Are you curious about how vinyl records are manufactured? Undoubtedly, vinyls are stunningly beautiful, and aficionados will tell you the feeling of handling a record is simply electrifying. It is no wonder music lovers are interested in how vinyl records are made.
The process of making vinyl records is fascinating and a tad complex, but we can all attest to the magical by-product of this process: smooth, tactile, and gorgeous discs that have made their mark in history.
If you are eager to find out: ‘how are vinyl records made?’ you have come to the right place. This article will take you through a step-by-step explainer of the vinyl record-making process. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Step-By-Step Guide On How Vinyl Records Are Made
Vinyl record-making involves using specialized machines and materials, which are typically not available to the layperson. Below are the steps involved in making vinyl records:
Step 1: Optimizing The Music Tracks for Vinyl
Before sound engineers can transfer music frequencies to the plastic vinyls, they must prepare the music brought to them in a digital file format.
Preparation for vinyl pressing entails adding level and limiting, sequencing the tracks to place the loudest one close to the beginning of each side of the vinyl, splitting the tracks, equalizing, setting the rotation speed, and adjusting many other variables to optimize the tracks.
Step 2: Producing The Master Disc
The master discs are the first step to converting digital music files into tangible vinyl records. The discs’ core is made from aluminum; they are first sanded down to eliminate abrasions and minute debris on the surface.
Achieving a flawless, smooth finish at every stage of the process is crucial to produce high-quality, commercially viable vinyl records.
Next, the discs are placed on a conveyor belt to be coated with lacquer, also known as nitrocellulose or nitro. The discs are left to dry, where the lacquer settles on the surface and forms a thick coating.
The master discs are thoroughly inspected to identify flaws. It is common for many of the initial master discs to fail the inspection, with only a few allowed to move on to the next stage. For the master discs that pass inspection, the engineers punch a hole in the center as the final step.
The master discs are then packed in a spindle, with each disc separated from the other using metallic strips. These strips protect the lacquer surface against scratches and abrasions.
Step 3: Imprinting The Digital Files To The Master Disc
Once the master disc is ready, the next step entails recording music on it. A master disc is placed on a lathe cutting machine, and the metallic strip protecting the disc’s surface is removed.
Imprinting of digital files entails cutting grooves on the surface of the master disc. Anyone who has handled a vinyl record will be familiar with these grooves.
The lathe cutting machine features a microscope and a heavy, sapphire-tipped stylus that cuts the grooves. The engineer brings the stylus and microscope to the outermost edge of the disc for a test cut.
If the test cut is satisfactory, the engineer will continue to cut the first groove and the next one after that, starting from the disc’s edge to the center hole. A vacuum stick placed through the hole on the disc cleans the debris produced from cutting the grooves.
As is customary, the engineer will inspect the cut master disc for any flaws before moving on to the next step. At the end of this process, the engineer etches a unique identifying serial number on the disc’s inner edge.
Step 4: Producing The Stamper
With the digital files imprinted on the master disc, the next step is the creation of the stamper. As the name suggests, the stamper is the disc the engineer will use to stamp the grooves from the master disc onto the vinyl records that will later be distributed for commercial purposes.
First, the master disc is washed and sprayed with liquid silver. The excess silver is washed away, and tin chloride is sprayed on top to harden the master disc before putting it through the electroplating process.
During electroplating, the master disc is dipped into a tank full of nickel. An electronic charge is passed over the disc to bind the dissolved nickel to the surface of the silver-coated metal disc.
The engineer will trim any extra metal and make a hole in the center of the stamper, similar to the master disc.
Before pressing the records, the paper labels that will go on the vinyl surface must be prepared. The labels are cut into circles, and the center hole is created, ready to be pressed on the vinyl.
Step 5: Pressing The Records
This next step is where the actual making of the vinyl records starts. First, polyvinyl chloride pellets are fed into a hopper, which transports the solids to an extruder, shaping them into small circular discs, known as vinyl biscuits.
The vinyl biscuits are held in place as a series of machines install labels above and below each biscuit. The vinyl biscuits are heated with steam at a temperature of 148 OC and pressed down using a presser weighing more than 1,000 square foot pounds per square inch. The stampers are used to imprint grooves onto the vinyl biscuits.
The resulting vinyl is trimmed to remove excess material along the edges. It is then cooled and stored for curing. Vinyls need enough time to cool to avoid warping, which can affect the record’s sound quality.
Usually, manufacturers will first produce a few vinyl records for a certain album before producing hundreds of thousands or millions of copies. These initial records are known as test pressings, and record companies and musicians use them to check the sound quality before mass-producing the records.
Full production of vinyl records for commercial use can begin once the test pressings qualify inspection. The manufacturer will follow the same process to produce a larger number of vinyl records.
Step 6: Quality Control
The process of creating vinyl records leaves no room for error. Quality control is taken very seriously, and a series of inspections take place before a production run is completed.
The failure rate after each round of inspection is so high; the engineer has to start the process with tonnes of master discs to compensate for the loss. It is common for 10 to 30% of the total records to fail inspection in any given production run.
Records that do not make it to the final run are recycled and combined with fresh PVC pallets to create new records.
Step 7: Making Covers and Artwork
As the records are produced, the jackets are being made. Just as the vinyls must come out perfectly, so must the jackets. The artwork on vinyl records is a major selling point, and a lot of time and effort is put into creating artwork and jackets that will get fans talking for a long time.
The artwork, cover design, and print all depend on an artist’s budget. It is typical for indie vinyl record covers to be designed using digital printing, which delivers a high color quality and is not as expensive if you only produce a few records. It is common for artists to opt for offset printing when producing a huge number of records.
An automated machine is used to die-cut cards into sleeves according to the required shape. The sleeves are then folded and sealed around the edges to create a jacket where the vinyl record is inserted.
Summary: How Are Vinyl Records Made?
The turntable and vinyl records are, undoubtedly, fascinating pieces of technology. And, as you can see, the process of making vinyl records is equally intriguing.
Of course, this is not a process you would be able to try at home; record-making requires large specialized machinery. But, learning how vinyl records are made will renew your appreciation of these melodic discs that never seem to go out of fashion.