What Is a Picture Disc Vinyl? Let’s Find Out!

I love music, from the acapella at church to the sound of my surround sound system. Yet, one memory impossible to replicate is the joy of listening to my grandpa’s vinyl collection. The sounds from my childhood memories are difficult to duplicate with any other type of music.

A picture disc vinyl is a custom vinyl record with images on the disc’s playing surface, unlike a regular vinyl record with a black background. The images are usually of the artist or band that recorded the music or other things related to the album or band.

The vinyl record format has been around for decades, but this format is seeing a resurgence in popularity. In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons behind the vinyl revival and how people are rediscovering the joys of listening to music on wax.

Understanding the Resurgence of Picture Disc Vinyls

Vinyl records are old school, but the format is seeing a revival. While CDs and digital formats have taken over the music world, there’s something to be said for vinyl’s warm, rich sound. Plus, there’s the cool factor of holding a record in your hands, looking at the album art, and dropping the needle on the record player. For many music lovers, there’s nothing like it.

Many people are buying turntables and collecting records, saying it’s a fun way to listen to music. According to the Record Industry Association of America, in 2020, there were more vinyl records than CDs sold in America. Considering CDs have dominated sales for decades in the physical format category, this accomplishment is no small feat.

You can read more about the statistics in this article that I wrote.

Although commercially available picture discs were in the late 1970s, picture discs date back to the 1920s. Most of these picture records were given to record stores and radio stations as incentives or gifts to promote musicians. 

A lot of these picture disc vinyls were well designed, with the images chosen to create an optical illusion, or reinforce the message of the song when they were played. 

The stores and radio stations gave these picture discs as rewards or gifts to attract customers and increase sales. People often received them as rewards for watching specific programs.

At Last [Picture Disc]

These promotional copies were never mass-produced, and sometimes fewer than 100 copies were released worldwide, leading to high demand for them by collectors and fans.

How a Picture Disc Vinyl Is Created

Picture discs are a hot vinyl trend that has made its way onto the shelves of record stores everywhere. Their popularity is because they look fantastic. You can see the artwork on the front and back of your record, so you know which record you’re playing when you place it in your record player.

The process of creating a picture disc vinyl record is a fairly straightforward one. It begins with creating the master copy of the album, specifically for vinyl release.

In brief, a picture disc record is made by placing an image between the vinyl surface and a thin layer of polyethylene (PVC) foil vinyl on both sides. They are then heated and compressed together to form a picture disc record.

Lyaers of a Picture Disc: TwentytwoAugCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How does the process work? Let’s find out.

  1. Cutting the track onto a lacquer. A lathe with a special sapphire tip creates grooves on the lacquer (an aluminum surface coated in a thin dark paint) surface. And it makes a negative impression of the song’s sound waves as the track plays.
  2. Electroplating to make the mother plate. The lacquer is coated with silver and dipped into a liquid chloride solution.
  3. After drying, the silver is removed from the surface. The silver is removed frim the lacquer, and what remains is a positive layer version of the track remains.
  4. Setting up the PVC materials for pressing. First, you need to have a base PVC, then attach two artworks on both sides. To finish, cover both sides with a transparent layer of PVC.
  5. Vinyl pressing stage. Within the pressing machine are stampers and a set of PVC. Then the PVC set is positioned between the stampers to press the grooves from the mother plate to the surface of the clear PVC.
  6. Trimming. Finally, the disc is trimmed to produce a circular disc with a smooth edge.

Picture vinyl discs are a great way to display images. They look great on walls, cabinets, desks and can be used as art or as part of a display. But how good is the sound when played?

Is a Picture Disc Vinyl Meant To Be Played?

Picture discs are one of those retro trends that are making a comeback. But are they meant to be played? Some people believe they are not; keep reading to learn more about this trend.

A picture disc vinyl is meant to be played on a turntable just like any plain vinyl record, but you need to be careful not to damage the disc. You don’t need any special equipment. Similar to vinyl records, you can play them on a standard record player.

Although picture vinyl records are a fun and unique way to listen to music, there’s always the debate about whether you can play them. To play this kind of vinyl record, you only need a regular turntable and, of course, your vinyl record, nothing special. Just make sure your turntable’s calibration is correct so it doesn’t damage the disc.

Picture discs are a great way to listen to music while showing off your personality. Sure, they’re a little different, but the only real difference is that they have images on the playing surface instead of a black background.

Since these vinyl discs have images on them, it follows that they need special care. You need this care regarding handling so that the pictures don’t fade or get scratched.

How To Take Care of a Picture Disc Vinyl

If you’re a fan of this music format, you know that picture vinyl records are fragile and easily damaged. I’ll now discuss how you can take care of your vinyl discs so they last for long and offer tips on protecting them from damage.

When you buy one of these picture disc vinyls from an online store or your local music store, you want it to serve you for a long time. And that’s where care comes in.

Firstly, picture discs are vinyl records; therefore, they require the same care as standard vinyl records. Keep them clean and free from dirt to prevent damage.

Here are some tips:

  • Cleaning your picture disc vinyl. Dirt on the surface can damage the playing surface and affect output quality. You can remove dirt from the vinyl using a brush or wiping with an anti-static solution. If unsure, consult an audio professional for the correct type of cleaning solution like the Vinyl Styl Ultimate Record Cleaning Care Kit available on Amazon.com, which is a great and affordable all in one cleaning kit .
  • Record playback. To preserve picture discs, the condition of the playback equipment is vital. It would help if you had a well-calibrated turntable that plays records at the correct speed during playback.
  • Durability. You should be aware that the more you play your picture vinyl record, the more the image layer erodes. So to save your picture discs, play them sparingly.
  • Handling picture disc vinyl. Handle vinyl with clean hands and avoid touching the playing surface, as this could introduce dirt into the grooves.
  • Storage. Keep your vinyl discs in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Use an anti-static sleeve to protect the images on vinyl discs. After listening to your record, please insert it into one of those sleeves before slipping it into the cardboard cover.

Do Picture Disc Vinyl Records Sound Bad?

There are mixed feelings about picture discs. Some people love them, and others don’t. The consensus is that sonically they don’t sound better than standard vinyl records. However, harsh critics will go as far as to label their sound as bad, which is unfair to say the least.

Picture disc vinyl records don’t sound bad. However, the manufacturing process limits their ability to be as good as standard vinyl records. Instead of only vinyl, picture discs have layers of materials to produce a color image. These layers affect the sound quality of the record.

Though picture disc records sound fine in principle, they have several limitations that make them inferior to standard vinyl records in terms of sound quality. First and foremost, due to the pressing process, picture discs can’t reproduce similar quality output as their counterparts, plain vinyl.

Even though standard vinyl is still a significant part of the disc’s composition, there’s the additional layer of images encased in polyethylene foil that contains the music. The result is a recording that is slightly imperfect, but still not bad.

As seen earlier, even though a picture disc vinyl is of considerably inferior quality compared to regular vinyl records, they are still popular. What makes them so popular? Let’s make this our next discussion point. Read on.

Why People Still Like Picture Disc Vinyl

Although vinyl records were once the most popular way to enjoy music, when compact discs became the norm, they instantly became a thing of the past.

You’ve seen the trend of people buying CDs, downloading music files, or even streaming music, but there was a time when you had to go to a record store to buy a vinyl record.

As a music fan, you have probably come across these records at some point in your life. You might have even bought one for yourself or as a gift for your friends. But what makes these records so special?

Benefits of a Picture Disc Vinyl

Encanto Soundtrack Picture Disc

  • They are fun to own. The discs offer a great way to show off your love of music and have something more memorable than CDs or standard vinyl. For music lovers who want to discover new ways to listen to their favorite music, this is a great option.
  • Ideal for collectors. Picture disc vinyl records are designed to look like an actual album cover, with the artwork printed directly onto the vinyl. Because of this, they are ideal for collectors who are looking for something different. There’s something special about them that stands out from other formats.
  • In terms of physical music formats, this is the best. I grew up in the era of CDs, but I have always been fascinated by my grandparent’s vinyl records. The artwork, the black background with thin, barely visible grooves, and the fun of flipping a record to play side B just can’t be matched by digital advancements.
  • A unique listening experience. Aside from being visually appealing, the discs also provide listeners with a unique sound experience. Vinyl enthusiasts perceive it as having a richer, warmer sound than CDs or digital files. When fans of vinyl records discuss the perceived warm sound of vinyl, they’re most likely referring to the distortions in the vinyl format that gives a unique sound to some listeners.
  • Emotional connection with the past. Although, there is no evidence to show that vinyl records produce a warmer sound than any other digital audio format. What is referred to as a warm sound is probably an emotional response: which isn’t bad. Emotion is one of the things that makes music so wonderful.
  • The physical feel of a picture disc is very satisfying. People love the look and feel of vinyl records, even if they’re not diehard audiophiles. Many people love the idea of having something physical to hold on to, something they can see and touch. It makes them feel more connected with the music.

Conclusion

Picture discs are a great way to add a bit of personality to your music collection, especially with the record artwork. I love listening to vinyl music because there’s just something about the analog sound that I find irresistible.

Vinyl records are definitely making a comeback, and it’s great to see that there is still a market for physical music formats. Consider picture discs if you’re a music lover looking to add new unique, collectible, and stylish sounds to your collection.

Featured Image: 32bitmaschine, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons