Smile History: DiscLabel, Memories of an Icon

On June 12, 2018, Smile celebrates our 15th birthday. In this series we’re looking back at some of our history. Hope you enjoy!

It was early 2003. Greg and I had just decided to work together. Our first product started as a wisp of an idea from Greg that would require both of our skills to produce. We didn’t live in the same city, so Greg flew up to Portland, where I was at the time, for a planning session. Portland greeted Greg with typical Portland flare, it stormed most of the trip.

What followed in short order was DiscLabel, a way to simply and beautifully design CD and DVD labels, covers and packaging, ready for July’s Macworld 2003.

And we needed an icon.

The Icon

It was Mac OS X 10.2.8 days, the look tended to photorealistic and detailed, quite unlike other platforms. The biggest competitor to DiscLabel being the Sharpie pen, we decided an ironic icon (or is that iconic irony?) was the way to go: a pen drawing on a disc.

So, at Greg’s digs in Berkeley, we did a photo shoot to form the components of our icon: discs, sharpies, hands, hands holding sharpies. Lots of photos. Many angles. Greg’s hand still never has been photographed so much.

I had enough skills to use Photoshop as a blunt instrument at the time and somehow processed the photos enough to create the icon we shipped with. We dropped the hand fairly quickly in the process. It was too weird to see a disembodied hand floating about.

Looking back, the first icon seems fairly primitive, but then most of the icons from the time do, so we’re not alone in that. For later versions, we had the luxury of working with professional designers and you can see the icons for later versions gained both in sophistication and color to match the fashion of the OS at the time. Thank you Daniel and Mary. Thank you Jane for keeping our icons in the latest fashions.

Below are icons for DiscLabel v1, DiscLabel v3, and DiscLabel v6.

1st icon
2nd icon
3rd icon

The DiscLabel Story

July 2003, the last Macworld Expo in New York, we launched DiscLabel. It even won Best in Show.

Greg at the booth

Ah, the early days of our trade show career. We lugged a printer with us to our booth, we had to show the software could print!

DiscLabel later appeared on retail shelves, so our first product did come with a physical form as well as a downloadable form.

Once we started shipping a product for creating beautiful packaging, we got requests for design templates. That lead us to work with Jane of Allegro Design. She created some wonderful designs which we sold as an add-on for several versions, before just incorporating it into the product.

Software must always keep up with the times, and DiscLabel, being a product which interacts with other products, i.e. printers, had that as an additional challenge. I had to keep an eye on new printer hardwares, their drivers, new styles of printing. From paper labels, printers added new direct-to-disc printing slots, for those who didn’t want to get a label sticker wrapped about their fingers in the pursuit of a nicer label.

Some may remember LightScribe, a new and exciting way to laser etch your label. We created another pack of templates and designs for this since it was black and white only. Farewell LightScribe. It has since been discontinued, though I am proud to say DiscLabel itself managed to keep on for several years more.

Coming to the end

The last version of DiscLabel we shipped was in August 2012 for macOS Mountain Lion, and yet it still launches on High Sierra today. I suppose the lesson there is to use the tools Apple gives you to make apps, and not go crazy with custom.

DVDs and CDs just aren’t what they used to be. If I were to muse on the beginnings of the end, I might look to the iPod. Apple truly revolutionized how people interacted with their music, a thousand songs in your pocket! They started the iTunes Store and inspired a whole generation of children to shop for mp3s on Napster. Plus, people just don’t label thumb drives the same way they label CDs. Not sure why.

I suppose that’s enough musing for now.


Smile Founder
Former Professional Labeler, Original Booth Babe