape or obsolete 7-track paper tape or obsolete Hollerith punch cards. It will all just be there. The whole point of digital information is that it can be copied completely losslessly.

The amount of data stored on today's most unimaginably Toad of Toad Hall disk drive array today is going to occupy less than 1% of what you'll be running then. I also expect that the time required to transfer an entire existing data collection onto new storage will continue to remain constant, or possibly even decrease.

The cost argument (hard disk drives really do cost less per gigabyte than CD-ROMs) is icing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:19 PM on September 20, 2006

flabdablet writes "This is precisely my point! In twenty years, your data won't need recovering from an obsolete IDE drive [...] obsolete Hollerith punch cards. It will all just be there. The whole point of digital information is that it can be copied completely losslessly."

The only problem with this scheme is a continously running copy, either RAID or with manual methods, isn't a back up. It's redundency. You still won't be able to go back six months and pull data that you accidently deleted last month. The great thing about CD-R/DVD-R at the consumer level is once written they can't be accidently deleted.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 AM on September 21, 2006

It seems to me that an online subversion repository - perhaps on a partition that you don't mount except when you're about to commit a revision (i.e. make a backup) - would fill that bill very nicely.

It seems to me that the amount of self-discipline required to avoid accidental deletion of the repository is about the same as the amount required to avoid losing track of where you put those CD-ROMs from two years ago. But maybe I'm just strange :-)

AFAIK it's completely safe to write on a hard disk drive with a Sharpie :-)
posted by flabdablet at 4:41 PM on September 21, 2006

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