Jun 13, 2007

EK Success Curvey Cutter - Everything you wanted to know and more...

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)

BasicGrey Precision Cutting Mat - Must Have!!

"Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything!" The quote on the mat says it all.

Items of note -

1 - Fast AND accurate depends largely on the person behind the craft knife.

2 - This is not your mama's cutting mat

3 - Storage can be a challenge

4 - Lots and lots and lots of markings make for one happy cutter.

5 - I need two so I can build double page layouts.

All that said, this is a really great cutting mat that should find it's way into your Scrapping Essentials Pile.

If you haven't seen, held, fondled or otherwise had a face to face meeting with this mat, let me give you the low down. The mat is a 15"x15" self-healing mat with a sheet of metal sandwiched between the front and back. This gives the mat some extra weight, but it also keeps it from wandering around my work surface when I'm trying to do some delicate cuts. The accomanying ruler is 18" long, metal with a magnet strip down the back side. This gives the ruler a little bit of lift off the working surface. That can be cool, unless you're like me and can cut a curvey line even using a magnetic metal ruler. I had a couple of instances where I leaned the knife at just the wrong angle and it drifted off under the edge of the ruler.

As a cutting surface, the mat is excellent. The 1/8" markings around the edges made thin, precision cuts a breeze. Those magnet tie downs are great at tying down smaller pieces of cardstock that might try to head off on their own while you're cutting. The tie downs and ruler should not, however, be a substitute to paying attention to what you are doing with the craft knife! Those magents only hold the paper in place. The blade on your knife will happily wander all over the cutting mat (or at least veer off course) when you're trying for a precise cut. My not so spiffy retractable craft knife and I are not on the best of terms right now, but that's another review.

As a working surface, those little markings are great at getting items straight and lined up on the layout. The biggest downside to the mat? Well, the obvious...you can't use it as a cutting surface and a layout building surface at the same time. My solution to the delima was to use the mat as a work surface. My layout is stretched out on the coffee table beside me while I work on cutting, punching holes and anything where I'm concerned about my work surface. I do primarily double page layouts, so using the mat to build my layouts really wasn't feasible anyway.

For those of you that want to use it for building layouts I have two things to recommend -

- Pick up a package of the Magnetic Tack Refills. That will give you an extra 10 tie downs and more flexibility.

- Get all your cutting out of the way before you start building your layout

The only other downside I have to this mat is the size. It won't fit into any of my traditional storage areas. Since I'm using it almost constantly as a work surface, this is a fairly minor delima. The mat does have a hole in one corner (as does the ruler). My handy husband has offered to install a hook near my workspace to I can just hang the mat on the wall within easy reach. Storage delima resolved. Perhaps BG should include a cuphook in the packaging?

Much worse, in my book, the mat doesn't fit into my cropping bag! As I generally crop outside the home at least once a month, this is a bit of an issue. So, while it's going to be a staple in my home cropping space, it's not going to be doing any traveling. I would love to see BasicGrey follow up on this with a smaller "travel" size mat, maybe one marked for 8x8 layouts with a nice magnetic 12" ruler?

Now if I could just find a really great craft knife to go with it...

(NOTE - this review was originally posted on Create My Keepsake on 1/11/2007)

Making Memories Grommet Tool in Review

One of my favorite new "toys" is the lovely new Making Memories Grommet Tool.

Items of note -

1 - You're going to need a hammer.

2 - You're going to need a good solid surface.

3 - The MM hammer is cute, but locate a large "real" hammer

4 - This is not a silent tool!

5 - I always feel the need to make curtains when I pull out the kit.

All that said, I love the tool and the effect I get when I use it. I give it four out of five stars. Not necessarily a must have, but definitely high on the list of darned cool.

After my Cricut instructions episode, I made sure to take the brief moments it required to review the very limited instructions on this piece of hardware. Limited might actually be over stating it. There were just a couple of bullet points on the package, pretty much what I've come to expect from Making Memories in the way of instructions.

At $20, I feel like I reasonably got my monies worth. It comes in the standard MM tin, of which, I now have a small hoard. They cute, but what I'd really like from them is a nice toolbox. This handy dandy little tin includes:

o 2 anywhere hole punches (1" and 1½")
o 2 setting handles (1 large and 1 small)
o double-sided setting base
o self-healing mat
o storage tin and 12 grommets (6 large and 6 small)
o Tool designed for small and large grommet setting

What this kit does not include is a hammer. I haven't used my MM hammer since I got my MM Instant Setter a couple of years ago. After a mighty quest, hunting for the mystical MM Hammer of Doom, I finally located my old MM tool kit under a suspicious pile of patterned paper that I distinctly do not remember buying. It did provide a lovely 15 minute distraction as I thumbed through all the paper, though.

Once I settled back down to go at it the setter, I was back in business. I was back in business for less than five minutes. While the little MM Hammer is cute and takes up relatively little space in my scrap hoard, it is largely ineffective with the Grommet hole punches. It works moderately okay with the smaller of the two hole punches, but I soon went hunting up the large household hammer to have a go at the larger of the hole punches. I had some technical difficulties with the large hole punch and after a mail to MM, it was suggested that a VERY solid surface (they recommend concrete) is the best for using the hole cutters. Apparently, everyone needs a good concrete slab in their cropping space. As I'm still having some difficulties getting that punch to cut, even after trying it on my back patio, my punch is probably just dull. I contacted MM again and they're going to replace it. I ended up finishing my holes with an xacto knife.

Once I actually got to setting the grommets, things went much smoother. The setting plate is two sided. I didn't notice this initally, but once I figured it out, setting the large grommets went MUCH better. I discovered that I got the best results when I gave the setting tool a couple of solid whacks with the MM hammer, they take a much lighter touch than the hole punches, then finishing the set with a few light taps on the various prongs.

The tool actually creates a very nice peek-a-boo window effect nicely framed by the grommets. I know I will use this to frame out small images on a page. After I got the tool figured out, the actual cutting and setting of grommets went very quickly. It did take me back to the early days of eyelets, when we happily whacked away at them without any regard to sleeping babies. I had to wait until Linsey was up and about and playing before I could break out the tool.

The biggest down side to this tool I have discovered so far is storage. I did not need yet another MM tin sitting on my shelf. Not to mention that this tin is exactly the same size as the Instant Setter tin, although, when fully loaded it does weigh a bit more. I've still manage to grab the wrong tin several times. I finally broke out the labeler and fixed the problem. The other storage issue is the grommets. The package came with a small selection and I bought several other packages. These are in very plain packaging that does not lend itself well to storage. I ended up opening all the grommets and dumming them in a baby food jar for lack of better place to put them.

Currently the color and style selection on the grommets is fairly limited. We had the same thing with eyelets in the beginning, so it's just a matter of the tool catching on before we see a wider variety of styles. Personally, I want snowflakes. Big honkin' grommet snowflakes. On the up side, the grommets do have a nice clean finish that takes paint and ink very well. They can also be sanded to give a more rustic look.

I think the biggest problem this lovely little tool will have is pricing. At $20, the actual took kit was not a bad deal. I've seen large anywhere punches in tool stores and they aren't cheap. They also don't look near as nice or user friendly as the ones in this kit. The grommets, though, are where people will be inclined to pass, or at least find a good coupon. They're packed 12 to a pack with 6 large and 6 small on the circles or 6 each of 2 different color flowers for $4. That can add up pretty quickly.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my purchase. I'm still looking for an acceptable storage solution for those grommets, but acceptable storage is an ongoing mission of mine.

(Note - Originally posted on Create My Keepsake on 12/20/2006)

Full Blown Cricut Review

Linsey was an angel last night and happily played in her baby demilitarized zone (ie. the jumbo play pen) while I got down to business with the Cricut. I had Survivor on the TV, Itsy Bitsy Spider going in the pen and the Cricut on the coffee table humming away.

Okay, notes first -

1 - Wait until commercials to push CUT. Otherwise, the bug will flat drown out Jeff and you'll miss something important. Thank you Dish Network DVR!!!

2 - The manual may look thick, but it's got lots of languages, so reading it takes no time at all! It's super easy to follow and understand. (don't do as I did, take time to read it!)

3 - The cutting mat is uber sticky. I mean UBER sticky.

4 - 6x12 paper may sound like a good idea, but scraps work fabulously with less waste.

All that said, I am so in love with this tool! Definitely five star. I can't wait to get my new cartridges.

After breezing through the instruction manual, I discovered there are three settings that help you get a great cut. The blade housing has kind of a depth setting on it. I found that a 3 on the blade cut both patterned paper and cardstock very nicely. I fiddled with speed and pressure settings as I sampled various papers. Mostly a thin patterned paper and a smooth 80lb cardstock I got from Stampin' Up! It seemed to me that these adjustments are some personal taste and some technical functionality. I think that I'll get a feel for what is needed on what sorts of stock as I use the bug. For reference, I used a speed of 2 and a pressure of 5 on the cardstock.

After playing last night, I must say that at least 2 mats are essential or you are going to spend half your time unload and loading paper onto the mat. Did I mention that it's oh my gosh sticky??? It's so sticky that when I pulled the patterned paper off, it curled. Yeah, that sticky. I can see that over time it will lose that stickiness (which is the main reason to replace the mat), but for initial use, it's got almost too much grab. As for having two, I was cuting letters and shadows out of different colored cardstock. A little foreplaning on that with two mats, I can load the paper on both, cut the first, set it to shadow, load the paper and cut the second, setting both with the finished cuts aside while I work on my layout. Sadly, the machine only comes with one mat, so pick up a pack when you buy the machine.

There is a Cricut tool kit out on the market. While it isn't essential, I can see where it would be helpful. It has moved up to near the top of my Christmas wish list. You can definitely manage without it. I used my Creative Memories multitool and that helped get the letters off the mat (like I said, UBER sticky!) without tearing them up. I tore the patterned paper ones the first go. I used my pampered chef stone scraper to get left over bits off the mat. I have a set of Stanley picks I stole from my husband's tool box (Shhhh! he doesn't know! :) He had three, he won't miss one set, right?) to poke out holes and whatnot. This worked, but after two hours straight of playing with the bug, I wanted that toolkit.

The Cricut comes with George/Basic shapes. It's a nice multifunctional cartridge...that I am totally bored with already. First, it's a unicase font, only upper case letters available. I'm a title case type of girl, so I'm craving lower case letters. Second, the shapes are basic, thus the name. :) There's a couple of styles of tags, two flowers and then a set of squares, circles, triangles and various polygons. Once I had run through them, I was itching for variety. I didn't order a shapes cartridge, but having played with the basics, there are now a couple on my Christmas list. The set it and forget it mentality of this machine already has me wanting to do shaped die cuts, which I haven't done much of in the past.

My favorite thing about this little bug is the "shadows" feature. I have oodles of alphas for my Quickutz (like 12 I think), but not a shadow in the bunch because I'm not willing to pay the full amount of the alpha cost over again to get the shadows to go with it. No extra cost here. Just push a button, type in the letters, press cut. Voila! Bliss. I now have "LINSEY" with shadows in 6 sizes. That feature alone has me sold! See the note above about mats though. If you even think you might do lots of shadows with your lettering, get those extra mats. Or if you're going to do a shapes cartridge, so many of those are layered with different colors!

My last comments are on paper. I started out slicing 6x12s, since that's the size the mat would hold. Within 15 minutes, I had grabbed my box of scrap cardstock and was using it. It takes a little thought, but even small scraps work. The mat is printed with a rulered grid, so you can see the sizing. If you're going to cut 2" letters, you want to make sure you've got a good 2" plus a bit strip of cardstock/paper to work with on the mat. I did 2 1/2" strip with no problem cutting 2" letters. It's also a piece of cake to position the blade at a different location on the mat to use up bits of paper you have left over and to really get the use out of the whole cutting surface on the mat.

Now I've been an avid Quickutz advocate for five years. I haven't been so impressed with their releases this year, which is one of the reasons the Cricut caught my eye. Don't get me wrong, I love my dies, but I can already tell that about half my alphabets are likely to appear on eBay in the very near future. There is just something to be said for being able to type in your word or phrase, push cut and walk away.

(NOTE - review originally posted on Create My Keepsake on 11/10/2006)

Jun 12, 2007

Bad Blogger

I am a bad blogger. I'm going to come right out front and say it now, before you get a chance to get attached to my blog. I'm inconsistent. I'll post every day for a couple of weeks and then nothing for weeks on end. Actually, I can't imagine posting daily, so just check on a weekly basis. If I get excited one week and post more than once, it won't take you long to get caught up. I'm not making any promises though. Not on the posting front anyway.

I will promise, however, to be completely honest when it comes to my reviews. If I love it, I'll rave about it. I love many tools, so that happens more often than not. Loving a tool doesn't mean it's something you've gotta have, though. Some tools/supplies are just flat subjective. I'll do my level best to give you the facts on those and let you make your own decisions. On the other hand, If I really hate a tool, I'll tell you in awesome graphic detail why I hated it. If you still feel compelled to buy it afterwards and give it a try for yourself, not my problem. I'll happily come along and tell you "I told you so" afterwards if you need it.