Updated: Sep 7
Producing vinyl records through traditional channels is an expensive and laborious endeavor. Currently, vinyl production worldwide far exceeds its production capacity. Expensive materials, expert knowledge, and obsolete machinery have led to supply shortages and quality problems.
But gratefully, we still get other options to make your music into a vinyl record!
What is lathe cut vinyl?
Lathe cut records are made from clear plastic and are cut individually each time. They are made by using a record lathe to cut grooves in the discs. These lathes are commonly used in the vinyl manufacturing process to cut the lacquer master discs used to make metal stamps.
What are the Materials?
Our lathe cut-outs are etched onto clear polycarbonate discs. We buy polycarbonate sheets in bulk and process the discs on our laser CNC machine. These discs are thicker than standard records, about 3mm thick. At this depth, the records are more durable and less likely to warp or be damaged by the environment.
We experimented with several different needles: cones, triangles, crystal needles, and the ever so fancy (and expensive) sapphire cutter. The "Presto-Type" triangular needle that we purchased from a manufacturer in the USA worked best. This particular needle allows us to cut around 300 facets before it starts to show the effects of degradation.
Before cutting the record, it is essential to use a suitable lubricant to soften the surface of the polycarbonate disc and to prevent friction during the cutting process. After many trials, we have found that using lighter fluid or Turtle Wax is the best way to lubricate. We use "Turtle Wax Matte Cockpit Cleaner", mainly because lighter fluid makes our engineers uncomfortable. To prepare the disc, spray on the side you want to cut until it gets an even coverage. It is important to allow time for the turtle wax to soak into the disc (about 2 minutes is ideal). This softens the polycarbonate and allows the needle to glide easily over the surface of the record.
How long do they last?
Records are made of polycarbonate - the same type of plastic used in CDs. They are much more durable than acetate dubbing sheets and can be played over and over again without any noticeable loss of sound quality.
How long is the turnaround time?
A lathe cut record is an instant vinyl record. Lathe cutting is the fastest way to produce a retail record. A vinyl record can be made in a matter of minutes, whereas a custom vinyl record can take several weeks. Because the plating and pressing process is skipped, several days of preparation time is saved.
The length of the audio program will determine how long it takes to make each physical copy. The vibrations of the sound are etched in real-time directly onto the surface of the flat vinyl disc. If a song is 4 minutes long, it will take 4 minutes plus set-up time to complete.
How's the sound quality of the Lathe-cut record?
Lathe-cut records can have a better sound quality than pressed vinyl. However, like pressed vinyl, not every lathe-cut record is the same. Experience is the key to making a quality vinyl record. Some special cuts are done on old mono machines. Be wary of vinyl manufacturers who issue disclaimers that lathe cuts are new in low fidelity and not intended for commercial release.
Why the cost of making lathe-cut records is lower?
Vinyl pressings are often priced above what most independent budgets can afford. Lathe cut records have grown in popularity as the best solution for limited vinyl releases. The manufacturing process of lathe cut records versus pressed vinyl is faster and more economical.
- Vinyl pressing and manufacturing
Record pressing is the traditional method of putting music on vinyl records. This is done in three steps; disc mastering, metal plating, and vinyl pressing. Each process requires highly skilled technicians and expensive industrial machinery. These steps are rarely done under one roof, which explains the high price of small-batch vinyl pressing.
- Lathe cut vinyl manufacture
Lathe cutting utilizes the same principles as the disc mastering process. A flat plastic disc is held in place on a record lathe. The cutting head etches the analog sound onto a blank disc. This process is repeated one at a time to achieve the required number of custom vinyl records. High-quality one-cut vinyl records are achieved without the need for plating and grooving.
Short runs of lathe cut records can be successfully manufactured under one roof. This makes lathe cut records the most efficient process for making affordable custom vinyl records.
Why you can order lathe-cut vinyl without minimum?
Not long ago, releasing vinyl records was only feasible for high-volume commercial releases. The overheads associated with pressing records made it impossible for record factories to offer vinyl pressing without minimums. There was no minimum order for lathe-cut records due to the low cost of manufacture. There was no need for outsourcing or brokering, as everything could be done in-house. This also allows independent recording artists to fully realize the vinyl release of each track. Whether you order (1) or (30), you can put your music on vinyl in the right quantity and at a reasonable price.
Why is the lathe-cut record getting more popular these years?
Vinyl record sales continue to grow each year. Pressing plants are swamped with high-demand commercial projects. Even with higher prices, revenues from short-term vinyl records hardly offset production costs. The minimum order from the pressing plant is usually more than the average band sells. This made it difficult for independent artists to make vinyl releases.
Lathe cut vinyl makes it possible for any recording artist to produce a high-quality custom vinyl record. The record, including the label and cover, can be made in a single day. All media files are first analyzed and processed. The bespoke record label and The custom vinyl jacket are printed and assembled. Your audio is cut onto the vinyl. Finally, the record is packaged and ready for dispatch.
The vinyl manufacturing chain is divided into many small parts. It is complex and requires a lot of manual work, both in the actual pressing plant and in other steps of production. Only two companies in the world produced lacquered master discs and the ruby needles that cut them. PVC pellets - the raw material used to produce records - were produced by only five companies. As the major record companies return to the format they once had a hand in destroying when the CD came along, they are now flooding the market with vinyl reissues.
While most consumers have abandoned CDs in favor of streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify, there are still a significant number of people who miss the days of holding something tangible in their hands. Even cassette tapes are making a comeback to some extent.
Thinking about making your own vinyl record? Check this out!