Can I Use a Marker on a CD or DVD?

R. Kayne

Many people find it convenient to use a marker on a CD or DVD for home-recorded media, but controversy persists over the practice. At issue is the thin layer that protects the writeable surface that lies just below the label. In some cases ink might degrade protective coatings over the long haul, resulting in a disc that will eventually generate errors. However, it would appear from general chatter in the Internet community that the majority of people that use markers on media haven’t experienced problems.

Permanent marker ink harms some discs.
Permanent marker ink harms some discs.

A study performed by Media Sciences subjected marked CDs from different manufacturers to 100 hours of high humidity (85% relative), and temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) to simulate accelerated aging. Results indicated no single disc type or ink marker performed consistently better than another. All discs degraded, with the upshot being that using a marker on a CD potentially reduces the life of the media to an estimated 20 years. However, Media Sciences itself points out that there are too many variables to offer a definitive answer.

CDs and DVDs may benefit from protective cases.
CDs and DVDs may benefit from protective cases.

Ink formulas are one factor when it comes to using a marker on a CD. Manufacturers are constantly changing their processes and materials. Chemical interactions between ink formulas and materials used in media manufacturing are unpredictable as such. Media Sciences did deem water-based inks safest, though some media packaging recommends alcohol-based markers for their discs. In all cases use a soft, felt-tipped marker. Ballpoint pens should not be used as the sharp tip can damage the disc. Solvent-based inks such as those used in permanent markers might also be more harmful to some types of discs than other ink formulas.

Using a marker can reduce the life of a CD by twenty years.
Using a marker can reduce the life of a CD by twenty years.

“Printable discs” have an ink absorption layer for ink-jet printing, (an available feature on some ink-jet printers). The ink absorption layer is a paper label designed to protect the writeable surface and its coating beneath, adding one more safeguard for those who prefer to use a marker on a CD or DVD. Storage and handling of media also affects its life. Small scratches, fingerprints and dust can make a disc unreadable. Environmental factors, such as keeping CDs in a car, subjecting them to heat spikes and humidity can also cause damage.

If you take good care of your discs and find a 20-year life expectancy acceptable for the media, choose a marker made for writing on CDs and DVDs to reduce risk as much as possible. Sanford has a special line of Sharpie® markers for CDs and DVDs. Other companies also make CD/DVD markers. Dixon’s RediSharp Plus!®, Staedtler’s Lumocolor CD/DVD Markers® and Memorex’s CD Markers® are a few examples.

To be safer still, you can write with a marker on a CD or DVD on the clear inner hub of the disc. This doesn’t afford much room, so some people use an indexing system, placing a code in this area. Discs fill from the inner hub out towards the edge. Once written to, the disc becomes darker. If the disc isn’t full, try using a marker on a CD or DVD along the outer edge so the ink isn’t positioned over data on the opposite side.

If you prefer labels, use those made for CDs and DVDs. Adhesives and glues on other types of labels might damage your media. Additionally, a small label not designed to fit over the entire disc can unbalance it as it spins, creating wobble.

While countless discs have survived many years after being labeled with a marker, you might want to take special precautions with home movies or other materials that are irreplaceable. One option is to keep such materials backed up to an external hard drive with a USB port, which can easily be moved from laptop to desktop, or from family member to family member. If the CDs or DVDs should ever fail, the original files will still be available for transferring to new media.

One way to be safe is to write with a marker on the clear inner hub of the CD or DVD.
One way to be safe is to write with a marker on the clear inner hub of the CD or DVD.

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Discussion Comments


Well, now I'll try not to use markers at all to write on CDs. I'll just put them in nice containers and that will be fine.


In my opinion, it's better to stay away from markers when it comes to CD's and DVD's, unless you are using a specially label made for them.

I guess I can see it being okay to write on the clear inner ring, though, if you have to.

It all just makes me a bit nervous when it comes to home movies. That's something I would never want destroyed. And I would definitely always keep a back up copy on a hard drive, or something.


I've never had a problem using a marker on my CD's. I have used a Sharpie marker, the fine point tip kind, and it's been fine.

However, I'm not sure if they'll hold up for an extended period of time. If the CD is going to be used only temporarily, though, I don't see a problem with using a marker on it.


I had no idea that writing with a marker on a CD or DVD could potentially damage it! I have been using markers on mine for a long time. And, after reading this, I've found that I've been using the wrong kind! I always thought that as long as the writing was on the top side, it would be safe.

Fortunately, I don't remember using the marker on anything irreplaceable. I will definitely be looking for some of those special markers next time I'm at the store.

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