Making CDs

This is primarily about manufacturing CDs, rather than just making the occasional CD copy, which pretty much any of the CD software will do. Considerations include storage requirements, embedded path names, verification, and examination of CD content.

Some specific problems

  1. Storage requirements

    It is convenient to store files, rather than CD images, because the files are directly usable and editable in that form, without extra work. However, that also makes it easy to make inadvertent changes. CD images tend to also be large, but generally not larger than the sum of the files you would store anyway, unless the CD burning software allows decompression of the files during the burning process. So storage requirements seem not to be an issue, except that you need a lot of it!

  2. Proprietary formats

    There are lots of proprietary formats for CD images, and CD "build files", used to describe collections of files that contribute to the CD. These formats may be convenient, some (MagicISO's UIF format, for example) are compressed, and some allow files to be referenced, rather than embedded. Issues with proprietary formats include not being documented, not being easy to figure out, possibly including embedded path names.

  3. Embedded path names

    Embedding path names in other files results in non-portability. The file may work fine on one computer, but move it and all the other files to a second computer, even maintaining the same relative path locations, but if the exactly path names cannot be preserved on the second computer, then files referenced by those embedded names will fail. This raises the level of expertise required to use the files, and decreases the efficiency of use.

  4. Examination of CD content Some CD burning software will burn a directory tree to CD. This makes examining the content easy, and may reduce the number of embedded path names to one, or even zero. But most CD burning software requires an explicitly created list of files to burn, which adds flexibility to the arrangement of files in the local directory structure versus files on the CD (you can pick a few from here, a few}from there, etc.), but also increases the number of embedded file names.

What works

CD image files that contain the actual audio or data files are much more portable from one computer to another, even across computer platforms. The only embedded file names, in this case, are the ones that would also appear on the CD itself. ISO files seem to be the most universal format for data CDs, and BIN/CUE files seem to be the most standard format for audio CDs. The CUE file does have an embedded file name that points at the BIN file, but it is often relative, having no path components at all, just the requirement that the BIN and CUE files live in the same directory. There are other image file formats, some open, some proprietary, but support for them is less universal.

CD image files have the general problem that they are not easy to examine. The solution here is a CD emulator program, which "mounts" a CD image file into the file system of the host computer. On Windows, this generally means allocating/dedicating a drive letter for a CD emulator software driver.

MagicDisc is one such program that can perform this function, and it works with both audio BIN/CUE files, and data ISO files.

WinCDEmu is another program that can be useful: while it only supports data CD image files, it can be configured to dynamically allocate a drive letter for it, so there is no need to reserve drive letters for that purpose, nor is there a limit (other than the number of available drive letters) to how many CD image files can be loaded.

Creating image files

Image files can be created with most of the commercial CD burning packages, but many of the "light" programs that are bundled with hardware support only proprietary image formats rather than ISO or BIN/CUE.

A variety of free and open source software is also available. The quality, feature sets, and supported formats vary.

Burning image files

ISO and BIN/CUE files can be burned to CD with nearly any CD burning package, even the "light" commercial programs. The free and open source software also generally supports burning from these file formats (and generally not many others, which are mostly proprietary).


ImgBurn seems to do all the required burning and ripping functions, and has an extremely handy Queue feature so that you can build a queue of CDs that correspond to a set of labels, and burn them as a background process... ImgBurn, once properly configured, requires no clicks or keystrokes to burn a whole queue of CDs... just keep feeding it blanks.

What doesn't work