Over the years, we got so many questions on how our records are made, we thought we'd share the whole process with you. We cover all bases including cutting the masters, galvanic processing, pressing the records, printing and folding the sleeves, packaging and quality control.
We press our records at Record Industry, based in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Record Industry is known worldwide for their high quality standards – they truly are industry leaders in vinyl production. The factory building is 6500 m2 and facilitates vinyl production, printing of paper parts and packaging under one roof.
From the supplied master tape, or hi-res digital files taken directly from the original masters, an experienced mastering engineer makes a cut in the cutting room. A cutting lathe cuts the audio in a lacquer, which has an acetate layer, or on a DMM (Direct Metal Mastering), which has a copper layer. The difference between the two is that a DMM is more suitable for longer programs like classical repertoire or albums, a lacquer is better for 12" items, more dance related material which requires a deeper groove.
For both techniques the cutting lathe works with a stylus (lacquer a sapphire stylus, DMM with a diamond stylus) that etches a groove in the layer. The stylus has two coils, positioned between two magnets. The audio material is being led to the magnets, which causes both horizontal and vertical vibrations to the stylus. The depth of the groove depends on the intensity of the audio material. Each lacquer or DMM disc is single sided, so two must be cut for a regular two sided record.
The next step is the plating or galvanic. In this step of the process, the stampers which we use to press the records, are produced.
The lacquer with the groove is sprayed with silver, which forms a layer on the lacquer. Then, the lacquer with the silver layer is put into an electro-forming bath which bonds a nickel layer onto the silver. If this layer is substantial enough, the nickel layer will be separated from the lacquer and a first master is ready. This master is called the negative. As the DMM is already a metal plate, we do not need to spray it with silver, the nickel grows directly onto the copper layer.
From the negative a positive is made, in the same way as the negative was made. The negative is put in the electro-forming bath, and a nickel layer 'grows' on the negative. After this step the two layers are separated from each other, leaving not only the original negative but also a positive. The negative is a back-up copy which is archived.
From the positive, the stampers are produced, again in the same electro-forming bath. The stamper is a negative, each record needs two stampers, one for the A side and one for the B side. In this way we are able to develop more than one set of stampers from the same lacquer or DMM. The stampers are used on the presses to actually press the grooves in the vinyl. With one set of stampers, approximately 1000 to 1500 records are pressed.
The vinyl is transported to the press in small granular or pellet form. Before it is placed between the stampers it is formed under high pressure into a small 'puck' or 'biscuit', that weighs approximately 200 gram.
The 'puck' is mechanically placed between the stampers with on each side already an A and a B label. The press closes and the stampers press the vinyl 'puck' under high pressure of 150 bar in 20 seconds into a record. The record is taken out of the press mechanically, the edges are trimmed and the record is put mechanically into a plastic lined innersleeve for maximum protection of the groove, and then left flat to cool down. After every 5 records a heavy metal 'spacer' is applied to enhance the hardening and cooling down process.
The records are transported by an assembly-line to a robotised storage system (the collator) where they will cool down overnight, for at least 8 hours. After the cooling down period, the records are ready for packaging.
The sleeves are printed at the state-of-the art offset printing factory, by using a computer-to-plate system which eliminates the production and use of environmentally unfriendly films and necessary developer chemicals. This system increases sharpness and detail, and avoids potential losses in quality that may occur during film processing, including scratches in the film and variations in the exposure. The offset printing technique also yields an printed end result that is of higher quality, when compared to digital printing technique that is used widely today.
GLUEING & FOLDING
The cardboard sleeves are folded inhouse, on one of our Winkler & Dunnebier folding machines. Four machines can practically fold any sleeve for all formats, including gatefolds with extra wide spines.
The packaging is being done at the finishing department where the records are mechanically sleeved in their outersleeve (apart from 7" and 10" which are sleeved by hand) and packed into boxes for transportation. Automatic stickering, shrinkwrapping unique foil numbering or adding inserts is also done at this department.
Throughout this whole process, the record is subject to a comprehensive Quality Control. Before an order can be pressed a first testing will be made and played by QC. When an order is planned for production, QC will regularly check a record during the time it is on the press. Besides checking the audio, QC checks the printed paper parts (labels, sleeves, stickers etc.) by comparing them with the digital proofs. Finally QC will do a last check on the records when they are packed, to make sure they meet Music On Vinyl's high quality standards.