What is a picture disc vinyl? – History and Sound quality

2 mins read

There are many types of vinyl records. Especially with release variants from record distributors looking at attracting collectors wanting rarer / exclusive releases of their favourite new albums.

Along with standard releases you may come across picture discs. We explain what these are, their history of them as well as if they are worth buying.

Picture disc vinyl record explained

Simply put a picture disc is a vinyl record with a printer picture on the record itself i.e. rather than the standard black, or coloured vinyl you’re used to seeing it will have the album cover printed on the vinyl or a picture of the artist’s face.

History of the picture disc vinyl record

Picture discs date back to the early 1920s with a German company called Musika Postkarte Co along with Trusound of Great Britain, Sav-Way industries and RCA Victor Corporation both of the US also releasing early picture disc variants. Pre-1950s vinyl wasn’t the primary material used, so the variants were being printed on aluminium.

In the 1970s picture discs started to become a way of promoting new albums with special editions sometimes with runs as little as 100 would drop to purchase. An example of this was Toto who released only 100 copies of the picture disc version of Hydra.

In the late 1970s, several recording companies started to bring picture discs onto the commercial market in vast numbers. The most popular bands of the time including The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Meat Load and The Steve Miller Band soon started to see picture disc variants of their albums hitting the US and European markets.

As with the fall of vinyl in the 80s and 90s picture discs became less common.

With the increase in production as well as new bands pushing versions of their albums on vinyl at shows, independent record companies have started to add picture discs back to their variants to help increase sales as well as give collectors rarer versions of their favourite bands’ albums.

Can you play picture disc vinyl? 

Picture discs are of course playable on record players. If you are looking to keep the quality of the picture disc intact it may be worthwhile investing in a second version of the album with the picture disc used as a collector item only.

Do picture disc vinyl records sound worse?

It won’t be noticeably different although unlike an original pressing you may notice some differences in the sound quality.

Most people won’t be able to hear the difference between the variants – If you have higher quality audio equipment you may be able to hear the highs and lows aren’t as sharp.  

Should you play your picture disc vinyl records?

Vinyl’s are made to be played – We encourage you to always play your records. If you are going to be using a picture disc as a heavy-use album then it may be recommended to pick up a second version on the original disc – i.e. so you have a version you play most of the time and a version you get out for special occasions. If you’re anything like me then you’re looking at keeping your collection long-term and won’t want to look back in 30 years to think I wish I hadn’t of played that album as much.

Should I avoid picture discs vinyl records?

All variants shouldn’t be avoided. It comes down to personal preference and taste In terms of what goes into your collection.

New artists and albums may have a few different variations of an album, so shop around to find the one that you like the most.

Most importantly it’s what you like, if you like the look and want to have a potentially rarer version of a record then it’s worth the investment and you’ll love your picture disc vinyl record.

Music enthusiast with a love for vinyl, gigs and festivals. Here to educate, review, discuss and share the love of music and vinyl records for the next generation.

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