Looking for a way to label your multitude of CDs and DVDs neatly and efficiently? Hewlett-Packard has come up with an elegant answer: Use the same laser that already burned the data to make a label on the flip side of the disc.

A technology dubbed LightScribe enables drives to burn a silk screen-like, high-contrast label on the upper side of CD or DVD media bearing a special coating. After completing a data burn, users will be prompted to flip the disc over to burn a label onto the other side.

The first LightScribe drives and media are expected to hit the market about six months from now, from leading manufacturers such as Hitachi, MicroVision, Mitsubishi, Moser Baer, Sonic Solutions, and Toshiba. HP estimates that a drive that uses LightScribe will carry a premium of about $10 (around £5.50) over the going price today, and that a disc will cost a few pence more than today's discs.

"There are no consumables like ink or ink jet cartridges; the only consumable is the disc itself," says Daryl Anderson, project manager and HP engineer responsible for inventing the technology as part of a joint effort between HP's Imaging and Printing Group and its Personal Systems Group.

HP's technology differs from Yamaha's DiscT@2, introduced a year ago on the CRW-F1 CD-RW drive. DiscT@2 burns a label on the disc's underside, reducing the amount of data the disc can store; and the exposure of the data side renders it more easily scratched or scuffed.

HP notes that LightScribe is likely to show up eventually on such consumer electronics products as stereo-component CD recording decks and set-top DVD recorders.