Items of note -
1 - Yes, you need a glass mat.
2 - A little repositional adhesive goes a long way to retaining your sanity
3 - Yet another storage issue I didn't need
4 - Lots of sizes makes for great shapes and mats
5 - Are they cricular squares or squared circles? Perhaps they're squircles?
All that said, the cutters are really very nice and I give them a "good to have" for your tool box.
Let's talk packaging. In many respects EK really hit the nail on the head with this one. You can buy just the "shapes" you want/need. They are packaged in circles, ovals and a rounded square that I shall call a squircle because this is my review and I can do things like that. Whatever you call it, they're fairly fun. Of all the pieces, I would rate the squircle as the least necessary for your toolbox. Those are more of a neat, but not necessary.
If you cut circles at all, you should check these out. I rate the circles as a very good thing for your tools box, which is right up there under Must Have. If you're a fan of circles, then go ahead and push it right over to Must Have and get it over with. Ovals for the most part, fall between the circles and the squircles, running right at nice to have, but again, not necessary. Each shape comes with two templates. The ovals package comes with the cutting head, but no fears if you are not an oval person. You can buy just the cutting head assembly. EK Success states that you can get 24 Ovals, 22 Circles and 22 Squircles from the various shapes. I found that I could even get a few more cuts by running the cutting head around the outside of the templates. You can easily get an 11 3/4"ish circle using the outside of the circle templates and similar results with the other two shapes.
One of the best things about any of the templates is the ability to cut 1/8" gradiations, which means instant matting with no thinking in my book. As a small note, the ovals gradually change shape from a fairly pointed oval at the smallest point to a very smooth oval at the largest. At four points up the scale, when the shape changed, I ended up with a couple of curved slices rather than a clean mat. In those instances, you'll have to go up a notch and shoot for a wider mat.
One question I've seen on these cutters is whether or not you need the big 13x13 glass mat. Yes, you do. I tried using the cutters on both the glass mat and on a self healing mat. Don't even both to try the self healing mat, it was a disaster. Although, if you're going for a distressed look on your edges, you might just give it a go. For the most part, it's not worth the effort.
You can get away with using just a sheet of glass from the hardware store, but I would discourage that for one very big reason. Safety glass. The glass mat is tempered or "safety" glass. Which means if you drop that sucker on the concrete slab you've got hanging around for your grommet setting and it breaks, it's going to break into a zillion little bits, none of which will have sharp edges. Yes, it will be a pain to clean up, but it won't send you running to the emergency room because you've sliced your foot in half. The piece from the hardware store will break easier and will shatter into sharp nasty shards. Additionally, the lovely glass mat comes with smooth rounded edges (no slices here!) and a grid for lining up your projects. As an added bonus, if you've ever had the slightest interest in trying to hand cut your own lettering, you will have the perfect surface!
This brings to a close V's Glass Mat Safety lecture. We now return you to your regularly scheduled tool review. As a side note, this mat is also a great surface for painting. It cleans up well under hot running water with a sponge.
Now, the mat has little rubber "feet" to keep it from wandering around your work surface, as do the cutting templates. The feet on the templates work great as long as there is nothing between the feet and the glass. Put anything, like say a picture or the paper you want to use for a mat, between the template and the glass and it will move. I practically guarantee it will. This is easily remedied with some repositional adhesive. I like the Herma dots. Just a little dab in the corners of the paper or photos keeps it from wandering off while you're trying to cut.
One of the biggest positives and negatives to these templates is the center cutting guide. Unlike other systems that give you a clear cutting guide to lay over your pictures/papers to determine where to cut and then remove only to hope you might possibly get the cutting template into the same exact spot as the cutting guide, the EK guide just drops down into the center of the cutting templates. You lay the template and guide over your project, size everything out and then remove JUST the cutting guide. Everything else is still neatly in place. Unless you forgot the repositional adhesive and bumped it while you were removing the guide, there is no guesswork to getting your cuts just perfect.
The down side to this handy guide is that although they made the templates out of a reasonably sturdy plastic, the guides are flimsy and just beg to be trompled, cut, cracked or otherwise destroyed. And the little lifting handles are just cheap. I would have liked to something a little more substantial in such a key element to the system.
The actual cutting head is a dream to work with. The cutter works fabulously, slicing through paper and cardstock like buttah. The handle swivels, allowing you to get a clean cut in one smooth motion. No need to pause and change your grip as you go around the shape. Just drop the cutting head into the appropriate groove for the size you're wanting and cut. The blade assembly on the cutting head has four sizing adjustments. The cutting assembly snaps easily between these adjustments and once in place, doesn't move. The cutting head will cut either direction and the blades are replaceable. The cutting head comes with a spare replacement cutter, which neatly stores in the top of the handle.
Speaking of storage. My biggest complaint with this system is storage. It does not fit neatly into most of my storage containers. I've been looking at a small stack of 12x12 drawers, which will handle the templates, but unfortunately, not the glass cutting mat. I did find that they fit well in the Cropper Hopper vertical paper storage bins. They use up about 1/2 a bin for all the cutters and the mat, so I'm using the glass mat as a divider and filling the other half with cardstock.
Overall, the templates were well worth my money. They are versatile and easy to use, not to mention fun. With more and more products and tools coming out that are somewhat oversized, I hope we'll see some new storage options in the future to cope with that.
(NOTE - This review was originally posted on Create My Keepsake on 3/2/2007)