Discus 3.12, by Magic Mouse
Posted: 16-Aug-2005

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Magic Mouse Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Mel Krewall Class: UTILITY

Overview
Discus from Magic Mouse Productions is a media label printing program that most people have been exposed to as a program bundled with Toast for many years in a limited version. When you upgrade from your Toast version or buy the standalone version you have the subject of this review, Discus 3.12. Discus will print just about any label you can think of and has an easy-to-understand interface that even your mom could probably use. It will make printing labels on your burned CDs or your iMovie/iDVD creations a snap.


Requirements

The Magic Mouse web page states that "Discus can run on almost any computer. Discus is ready to operate in one second when launched from the hard drive (on a 1 Ghz machine) and can even be operated completely from the CD with no installation necessary." This is a refreshing departure from many programs these days that continue to demand more resources that always seem to keep pace with the amazing speed of the hardware. Official specs are:

  • MacOS 8.6, 9, or OS X (any version including Tiger)
  • any PowerPC Processor
  • 200 Mhz CPU
  • 150 MB RAM available
  • 800 x 600 pixel display
  • 700 MB hard disk (optional)

The majority of the disk space is taken by the art that is an integral part of the program.

Basics
Discus prints labels for your media, and Discus does the job well. The program has a wide variety of labels that it will print: CD/DVD disks, CD Jewel case base and lid cards and folding inserts, 80mm CD and rounded and square business card CDs, Mini case lids and booklets, DVD/VHS wrap-around inserts, DVD insert cards, audio and video cassette labels, VHS spine labels and even business cards. After selecting your project, you have the choice of Canvas (background graphic), Paint, Photo, and Text. Each will let you add information or art to your label. Then comes Print, and Discus includes an impressive library of commercial stock label templates on which to print your label. It included Fellowes and Avery labels I had on hand, and dozens more, including brands I'd never heard of. You can also print your labels to plain paper (or photo paper) which comes in handy for DVD and CD insert cards and wrap-around inserts.


Choosing a template

In Use
After starting the program, a window is presented to select the label to print, called a project. After the selection the main user interface is presented. Magic Mouse divides the interface into 5 Aqua-like tabs.


Creating a Discus project

Canvas is the first tab and you can choose a background graphic to get started. There are literally hundreds of high quality choices for the background pictures. Unfortunately, I can rarely find one completely appropriate to my needs (making family DVD movies from home video and burning CDs). Since I find that some of the background graphics are too busy or obscure my text, I'm grateful that Discus allows a picture to be imported for use as a background.


Discus Canvas tab

The next interface tab is Paint. Even though Magic Mouse touts that the interface is Mac OS X-like, the paint icons remind me of colorized versions of the original MacPaint. The interface widgets are also not native from OS X, but built into Discus. I'm sure that was easier than rewriting the program to call the OS X widgets, but the Mac OS no longer uses the style of tabs in Discus. A really good example of a program that uses Mac OS X's interface technologies and look is Delicious Monster's Delicious Library. To be fair, however, many more programs fall into the Discus end of the spectrum these days than the end at which we find Delicious Library.


Discus Paint tab

Although you can select the tabs in any order, the graphics, paint and text all stay in a fixed order: first the background graphic, then any painted effects, any photos you import, and finally the text. You have no option to change the layers or move one element backward or forward like is possible in Photoshop and many other programs. Paint presents you with the familiar paint elements, such as the brush, spray can, rubber stamp, paint bucket, line tool and more. There are quite a few pen sizes and patterns as well. The Paint and Text tabs present a wide spectrum of color choices as well.

Moving on to the Photo tab, as mentioned before, I'm pleased that Discus allows a Photo to be imported for use as a background. It is inconvenient, however that the layers cannot be rearranged. Any picture imported in the Photo layer will be placed on top of any Paint effects you have created, so you must take that into account when creating your label. The Photo layer is versatile in the many effects you can apply to the pictures, including options to crop, resize or stretch the picture, rotate or flip it, radius the corners, soften the edges so that it fades into the background, adjust lightness and opacity, and even invert the color.


Discus Photo tab

Next is the Text tab. Of course you can type text and change size, color, bold, italic, spacing, centering and justification, but Discus also has options for text in horizontal and vertical directions and four different curving styles. There are also standard outline and shadow effects, but Discus adds a Glow effect as well. You can move text backward and forward in relation to other text, but not other elements such as photos. If you don't want to type, the program claims to import tune lists from iTunes, Toast, Jam and Dragon Burn or another Discus project. Import from iTunes exported playlists and Toast playlists worked perfectly although I didn't have Jam or Dragon Burn to test with. This is a very useful feature.


Discus Text tab

Finally we come to Print, a place where the program really shines. The Print tab features almost 200 label templates in the CD/DVD project alone. If you can't find your label, I can't imagine where you're buying your media. Unfortunately, if you can't find your template, the program does not allow you to add it. Some programs I have used have a plug-in type template library that will allow a user to download new templates from the company's web site, but all templates are built into Discus. After selecting a template, you should print a test page. The test page will have an outline with a calibrated scale that you can place on top of your labels. You can then adjust the printing via four directional buttons in Discus to make sure the label is centered properly when it is printed on your particular machine. This is one area in which other label printing programs that I have used disappointed me. Most have no adjustments and you can easily end up with off-centered labels, which to me significantly diminishes the quality of the look on the CD. Additionally, Discus templates "bleed" over the edges, so you don't have to worry about slight paper misalignments in the printer. Discus makes it easy to adjust to your printer, and as a result you don't waste labels trying to print them right.


Discus Photo tab

While Discus is a great piece of software, there is room for improvement. Of its gigantic collection of art for CD labels, many of them I found uninteresting (e.g., bubbly ones). There are also a few functional limitations. For example, you can rotate text to any angle, but you can only rotate pictures by 90 degrees. Text rendering on the screen is poor quality, but thankfully the print quality is much better. For dual labels (2 labels per sheet), Discus did not provide a way to use two different artworks at the same time. You can turn off top or bottom printing and do them one at a time, but doing them at the same time would be much easier. While Discus does include graphics tools like stretch (which is really more of a "squish") and crop, there isn't a good way to resize images the way other graphics software does (such as Photoshop). Sound effects can really add ambience to a product, but the sound effects in Discus are mostly annoying; fortunately, they can easily be turned off.


First of many pages of Discus artwork

Overall, Discus has an easy-to-understand interface that anyone will find easy to master. The tabs walk you through the creation of a label step by step. Each label layer has many options that can be customized to make your label look exactly how you want it.

Summary

Discus is a very functional and stable piece of software for printing media labels. I have found it very useful when printing CD/DVD labels and DVD case wrap-around inserts. There are lots of paint and text features and photo import, but best of all is an excellent printing system, which seems to have virtually every label template there is. It includes an ingenious Test Print page that will make sure your printer is properly aligned to the label so that you won't waste time and money printing off-center labels. Because of the clever printer adjustment test sheet I didn't waste a single label. Although there are nits to pick with the interface and the lack of layer flexibility, the program never crashed or exhibited any bugs. It worked perfectly with my printer. I would recommend it to anyone who need s a versatile, reasonably priced label printing program. Discus will be a frequently used program in my library for a long time to come.


Pros

  • Wide variety of labels
  • Simple interface
  • Nearly every label paper template known
  • Import track names
  • Tons of art for labels
  • Clever printing adjustments

Cons

  • Functional and feature limitations
  • Could use an update Mac OS X-like interface
  • Templates cannot be added
  • A lot of the art is lackluster


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice