Make good looking paper CD sleeves using iTunes,
even for your original music, and save plastic, money, and space.

Rationale. Even though CD’s are supposed to be on their way out (the new Mac Air doesn't even have a burner), I still find myself using a lot of them, for project back-ups, the car stereo, etc. But I dislike nearly all CD jewel cases, even the thin plastic ones. They are incredibly slippery so they don't stack well, they break easily, and take up too much space. And I don't like making those iTunes jewel case inserts either. Paper sleeves are somewhat better but then there's no song list or nice graphics.

Here's a way to eliminate these problems and at the same time keep the iTunes graphics and song lists. Another benefit: you can use iTunes to make CD sleeves and song lists for your original music. If you can make a playlist, you can have iTunes automatically format a paper CD case for you.

Directions. At first, making a paper sleeve might seem like more trouble than it's worth. But once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly straightforward. The video below should help. Instructions are for a MAC and an Epson R200 printer. You’ll need to do a little translation if you have Windows and a different brand of printer but, if you get the overall idea, I think that will be fairly easy.

To start, navigate to an iTunes play list. Then select print and then the kind of CD graphic and song listing you’d like. But DON’T actually  print. Instead, go to Print Preview. When your graphic image comes up do a Screen Capture with shift+command (apple key)+4 and carefully select the jewel case graphic that the print preview shows you--front and back. Do the selection using the crop marks shown. The result will end up on your desktop (or wherever else you've determined it should go) as a Picture (.png file).

If you are running Windows, you may have to select the iTunes graphic using the Alt+PrintScreen key and do your cropping in Photoshop or another graphics program. But the crop marks will still be there to follow, so it shouldn't be too much harder. If you have one of the premium versions of Windows Vista, the new Snipping Tool works much like the Mac's screen capture. And, there are lots of free screen capture tools that you can download for all versions of Windows.

Open the Picture (.png file) of the iTunes graphic with Photoshop or another similar program. At this point it will fit inside a plastic jewel case. But we don’t want that. So, what you want to do is change the size of that graphic so that a CD will fit INSIDE after it’s folded and glued together.

In Photoshop, go to the Image Menu and select Image Size. Check the Constrain Proportions box, uncheck the Resample Image box, and make the width 10.3 inches. Let the height float but it should end up around 5.1 inches and a Resolution of just over 91, if you were careful to select the image very close to the crop marks.

Now you have a graphic that will snugly hold a CD if it's folded and glued together properly. Here’s one way to do it.

While still in Photoshop, go to the File Menu and select Page Setup. Select Landscape for paper Orientation. This is also the place where you can get your graphic to automatically center on the page so it will be easier to fold right in the center. Do this by selecting Borderless Printing in the Format dropdown menu. If you don’t have this option available in your printer driver you may have to use a ruler to crease your graphic so it can be folded right in the middle. Click OK and you’re back to you image in Photoshop.

Now go to Print under the File menu. Once last time, make sure your printer is set to Borderless printing and select the Preview button to make sure your graphic is centered properly. If so, select the Print button in the lower right corner to print out your graphic on the kind of paper you have in your printer. More on this later.

Now fold your paper with the graphic facing out and the crease in the center. Unfold, and put two lines of quick drying paper glue about 1/8th of an inch from the bottom and top edges of the graphic on what will become in inside of the CD sleeve. Refold, press together and let dry until tacky, about three minutes. I use Scotch Clear Paper Glue with a pen tip applicator on one end. I get it at Office Depot.



Paper or Plastic?
  The five paper sleeves on the left, made with the method described here, stack to 0.313 inches. The five "slim" plastic jewel cases on the right stack to 1.0 inches, or 219% higher. One hundred paper sleeves would take up 6.3 feet of shelf space; 100 slim plastic case 20 feet of shelf space. One hundred standard size plastic jewel case would take up 40 feet.

This last step can be a little tricky because you are putting the glue on the opposite side of the graphic and the edges may be difficult to see, especially if the graphic has a white background or if you have thick paper. One solution is to hold the paper up to a strong light so you can see through it and then lightly mark it with a pencil. A more time consuming method is to measure where the edge is with a ruler. Or, you could cut out the graphic after you fold it but before you put the glue on so it's clear where the edges are. But that necessitates handling the scissors twice and you double the chances of poking your eye out, according to my mother.

Once you've glued, refolded the paper, and let it dry for three minutes or so, take an old CD you don’t care about and insert it into the sleeve to see how it fits. If you’ve made the sleeve a little too small the CD will separate the paper, a good thing, and the CD will fit very snugly. If there’s some glue gobs around, they will be picked up by the old CD, not the good one you’ve burned and will insert later.

Leave the old CD in there and trim with scissors. Let the glue dry for about five minutes. Remove the old CD and insert your good one. You're done. Now, feel smug about not using any plastic and saving a few cents as well.

Refinements. I usually use a little heavier, recycled 50# cover stock for the sleeve. Also from Office Depot.

You can modify the graphic that comes out of iTunes because you’ve imported it into Photoshop. Increase the contrast and sharpness for example. Or, put a mustache on Celine Dion or your head on some rapper's photo. Endless possibilities.

You can custom make a sleeve with your own graphics on it and use it over and over but just lift the iTunes song list for the back. If you exported songs out of any Apple Application like GarageBand or Soundtrack Pro and into iTunes, you can make a playlist and your original song list will show up, like any other, in the iTunes Print Menu. Then you can make a paper sleeve out of that since it automatically makes a simple cover with just your album title and your name, or you can add your own art work. I made paper sleeves for some of my original music CD's rather than putting them in a plastic jewel case. See Umbrella + iPod = Rain Pod and Pi on the Piano, Eee on the Queeka on the home page, for example.

You could make a CD sleeve out of high quality photo paper for one of those very special occasions--don't forget they also work for DVD’s since they are the same size. One caveat is that you are stuck with that 90 resolution unless you import higher resolution photos, etc.

Of course you could make plain paper sleeves as well and there are other DIY sleeve instructions out there (I particularly like David Michael Curry's paper lunch bag one). But I'm not aware of any that easily integrate iTunes graphics or any other kinds of graphics for that matter.

Email me if you know of an easier way to make paper sleeves using iTunes. I'll try to summarize or link to your ideas.

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