DIY CD cases

Mercy, The Sexton’s keyboardist and design guru Duncan Major has got you CD-covered.

Forget download cards, vinyl records, cassettes and online distributors. For the unsigned, empty-pocketed band with a finished album, the Compact Disc remains king of the cheap release. With access to a CD burner, a printer, scissors, and a few dollars to purchase CD-Rs and their accompanying jewel cases, you’ve got the means to release an album all by yourself.

But, pffft, jewel cases – they are so industry. There are definitely better ways to creatively and inexpensively house your sonic gold.

Cheaper, easier to make cool, and somewhat “greener” than plastic is paper. With paper cases, a lot can be accomplished with little more than an X-Acto knife, glue and some manual labour.

An easy, but unsuspectingly slick method to make a stand-out CD case is to fold copy paper around your disc so that it holds together without tape or glue. There are numerous ways you can pull this off. gives folding instructions for a neat case with an origami twist. For a rushed release, the site also provides a type-in-your-band-name-and-track-listing feature which lets you print out a prefab cover all ready for folding. All they ask in exchange for their guidance is a mixed CD, preferably mailed to them in a folded case of their design.

Some of the coolest paper cases out there have “beak” designs that hold the disc in a pop-up form. You can find lots of templates for these online. There’s a good video of one here at This one requires a thicker, sturdier paper.

But there’s really no end to the shapes and forms that your folded case can take on. The Satans set a new St. John’s standard recently by releasing a CD encased in a well-engineered paper coffin. In the past, Sound Salon placed discs in a kimono-like paper structure to go with their gift certificates.

If you have the time to cut, fold, and glue, you might consider making a simple pocket design similar to an LP sleeve, using copy brand card stock. But really, the best advice I can offer is to find a case you like, take it apart to see how it’s made, and then copy the structure as best you can. When making Mercy, the Sexton’s CD cases, for example, I gaffed the structure from a dissected Matt Mays album.

A caveat: When making your cases be aware that paper has a grain running one way – usually lengthwise – and folding against the grain can cause heavier papers to crack along the crease. When using thicker papers or card stock, you’ll need to score your paper first. This involves using a bone folder, or a knitting needle, or something with dull rounded point, to make a depression down the line you want to fold across. When making your score marks and cuts, use your mom’s quilting ruler instead of a regular one. It’ll make your life a lot easier.

Of course, the fewer CDs you’re releasing, the more far-out you can make the cases. Materials like door hinges, duct tape, staples and bolts are all useful to the DIY CD case maker. You could stitch a fabric CD pocket and rubber-stamp or stencil the cover. Or use found objects—secure some airsickness bags from your friend who works at the airport and modify them; extract the CD trays from old cases and glue them to squares of spray painted cardboard; go to Princess Auto and check out the surplus section. Wacky cases guarantee to be immediately thrown out or saved forever, becoming coveted rarities in the future. Just make sure you do a test case before securing your mountains of junk.

Once you’ve nailed down your style of packaging, you might want a cover graphic. For mass production, photocopiers and printers make for the least time-consuming way to replicate images. But for a true handmade aesthetic, depending on what you can get your hands on, there’s screen printing, stenciling, spray painting and block printing to consider.

There are setbacks to the wholly handmade approach. If you intend on having your release in stores and in radio stations, regular jewel cases with spine labeling are preferred because they are easier to catalogue. And if you’re producing more than a few dozen copies of your disc, the thought of constructing each case by hand becomes less appealing. With all the bargain bin All Saints and Color Me Badd CDs at Value Village, I’ve been wondering if anyone has the chops to do something like what the legendary Newfoundland punk outfit Da Slyme once famously did—gather up empty promotional and commercial LP sleeves and spray paint their name over the the cover of each jacket. There you have it—a readymade bang for an easier buck.

Illustration by Tara Fleming