Composing Graphics: DIY DTP for Musicians


#10: Let’s Make Card Sleeves! Pt. 2

Greetings again, dahlings. Last month we tripped daintily through the numerous and varied stages of construction for making the standard card sleeve. This month, let’s see what we can do to make them better.


Making one card sleeve is an exercise in arts and crafts. Making a dozen or more is an assembly line operation. Here are some ways to speed things up when you’re banging out a whole flock of these li’l cookies.

Cutting: A standard paper chopper is the preferred tool for pumping out precision cuts. You can choppertypically cut up to three sheets at once without losing registration. But beware: printers are not equally consistent in how they lay ink on paper. Inkjets, while slow as mollusk death, can be quite precise in their impression placement. Laser printers, on the other hand, tend to flop all over the place, especially when they live in copy stores and are subjected to any number of unknown print jobs and/or operators. It’s therefore vital to have plenty of slack in your layout, enough to allow a good 16th inch of inaccuracy without undue distortion of the overall effect. Otherwise, you’ll be cutting your cases one at a time with a straight edge and razor knife — and cursing the designer all the while.

Design features to avoid: type all the way to the edge of the finished case, tightly-balanced layouts that get lopsided too easily, and any and every form of decorative border, not matter how quaint, that extends along more than two sides.


Bad Designs. Bad! No Publish!

Design features to accent: empty space, asymmetry


Barely Tolerable Design

A good feature to look for when shopping for a chopper is an adjustable horizontal fence (see above), which allows you to make repeated cuts at the same measurement without constantly squinting to find the right gradient.

If necessary, you can build up layers of tape to form a fence, which also allows you to make repeated angle cuts. For cutting the tabs off sleeves, you can build up tape to form a vertical fence to stop the blade.

Pasting: The glue stick opens a brave new world in paper construction — it’s clean, contained, easily applied, grabs fast (if you use the right brand, that is. I like Avery myself, and I avoid anything with a cow on it like the plague) and washes out of your clothes if you’re the sleeve-wiping type. The smaller 3/4” diameter sticks are the perfect size for gluing tabs on sleeves. The trick is to not flatten your tabs too hard when you first fold them, and find a nice compromise touch when applying the paste — too gentle and not enough product goes on, too hard and it goes everywhere. Just right balances the springiness of the gently-broken fold with the right pressure for application, doesn’t leave paste on your work surface, and the cover goes together tightly but not messily. Two strokes on each folded tab is generally sufficient, but one may leave you with dry joins that have to be reglued.

Overflap Sleeve

You’re not stuck with an open-ended pocket when you make sleeves. You can add an overflap, which gives you two more panels of info and design, as well as protecting your CD from the dread dropout.

Overflap—Layout & Printing: The overflap sleeve is laid out similarly to the regular sleeve,


Sleeve w/ Flap Template 1 (Right Click to Download)

with the addition of two more imprints, one for the inside flap


Sleeve w/ Flap Template 2 (Right Click To Download)

and one for an additional pocket panel pasted inside the cover.


Sleeve w/ Flap Template 3 (Right Click to Download)

The inside flap gets printed directly on the back of the outside print, while the pocket panel goes on a separate sheet. It can be laid out  “two up” on a single sheet to save paper.

The pocket panel is finish-sized rather strictly at 4 13/16” square, 1/16” less than the finish size of the sleeve. This gives you enough wiggle room to insure the panel doesn’t stick out past the edge of the sleeve after it’s pasted in.

Overflap—Cutting & Pasting: Cutting the overflap sleeve is similar to cutting the regular card sleeve, with two vital exceptions: there are three tabs, and they’re constructed on the back of the sleeve.

Construction begins similarly to the regular sleeve: trim lengthwise to 5 7/8″, then fold the paper in half along the vertical fold line. Open the sleeve, trim the front panel only crosswise to 4 7/8″ off the fold line. Then cut the tabs: trim the edges of the front by 1/2″ on top and bottom, edge to fold.


Close the sleeve, cut the flaps off diagonally, then cut the diagonals for the back tab.


Fold the tabs: fold the three tabs over the front of the case, using it as a guide.


Glue: open the case, spread paste on the tabs, align and press on the pocket panel.


Let dry before closing. You’re done!

Next month: Jewel Box Follies Pt. 1: On the Cover


Thaddeus Spae is a musician, recording engineer and award-winning songwriter. He also owns and operates Dash Design & Disc , a small-but-doughty graphic design and short-run CD/DVD manufacturing service based in Seattle WA

Editor note: if you don’t feel like doing these for yourself, do check in with Thaddeus–he can do them for you.

this is one of two that go together. the other is Composing Graphics #32


Composing Graphics #32: Card Case With Flap Grows A Spine


Composing Graphics #32: Card Case With Flap Grows A Spine

The standard CD jewel case is an object of almost repulsive ostentation, an injection-molded puzzle-box tribute to the alleged preciousness of its contents. And back in the Reagan-encrusted 80s it’s just possible that that ostentation was justifiable, given the edge-of-the-precipice high tech that the compact disk represented at the time as well as the usurious investment required of the consumer.

But times, y’know, they change, and here in the present the CD no longer represents either the elite chic or consumptive cachet it once held. No longer the grail of the hi-fi set, it’s now the accepted standard, as common and comfortable as milk and just as likely to be packed in paper. Card cases have become the norm for many short-run and short-length releases. But one bastion of the industry has resented and rejected them: the DJs and program managers at radio stations. And with good reason: the standard CD sleeve has no end title to make it locatable in a standard CD rack.

We’ve written here before on the utility of card cases for CDs and on their construction. Composing Graphics #9 offered a tutorial on the basic card case, while #10 provided the customized version with an overflap. Thanks to recent research and innovation at the Chickadee Glen Home For Wayward Greyhounds And Practical Origami Development Center, we’re finally able to remedy the lamentable lack of spine in previous design releases.

Of course, the makers of ordinary commercial card sleeve CDs end-run this problem by using heftier weight card stock. They can get away with this because they use genuine offset presses which only become remotely cost effective in runs of multiple hundreds. For the homeguy or gal wanting to bang out a dozen at the local Kinko’s, the choice of stock weight ends up a lot lighter in the loafers. In order for it to support an end title, we’ll include the extra thickness of an overflap.

The form looks like this:



As previously, the layout for this li’l beauty goes on a standard 8 ½” x 11” sheet:


Card Case With Spine Outside (Left-click to download)

With an inside layout on the back:


Card Case With Spine Inside (Left-click to download)

Plus the prerequisite paste-on panels.

Construction is similar to the ordinary overflap sleeve with the addition of the extra fold for the spine. You’ll find the guide lines invaluable for lining up the folds.  Check out CG #10 for details.

Next Month: #34– Paper or Plastic?


Thaddeus Spae is a Seattle-based musician, audio producer and award-winning songwriter. He also owns and operates Dash Design & Disc , a small-but-doughty graphic design and short-run CD/DVD manufacturing service.


this is one of two that go together. the other is Composing Graphics #10