It’s the year 2000 and CD recording at home is a new development. Discs are expensive, and individually wrapped in retail packaging. These discs will have branding all over their faces and inserts. Printable discs didn’t really exist yet in the retail market, with thermal printable discs for replicators with expensive thermal printers and ribbons involved. Inkjet disc printing, let alone affordable disc printers, were still many years to come. But what if you wanted to make a small run of discs for a semi-professional purpose? It would not be economical to visit a replicator to do it, and it would take a while for them to get the job done. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to do it yourself at home?
The Fellowes Neato 2000 System
The solution, of course, was an “adhesive label” style system, branded as Neato 2000 and sold by Fellowes (an office supplies company). Kits were widely available, and sold even in department stores so that your “average joe” could now enjoy professional (ahem) results. I had never used one of these kits in my life, mainly because I never really needed for my discs to “look good”, and I had been warned off of them because of potential issues of unbalance, added weight to discs, labels falling off and data layer damage.
However, since one of these kits showed up, donated to me by a friend, I decided to see what was in one of them.
As you can see, the box itself is very colourful, and tries to make the whole process seem relatively straightforward, while advertising the availability of not just a label for the disc, but also inserts for the jewel case. As expected, the disc in the illustration is a period correct Mitsui Gold CD-R – one of the most highly regarded blank discs of the era. The package is a kit, containing the software itself called MediaFACE, the applicator itself, and a set of paper stocks in photo-quality gloss and matte finishes for inkjet and (some) laser printer use.
Interestingly, Neato is still around today, and their MediaFACE software is now up to Version 5 (for purchase or free with label order) and also available as a web Flash-based application with free demo online.
The rear of the box elaborates on the possibilities, and tries to sell other labels which are available and compatible with the software. The item itself is Order Code 99960. Software requirements are PC or Mac, with Windows 3.x, 95 and 98 supported. I’m sure rivals, such as Avery, would have had their own complete solution as well.
A pressed CD is included with the software. This was written back when 8.3-filenames were normal, and the “high resolution” graphics were all 150dpi. Yeah, high-res!
The applicator itself consists of a spindle-like shaped device with a spring-raised centre that supports the hub ring of the CD. A label is printed, and peeled so that the sticky side is placed facing up on the applicator. A disc is then placed on the applicator, with the top facing the sticky label, and then the central hub is pushed down to “drop” the disc onto the label to apply it.
A very primitive system, but I suppose if the labels are made with a good tolerance, the centering can be kept to a certain amount of error. It still doesn’t solve the issue of the added weight of the label causing strain on the drive, and the label itself potentially stressing the reflective coating on the disc.
Included in the package is a set of label stock, containing a few sheets of each type.
Each sheet has a header with the title of the label type, with the second line containing the template file name, in this case A4CD2lbl.NTT. In this case, the left sheet is a matte type label, and the right is a gloss type label – the gloss type can only be used in inkjet printers, although the documentation does claim that the best results are had with inkjet printing likely because any “bending” of the label causes it to detach from the sheet, might cause the toner to lift from the paper and the heat may affect the adhesive. Two discs labels are printed on a single sheet, which could be a slight inconvenience – and of course, printer calibration is mandatory if you want to have your labels very accurately placed.
Interestingly, the paper stock itself has MediaFACEII on the header, which is newer than the software supplied, so this paper stock may have come from a re-order packet.
Of course, the label is not the only thing that can be printed – the packet also consists of tray liner templates. This allows you to print the rear insert on pre-perforated stock, tear the edges away, and then fit it to your standard jewel case.
All of the previous stock was single sided, except this one – the Jewel case insert. The design of this was also perforated for easy separating after printing, and allows you to print a “folded” card with front and back, and insides. It’s pretty close to what you can get professionally, although to make the final “quality” result requires that the user prints it with a high quality printer and uses high quality fonts and graphics. Most inkjet printers at the time hadn’t even reached “photo” quality yet … unfortunately.
The CD containing the software can be installed by running SETUP.EXE. Interestingly, it succeeded under a Windows 7 x64 machine, with no trouble at all. I could even run the software. Wow.
I checked the software “about” for more information, and confirmed that this was an early version of their software. A very nice surprise to see that it works! I then started a basic label project for the above sheets, using some of the included stock images, and proceeded to print it to my local PDF printer. It worked! What a surprise.
As to making and mounting a label … I don’t think that’s necessary. The procedure is pretty much obvious.
If you wanted labels, you really had to pay for the privilege. Buying such a kit with a few sheets wasn’t that cheap from memory, and when you stuffed up or ran out, you’d have to spend quite a bit more buying additional label stock. For a while, it was cheaper than some other alternatives, like early inkjet printing and thermal printing since those solutions required expensive cartridges and ribbons and meant that you had to buy more expensive printable media. As photorealistic printers became more common, printed label quality was better, but they still couldn’t reach the “full coverage” edge-to-edge coverage you would get with full-surface printable discs.
It was especially surprising to see that the software, owing to its very basic features, installs and runs without modification on a modern Windows 7 x64 machine, and can still print labels to modern printers. That being said, optical discs are fading from relevance, direct inkjet printing is now affordable and comes bundled with their own software and templates, inkjet printable discs are widely available in many finishes, and is the preferred technology for labelling discs today without the risk that the label could damage the data layer, unbalance the disc, add too much weight to the disc or peel off the disc in use.