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General Interest
  

Choosing the correct die cutting machine.

So you wanna get serious about scrapbooking? A die cutting machine is a great way to expand your creative horizons. Depending on the model you choose, shapes can be cut that range from 0.25” in size up to 12”. Some dies will also cut shapes that can be folded into 3-dimensions to create bags, boxes and party décor. Add dimension to your project by using texturing or embossing dies. But, before you buy, be sure to do your homework. Not all machines are created equally. There are several questions that you will want to ask yourself in order to find the machine that is right for you. Below is a series of topics that will help you to choose the machine that is right for you. (Disclaimer: this is only my opinion about the products; others may not share the same view.)

I am most familiar with two brands: Quickutz and Sizzix. Therefore, I will only be discussing the items these two companies manufacture. Please be aware that there are many other wonderful companies out there that make comparable products. This document covers two main types of die cutting machines. The mechanical roller machines (Sizzix Sidekick, Sizzix Big Shot, Sizzix Big Shot Express, Sizzix Big Shot Pro, and Quickutz Epic 6), and the digital die cutter (Quickutz Silhouette SD).

 

How much are you willing to spend on a machine?

Be realistic when you answer this question. Sure, we would all like the biggest and the best. But not everyone can afford the biggest and best and not everyone needs the biggest and best. For a lot of us, the entry to mid level machines will do everything we need it to do (or everything we can afford it to do). I used a couple of shopping comparison sites to find price ranges of the machines this document will be comparing. You may want to take a pencil and circle the machines that fit into your price range and cross out the ones that you know you can’t afford. As you work through this worksheet, continue circling feature you don’t want to be without and crossing out the features that you don’t need (they just cost money that you could be spending on dies). You may see a pattern of circles and lines that can help you decide which machine is right for you.

Sizzix Sidekick                                    24.99 – 39.99
Sizzix Big Shot                                    64.99 – 99.99
Sizzix Big Shot Express                   99.99 – 169.99
Sizzix Big Shot Pro                            219.99 – 349.99

Quickutz Epic 6                                  59.99 – 89.99
Silhouette SD                                    
159.99 – 229.99

 

Where you planning on taking it anywhere?

I kind of went back and forth on how I would rank portability for the machines. There is more than just size and weight when it comes to portability. There is also the number of accessories needed to make the machine work, the size and weight of the dies, and if you need electricity to make it go. Again, if you see features that you like, circle them. If you see something that you don’t want, then cross it out. If you are not sure, just leave it and maybe a pattern will start showing up.

Sizzix Sidekick – This is probably the most portable machine (and least expensive). The advantages of this machine are its small size (5” tall) and light weight (2 lbs). Disadvantages of this machine are its small size and light weight. The size limits this machine in what it can do. It can only cut paper and cardstock and die size is limited. The opening to the machine is only about 3” wide. Therefore your shapes will be around 2.5” or smaller. But don’t be turned off by its small size, there are hundreds of shapes available that would be perfect for any occasion. Use individual shapes for smaller projects or combine some of Sizzix’s themed shapes together to make a larger project. Embellish your 12” pages with Decorative Strip dies that cut 12” borders quickly and easily (there are over 50 to choose from). Alphabet dies are also available with letters that range from 0.5” tall to about 2” tall. For the price you can do a lot with this little machine. This is a great value for paper crafting, I think this machine is perfect if you want super portability, flexibility, and inexpensive die cutting. The Sizzix Sidekick would also make a great second travel machine for someone with a larger less portable machine.

Quickutz Epic 6 – This machine is fairly portable. It is lightweight and has a handle built right into the machine so you can grab it and go. The accessory cutting pads are about 6” X 13” making them a little bulky to carry around. Measuring 6” wide, the opening of the Epic Six is much larger than the Sizzix Sidekick. The Epic 6 will cut dies up to 6” wide by 13” long. This machine adds quite a few more features than the Sidekick but also cost about 3 times more.  This machine can cut most of the dies on the market today including dies by Sizzix, Quickutz, Bosskutz, and Cuttlebug using the included cutting platform.  The Epic 6 will cut all of the same dies the Sizzix Sidekick can plus more. The 6” wide opening makes the Epic 6 a great tool for embossing directly onto cards. When used with steel rule dies such as the Sizzix Originals or Sizzix Bigz, the Epic Six can cut thicker materials such as fabric and cardstock. Just remember, the bigger the dies, the more room it is going to take up in your bag and the heavier they are. The larger stronger dies offer tons of creativity but are not very portable. I like this machine because it is more portable than other die cutting machines with a 6” X 13” cutting area. If you are going to be taking your machine to lots of places, need to cut larger shapes or thicker material, then I would consider this machine over a Sizzix Big Shot because it is a little more friendly when it comes to portability.

Sizzix Big Shot – This machine is also compatible with most dies on the market. The Big Shot is versatile and is designed to cut anything from small shapes in cardstock to larger shapes in chipboard. Some dies can be used with a crease pad (sold separately) to create 3-dimensional shapes such as bags, boxes and cupcake holders! What could be more fun? The Big Shot is advertised as being portable and has a handle to make it easy to carry, however it weighs in at about 11 pounds. Add the multipurpose platform, cutting pads, and extended platforms and you are getting closer to 15 pounds. However, less portability means greater stability, the Sizzix Big Shot has a larger footprint (14.25” X 8.5” X 6.5”) than its competitor the Epic 6, even though both machines have roughly the same size cutting area. In my opinion, the reason to own the Big Shot is so that you can cut larger shapes in thicker material. The Sizzix Big Shot can do this cleanly and easily. I would recommend the Big Shot to paper crafters that want to put more focus on cutting larger shapes in heavier materials and are less concerned about portability.

Sizzix Big Shot Express – This machine is the same as the Sizzix Big Shot described above except it is electric. Instead of the user having to crank the handle about 50 times, the machine cuts with the touch of a button. So you need to plug it into electricity before it will work. This is a super nice feature if you have LOTS to cut, because it is FAST. On average, the Big Shot Express cost $50.00 more than the Big Shot. I would recommend this machine to anyone that makes a lot of cuts and is not interested in portability.

Sizzix Big Shot Pro – This machine is not out on the market yet, so I don’t have a lot of information. I do know that the opening is 13” wide. Since the machine is larger, I can only assume that it is going to be heavier and estimate the larger 12” dies will be around 3 – 4 pounds. This machine is definitely not going to be portable, but is sure looks like a lot of fun. The 13” wide opening puts this machine into a new class. This tool is not only great for scrapbooking projects, but for all kinds of crafts. If you get one of these machines, you are sure to be the envy of all your paper crafting friends!

Quickutz Silhouette SD – Unlike the rest of the machines discussed so far (the mechanical roller machines), this machine is digital. Rather than using dies to cut shapes, this machine uses either images sent to it by computer or images downloaded off of an SD card.  Some would argue about how portable this machine really is. I traveled with it all summer and had no problems with it. It is very light weight and is about the size of a small printer. I have the older model that does not support cutting images from an SD card, so I had to bring my laptop with me to use it. No worries for you though, because the new Silhouette SD supports printing from a SD card (thus the name). Other than having to be near and electrical outlet to work, I find this die cutter to be extremely portable. It weighs about 5 pounds and can fit hundreds of images onto one tiny SD card. This sure beats lugging around all those dies. In my opinion, the best part about this machine is the ability of the user to create unique shapes and layouts for cutting. Using the included software, users can draw any shape or design and have the Silhouette cut it. I would recommend this machine to anyone that wants to be able to have total creative control over their projects. Keep in mind though that it will take a little time to be able to learn how to use this machine and the included software.

 

How much are the consumables going to cost me?

What’s a consumable? It is an item that needs to be replaced periodically as you use the machine. Take for example, the tires on a car. They can be considered a consumable. The more you drive your car, the sooner you will have to replace the tires. All the die cutting machines have their own list of consumables. And as you can imagine - the larger the machine is, the more expensive the consumables are. I can’t give you an estimate on how long these consumables are going to last. It depends on how much you cut and what you are cutting. I can tell you that you will be replacing the consumables for the Quickutz Silhouette MUCH MORE often than for the roller machines.

Sizzix Sidekick-
          - Standard Cutting Pad, Pair - $2.99 – for cutting Sizzlits
          - 13” Cutting Pad - $7.99 – for cutting 12” border dies
         
- Adapter (10pk) - $4.99 –for cutting wafer thin dies

Quickutz Epic 6
         
- Cutting / Embossing Mat - $14.99

Sizzix Big Shot
          This is what is available:
          - Standard Cutting Pads, Pair - $8.99
          - Extended Cutting Pad, Pair - $19.99
          - 13” Cutting Pad, Pair - $7.99
          - Extended Spacer Platform - $9.99
          - Essentials Platform - $24.99
          - Extended Adapter - $9.99
          - Crease Pad - $ 8.99
         
- Extended Crease Pad $19.99

          This is what you will need:
         - to cut Sizzix Sizzlits Dies: a multipurpose platform and a pair of standard cutting pads (both are included with the machine)  ----OR----  an Essentials Platform and a pair of Extended Cutting Pads
          - to cut Quickutz wafer thin dies: a multipurpose platform and a pair of standard cutting pads (both are included with the machine)  ----OR----  an Essentials Platform, an Extended adapter and a pair of Extended Cutting Pads.
          -to cut a Sizzix Decorative Strip 13” die: an Extended Spacer Platform and pair of 13” cutting pads   ----OR---  an Extended Spacer Platform and pair of Extended Cutting Pads.
          - to cut Sizzix Originals Dies: a pair of Standard Cutting Pads (included with the machine)   ---- OR ----  a pair of Extended Cutting Pads
          - to cut Sizzix Bigz Dies: a pair of Standard Cutting Pads (included with the machine), and some 3-dimensional dies will also require the Crease Pad  ----OR----  a pair of Extended Cutting Pads and some 3-dimensional dies will also require the Extended Crease Pad.
          - to cut Sizzix XL Dies
: a pair of Extended Cutting Pads for most dies, some 3-dimensional dies may also require the use of the Extended Crease Pad.

Sizzix Big Shot Pro – sorry my information is limited, it has not been released yet
          - Cutting Pad - $24.99 – use it for cutting almost every die
         
-Adapter Pad - $19.99 – use it with cutting pad for smaller, thinner dies

Quickutz Silhouette
          - Cutting Mat - $9.99
         
- Cutting Blade - $9.99

That is quite the list of consumable items….and we don’t even have anything that we can cut yet!! We still need dies or digital designs.

 

What size cut do you need and what are you cutting?

This section applies only to the roller style machines: Quickutz Epic Six, Sizzix Big Shot, Sizzix Big Shot Express, and Sizzix Big Shot Pro. Note that the prices listed here are retail prices, if you shop around you should be able to get a better deal.

Small Dies – Both Sizzix and Quickutz have a line of small and inexpensive dies.  Sizzix Sizzlits come in two sizes: 2 3/8" x 2 5/8" ($4.99) and 3 3/4" x 2 1/2" ($7.99). The Sizzlits work in all of the roller machines discussed in this document (Sizzix Sidekick, Sizzix Big Shot, Sizzix Big Shot Express, Sizzix Big Shot Pro and Quickutz Epic Six). Quickutz 2 X 2 wafer thin dies are packaged with either one die ($3.99) or two dies ($6.99). They also work in all the machines listed above. Small dies only cut paper and cardstock. If you don’t plan on cutting anything bigger than these and only need to cut cardstock, then the Sizzix Sidekick would be all the machine that you need.

Medium Dies – Both Sizzix and Quickutz make a medium die. Sizzix Originals ($15.99) measure 4.75” X 5.5” and can cut three sheets of cardstock, fabric, fiber, foam, metallic foil, photographs, sandpaper and vellum. Sizzix Originals dies work in the Sizzix Big Shot, Sizzix Big Shot Express, Sizzix Big Shot Pro, and Quickutz Epic Six.  But being able to cut the thicker materials comes at a price. Each die weighs around 8 oz and is 5/8” think. They take up a lot of space in your bag or on your shelves. The Quickutz 4 X 4 wafer thin dies are also packaged with either one die ($16.99) or two dies ($24.99). The advantage of the Quickutz dies is that they are wafer thin so you can easily store them in a binder. The disadvantage of these dies is that they can only cut paper. So when buying a die this size, you will need to consider if portability is more important or if being able to cut thicker materials is more important.

Large Dies – The Sizzix Bigz die ($19.99) measures  5.5" x 6", and can cleanly cut thick materials, including cardstock, chipboard, fabric, foam, magnet, leather, metallic foil, paper and sandpaper (in limited use). These dies can be used in the Sizzix Big Shot, Sizzix Big Shot Express, and Sizzix Big Shot Pro, and Quickutz Epic 6. Each die weighs about 10 oz. Their larger size makes them difficult to take places, but you can do so much more with the larger dies. I would recommend making extra cuts of some of your favorites and putting them into a folder. That way you can bring your folder when you are on the go.

XL Dies – The Sizzix Bigz XL Die ($34.99 – 39.99) measure 6" x 13.75” and can cut the same materials and work in the same machines as the Sizzix Bigz Dies described above. They weigh closer to 2 pounds so they are not very portable. Most of the XL shapes can be used for a variety of occasion, so you will want to cut extras of these to put in a folder to use when you are on the go … you won’t want to be without them.

Huge Dies - The Sizzix Bigz Pro Die measures in at a whopping 12" x 12 3/4". I suspect that each die is going to weigh around 3 – 4 pounds. These dies are only compatible with the Sizzix Big Shot Pro.  This is definitely not a portable die cutting system, so if you like to scrap on the go, you will need to plan ahead and make your cuts ahead of time. I have only seen a few of the Sizzix Pro Dies so far, but you can get dies to cut cards, bags, boxes and embellishments. These shapes can be used for tons of projects. Be sure to cut extras, because your friends are going to want some too.

 

How creative do you want to be?

The only machine that puts you in total control of your designs is the Quickutz Silhouette. You can buy shapes made by Silhouette or others for $1.00 - $6.00 each. In fact, in many cases you can browse for them on the web, buy them, and download them right away. You can also get Quickutz Silhouette Portfolio CDs.  Each Digital Design portfolio CD contains one font and 50 Designs in 4 different styles and costs $69.99. If you have a computer, you cut any true type font on your Silhouette for free. Plus, you can fit hundreds of designs onto one tiny SD card so it doesn’t take up a lot of room. Also, if you are artistic, you can create your own designs using the included software. The software that comes with the Silhouette is very basic, so if really want to get serious about making your own designs, I suggest a vector based program such as Adobe Illustration ($699.00). I would not recommend this software to beginner users. It can be a little tricky to figure out at first. If you are spending money on the software, I would also buy a couple of books to go with it. Expensive, but you are only limited to the size of the cutting mat (8.5” X 12”).  The major drawbacks to this machine are a high upfront initial investment and it only cuts cardstock. Advantages of this machine include the ability to create your own shapes and you can have a hundreds of shapes on a little SD card. I would recommend the Quickutz Silhouette SD to anyone that only wants to cut cardstock and wants to create unique image.