what does it mean to cut a record

What Does It Mean To Cut A Record?

Cutting a record refers to the process of creating the grooves on a vinyl disc that store the audio information – in short, it means to make a vinyl record. These grooves are what the stylus (needle) of a record player reads to reproduce sound. The process can be done either through lathe-cutting or pressing, and involves several steps:

Mastering the Audio

Before cutting can begin, the audio needs to be mastered specifically for your custom vinyl pressing. Mastering for vinyl involves making adjustments to the audio to ensure it translates well to the physical medium of a vinyl record. This can include equalization to prevent excessive bass, which can cause the needle to skip, and limiting to ensure the audio doesn't distort when played back.

The Cutting Process

In the cutting process for pressed vinyl, a master disc, also known as a lacquer, is created. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Lacquer Preparation: A blank lacquer disc, usually made of aluminum coated with a layer of lacquer, is placed on a turntable.
  2. Cutting Lathe: A cutting lathe is used to carve the audio grooves into the lacquer. This lathe is equipped with a cutting head that holds a stylus, usually made from sapphire or diamond, which vibrates in response to the audio signal.
  3. Groove Formation: As the turntable spins the lacquer, the cutting head moves across the surface. The vibrating stylus carves grooves into the lacquer, modulating the groove’s depth and width based on the audio signal. These grooves contain all the information needed to reproduce the sound when played back.
  4. Continuous Process: This process is continuous and happens in real-time as the audio signal is fed to the cutting lathe. The entire side of a record is cut in one go, ensuring a seamless transition between tracks.

Types of Record Cutting

There are two main types of record cutting:

  1. Lathe-Cutting: This method involves cutting individual records directly onto blank discs, often done for small runs or unique, custom records. Each record is cut one at a time, which allows for high levels of customization but can be more time-consuming and may not achieve the same fidelity as pressed records. This is the best way to make your own vinyl record if you only need one or a few copies, and here at Freestyle Vinyl we have specialized in creating custom, lathe-cut records for over 30,000 customers over the past decade!
  2. Pressing: For larger production runs, the lacquer master created during the cutting process is used to make metal stampers. These stampers are then used in a pressing plant to mass-produce records. This method is more efficient for large quantities and typically produces records with more consistent quality.

Final Steps

After the grooves are cut into the lacquer, the lacquer master undergoes several additional steps if it’s being used for pressing records:

  1. Electroplating: The lacquer is electroplated to create a metal negative, known as the father, which can be used to create multiple positive molds (mothers) and then multiple stampers.
  2. Pressing: These stampers are then used to press the grooves into vinyl pellets that are heated and molded into the final records.


Lathe-cutting vs Pressed Records

The primary difference between lathe-cutting and pressed records lies in the methods used to create the grooves that store the audio information. Here's a detailed comparison:



  • Individual Cutting: Each record is cut one at a time using a cutting lathe. A stylus (typically diamond or sapphire) vibrates in response to an audio signal, carving grooves directly into a blank vinyl disc or other suitable materials like polycarbonate.
  • Real-Time Creation: The audio is played in real-time as the lathe cuts the grooves into the disc.


  • Customization: Each record can be highly customized with unique track lists, special messages, and personalized artwork.
  • Small Runs: Ideal for producing small quantities, even a single copy, without the need for expensive setup processes.
  • Quick Turnaround: Generally faster to produce since there’s no need to create and prepare stampers.


  • Sound Quality: Often lower fidelity compared to pressed records. They may have more surface noise and inconsistencies because the process is manual and can vary from record to record.
  • Durability: Lathe-cut records, especially those made from materials other than traditional vinyl, might be less durable and prone to wear over time.
  • Cost per Unit: More expensive per unit when producing larger quantities compared to pressed records.

Pressed Records


  • Mastering: A lacquer master disc is created using a cutting lathe, similar to the initial step in lathe-cutting.
  • Electroplating: The lacquer master is electroplated to create a metal stamper (or multiple stampers).
  • Mass Production: Vinyl pellets are heated and pressed between stampers to form grooves. This allows for the production of hundreds or thousands of copies from the same stamper.


  • Sound Quality: Generally higher fidelity with more consistent sound quality across all copies. Pressed records have less surface noise and better durability.
  • Economies of Scale: Cost-effective for large runs. The initial setup cost is high, but the cost per unit decreases significantly with higher quantities.
  • Durability: Pressed records are made from high-quality vinyl, making them more durable and resistant to wear.


  • Setup Cost: High initial costs for creating stampers and setting up the pressing process make it impractical for small runs.
  • Turnaround Time: Typically takes longer to produce due to the complexity of the setup and the potential for bottlenecks in the pressing plant.
  • Less Customization: While still customizable in terms of artwork and labels, every copy in a pressing run will be identical.


Lathe-Cutting is best for small batches, unique custom records, and projects requiring high personalization. It’s suitable for independent artists, special editions, and personal gifts. Pressed Records are ideal for larger production runs due to their cost efficiency and superior sound quality. They are the standard choice for commercial releases and high-volume distribution.

In essence, the choice between lathe-cutting and pressing depends on the intended use, quantity, budget, and desired sound quality. Each method has its strengths and is suited to different needs within the vinyl production landscape.



Cutting a record means creating the physical grooves on a vinyl disc that will be used to play back audio. This process involves mastering the audio, using a cutting lathe to inscribe the grooves into a master disc, and, for large runs, creating metal stampers to press multiple copies. The precision and quality of the cutting process are crucial for the fidelity and overall sound quality of the final vinyl record.