If you have ever been in a record store or even a mall store that carries some vinyl you have likely already seen a picture disc vinyl. These are the vinyl records that have a picture directly on their playing surface. Mostly used as collector items they are usually pretty valuable in the long run depending on the amount pressed.
So what is a picture disc vinyl? A picture disc vinyl is a vinyl record that has an image directly on the playing surface. Picture disc records are made by placing a piece of artwork between the vinyl puck and a clear sheet of thin polyethylene foil vinyl on both sides. These are then heated and pressed together to form the picture disc vinyl.
The process of producing a picture disc vinyl is usually hand done and takes a considerable more amount of time to produce. Since they are handmade they usually cost more despite the fact they do not sound as good as their standard counterparts. Amazon has a great selection of picture disk vinyl. If you would like to learn how regular vinyl records are made we wrote a great article about how vinyl records are made.
Here is a list of example picture disc vinyl that we think look pretty cool.
- Phil Collins – Face Value
- Rage Against The Machine – Self Titled
- Journey (Soundtrack from the game)
- Stranger Things Soundtrack
As you can tell there are many cool designs available on picture discs, some are highly collectible. If you have kids you can even get some awesome Disney vinyl on picture disc vinyl which usually has the characters on them.
Can you play picture disc vinyl?
Yes, you can play a picture disc vinyl just like you can any record. There are no special settings to play them. You can just play them the same way you would your normal vinyl records. This does not necessarily mean that you should play them and since they usually do not sound as good as the standard black counterpart why would you?
We know that sometimes you still may be tempted to play them and here is the thing. That is ok. Play your vinyl. The good news is there are no picture disc vinyl police out there that are going to come to stop you and playing them a handful of times is not going to do any type of damage to them. They are still playable vinyl after all. We would just say if you are concerned with their value do not play them a lot.
Do Picture Disc Vinyl Records Sound Worse?
This topic is an age-old argument and it is true some records suffer from sound quality issues. Yes, they will almost always play or sound worse than their standard black vinyl counterparts. Due to the layers, there are several reasons they sonically do not sound as good.
Since the way they are made causes them to use a thinner black vinyl puck to accommodate the layers and you are only playing the thin clear foil layer on top you have all the issues a more thin record has and since there are layers there is more static build-up. These issues cause hollow sounds and static or popping surface noises. These are the reasons that most audiophiles and collectors put these more in the “collectible” category, not their actual listening collection.
We said it almost always sounds worse because this is not always the case. Picture disc vinyl does not always suck or sound worse than the standard black vinyl. It is always going to come down to how they were mastered, manufactured, and produced.
For the most part, they are not as capable of producing the best sound quality. So we will say it even though most people will not. This can sometimes be splitting hairs. There are so many different things that can affect the sound quality of any vinyl you are listening to and if you are on a budget or low-end set up you likely will not even notice a difference in a well produced and mastered picture disc and the same album on a standard vinyl record.
This is because if you are on say a portable turntable with built-in speakers then the speakers are not even capable of producing the proper dynamic range to hear the subtle differences. So if you want a picture disc vinyl and want to listen to it, then we say go for it with the understanding that it is not perfect.
Should you play your picture discs?
If you want to play your picture disc you can but be aware the more you play it the more the stylus of your turntable will eventually erode the clear layer of the image and start removing the image layer as well. Now, this would take a long time to accomplish but it is technically possible. That is why we say if you are concerned with its value more than its sound then just do not play it and go buy a standard black record of the same album to listen to.
You may decide it is not worth playing your picture disc vinyl simply because you already know they will not sound as good. At Vinyl Bro we like to buy a second copy of the standard black vinyl for any press that they are available just for listening along with either our picture disc vinyl or color pressed vinyl. This just ensures that we get the best of both worlds and honestly do we need an excuse to buy more vinyl? We don’t think so.
So, What Is A Picture Disc Vinyl? Should You Avoid Picture Discs? The Bottom Line.
A picture disc vinyl is a vinyl record that has an image directly on the playing surface. Since the playable surface is usually very thin the sound is usually not optimal. This does not mean that you should not listen to or collect picture disc vinyl just that they usually do not sound as good as the standard pressings. Either way, you will likely be happy with the purchase if your goal is to have a collector’s item.