Before you get overly amped-up about the variety of aesthetic awesomeness that makes up the vinyl record specturm, you might want to take a few practical things into consideration when it comes to determining “what” your records look like. There’s really four ways that vinyl can “look”…
- Traditional black
- Coloured vinyl (which includes solid colours and crazy split or marble combinations)
- Picture discs
- Shaped vinyl (which can also be black, coloured, or a picture disc)
Black records are the traditional way to get vinyl pressed. When people think of a vinyl album, they usually imagine a black disc. It’s black because it contains carbon black (no… not that stuff that you scrape off of a barbecue grill). Carbon black is a raw commodity. It’s used in car tires and is applied as a black pigment. It also adds an element of durability. Black records hold up way better as time passes and that’s why most records are done this way. If you’re counting on your vinyl being passed on to future generations or if it’s sitting as a catalogue piece in your collection or at a radio station it’s your best bet.
Pressing coloured vinyl really makes your records pop. Whether it’s a single solid colour or a mixture of a few colours, pigment is poured into the PVC mix to achieve the final look. Coloured vinyl doesn’t have thickness limitations and don’t sound better or worse than black records, but they do lack the long-term durability of black vinyl.
Picture discs are exactly what they sound like. There’s an image embedded right into the record which can be a photo or custom artwork, and they end result is really impressive. Most people can’t even believe they can play them on their turntables. The crappy thing about them is that they don’t last very long. Picture discs incorporate a piece of paper sandwiched between thin vinyl sheets. You didn’t think someone custom painted each one of them, did you? As a result, the grooves aren’t cut very deep. Sound quality can suffer as a result of this and if durability is a major factor, this is one of those situations where they look a lot better than they last and (in most cases) sound. On the flip side, when someone takes one these babies out of a jacket or gatefold, they’ll go bananas.
Shaped discs are the most visually impressive way to manufacture your records. They can be picture discs, coloured wax, or black. They’re cut in circular-ish shapes for that added “wow” factor. They tend to be very thick. They look cool, but again, durability-wise don’t count on endless spins with shaped records. Edges break off and they can crack. It doesn’t bode well if you’re counting on your records lasting and don’t have them hermetically sealed and vaulted. They don’t hold up to the regular handling that regular circular records go through, but they look fantastic in a frame on a wall as a collector’s piece.