Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Choosing the Best Machine(s) for You

There is a lot of chatter in the online crafting world about the Cameo and the new Portrait machines by Silhouette.  Many long time Cricut fans have added one of these machines (or others like the eClips, Zing or Pazzles) to their tools.  For people who are heavily invested in Cricut machines and cartridges, this is unsettling.  It's only natural to be attracted to something that "everyone else is doing" and to want to be up to date with the latest and greatest.

However, you really have to take the time to evaluate the available options considering your personal needs and wants.  Crafting is meant to be a relaxing hobby and if you are stressed about choosing your tools and other issues it will distract you from enjoying the process of creating scrapbooks, cards and other projects.

Do you work on a computer all day?  When you have time to craft do you want to look at a screen or play with your papers and embellishments? If you are reading my blog regularly, you most likely own some sort of electronic die cutting machine in additional to one or more of the manual machines like the Cuttlebug, Big Shot, Grand Caliber, etc.

If you are a long time Cricut user and wonder if you are missing out on something, consider why you chose the Cricut system in the first place.  For many people, it was the ease of use and the fact that the machine did not have to be connected to a computer at any time to operate.  You could use it in a room far away from your desktop computer and you didn't need to find space for a laptop to work with the first Cricut machines.  The Original (baby bug), Create and Expression are simple to operate and produce results quickly.  Cartridge content is themed with many images on a cartridge so you could make all sorts of baby items with New Arrival and holiday decorations with Joys of the Season (two of the popular cartridges when I first got a Cricut).

You do need to purchase cartridges to use the Cricut (unless you have a version of a third party software program such as Sure Cuts a Lot or Make The Cut that predates the settlement of the lawsuits against the developers of these programs which required them to remove the capability of cutting with the Cricut).  Many people complain that cartridges are too expensive and that you have to buy a large group of images in order to get the one or two that you want.  I don't agree with the price objection, especially at the current normal selling prices for cartridges.  The decision to purchase a cartridge for just one or two images is a personal one - if it is worth it to you then it is worth it to you...but you could find a cheaper alternative such as a purchased embellishment for a one time use.

You can get most full cartridges on sale for less than $30.  If the cartridge is truly full, there are spaces for 700 images, making the cost per image a little over 4 cents.  Some cartridges do have repeated shapes (squares to make backgrounds on every key) or empty key positions but even if there are only 350 images the price per image is about 8 1/2 cents.  There is a perception that the Silhouette images (or images that can be cut on machines that accept SVGs and other common file types) are cheaper.  The basic price of images is 99 cents through the Silhouette online store but this price is brought down considerably if you buy a subscription plan ($9.99/month for $25 worth of images, $14.99/month for $50 worth of images and $19.99/month for $150 worth of images).  At the highest subscription level the cost per image is about 13 cents and if there is a sale on subscriptions, the price can come down to about 10 cents an image.  (I believe that the code
"summer" will get you a 20% discount on subscriptions right now - it did when I tested last night).

The detail that is often overlooked is that the subscription plan is an annual commitment - you can't just buy a one month "deal" to get the images you want.  Over the course of the year, the highest level plan will cost $240 (or a bit less - if you pay for the full year in advance there is a 5% discount).  At the current average cost of cartridges on sale, the same amount would buy about 8 cartridges (or even more if you are a good shopper or find cartridges on Ebay, etc.).  I do believe that it is easier to find free images that can be cut with other machines since there are many sources of SVG files and most of the sellers offer some freebies.

The attraction of the Silhouette and other similar machines is that you can create your own files easily with the drawing tools in the software.  You can also use fonts that you already have on your computer to make welded and shadowed words very easily.  So, if you are like me and  prefer to make your own designs, a Silhouette type machine is a great addition to your crafting tools.  The free software for the Silhouette has been trouble free for me and the program updates automatically as needed.  You do not need to be connected to the internet to use the free Silhouette program (but you do have to be connected to purchase images from the store while using the program).

I think the reason many people are turning away from the Cricut machines has to do with the problems that have been caused by the need to update the machines fairly often.  This requires you to connect the machine to a computer (or sometimes a Gypsy if you have one) and many times the process is slow or the update creates a new problem.  People are afraid to update because of issues that others have - even though the vast majority of updates probably go smoothly since you usually only hear from the users who have encountered a problem.

If you have a large collection of cartridges that you enjoy using and you are happy with the way your Cricut cuts (more about that another day) then you should just keep using what you have and make the most of the time you have to craft.  There definitely is a learning curve for the Silhouette (though the software is very intuitive and most people pick it up quickly).  If computers make you stressed or you can't put your cutting machine in a location by a computer - why mess with a system that works for you?  There certainly are so many cartridges available now that you are almost certain to be able to find any standard category of image that you want.  You could probably buy some cartridges very cheaply from someone who is "selling it all off and moving on!"

I'll go into more details about why I could never go back to using just a Cricut machine in another post.  I do like using the computer for designing and I have the time to work at making my own designs.  However, as I said yesterday, there are times when I find it very convenient to pop in a cartridge, turn a few dials and quickly cut exactly what I need for my project. 

I do find that the Silhouette machines cut extremely fine details very well - this card shows one example. (You can read about this design in the original post HERE.) 

If you look at this lace that I designed and cut on the Cameo you can see the level of extremely fine detail that I was able to cut - this was the first attempt at the cut and it was perfect and easily lifted from the mat.  (The original post about these "cobweb" cuts I designed is HERE.)

Digital Sales

Creative Memories is offering a 4 day sale on the photo editing software (Memory Manager) and digital scrapping program that I use (StoryBook Creater) for digital pages and other projects.  Content CDs and downloads are also on sale - click HERE to go to the Pixel's Holiday Hijinks page.  Artwork and Software (including upgrades) are 25% off until November 30th.  You'll find the pages with the digital downloads for artwork HERE - the prices will be adjusted in the shopping cart so don't be confused by the full price on the item description pages.

One of my favorite sources of vintage images, Twisted Papers, also has a great offer right nowIf you sign up for their monthly subscription for $24.95 you can download up to 500 of their over 7000 vintage images and collage sheets - that's just 5 cents a download!  This is their usual super deal - individual images or collage sheets are normally $1 each.  The subscription does not automatically renew - you just have to pick out your images and download them within a month.

The special Cyber Deal this week (good until Saturday December 1st) is that they will send everyone who signs up for the month long subscription a free copy of their newest CD, Victorian Children Illustrations (yes - absolutely free - they pay the postage to you).  This CD normally sells for $9.95. I have found their images to be of very high quality - the scans are carefully restored and many images can be used at large sizes.  I use them frequently in my Creative Memories Storybook Program (on sale above!).

I hope that these posts are helping some of you who are struggling with decisions about purchasing - or not purchasing - new machines.  Please let me know if you have specific questions you'd like covered and I'll do my best to give you a fair and balanced explanation along with my opinions.

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  1. THANK YOU for this great info!!

  2. Thank you for giving this topic the thoughtful depth it deserves...discussions like this are why I still look forward to your email every day. I love to design my own files, and am sometimes frustrated with CCR and/or my gypsy, but most of the time I get the results I want. I've decided to stay with my cricut gear until my expression dies, then see where I'm going after that, as I can see where I would enjoy the sillouette's designing capacities.

  3. Another great review. I still use my Cricut, but much prefer the Cameo. I find the Cameo to be more versatile and I think silhouette has much better customer service than ProvoCraft.

  4. I appreciate you taking the the time to offer an objective view. I think you hit the nail on the head for me when you said, "Why did you 1st start crafing."

    Let me quote from your 4th paragraph...
    "consider why you chose the Cricut system in the first place. For many people, it was the ease of use and the fact that the machine did not have to be connected to a computer at any time to operate. You could use it in a room far away from your desktop computer and you didn't need to find space for a laptop to work"

    BINGO! I am not a "computer" person. I also do not have the luxury of having a craft room. I have to pack away and lug out my "sutff" every time I want to craft. So I NEEDED something that did not NEED to be plugged into a computer. I can not place a machine anywhere near my computer due to space limitations. I do not see this situation changing anytime in the near future.

    I have invested heavily in the carts. and I also own a Gypsy, which I struggle with. This is about as HIGH my digital die cutting knowledge extends.

    Most days, I do often LONG for more precise cuts, and admire the quality of work done with the Cameo. However, at the end of the day, I will NEVER be about to design my own images.

    Diane,the skill level that you are at is WAY out of my league. I am amazed and super impressed with it, but I will never achieve it. So, I have to remain dependent on my Cricut for its simplicity and non-computer dependance.

    Thanks again for taking the time tho share this review.

    Have a Blessed day!

  5. Thanks for the information on which machine is best for the type of crafting you do. You made some good points!

  6. This is a wonderful, balanced review of these machines. I have the Expression and the Imagine, and enjoy using both of them very much. I do my designing on the Gypsy, which works well for me. I haven't had much success with CCR, and since the cartridges are linked to the G, I don't think it will be much use to me. I have been thinking about the Cameo, but not to replace any of the others. Perhaps one day, when the budget allows, but I am very satisfied with the cartridges I have, and the machines I use! As you said, I prefer to play with my stuff, instead of fuss around on the computer. Thank you for all the inspiration that you provide. BethAnn M.

  7. Thanks for the very informative post. Especially appreciate the price per cut breakdown. I am currently strictly Cricut, but I have been considering the other options.

  8. Thank you for shareing this valuable info. It is nice to hear the details from someone who does enjoy multiple machines. So much info out there is just trying to sell that specific machine. When I do retire (4-7 years down the road) and I have more play time I would probably enjoy one of the computer based machines but right now I enjoy popping in a cartridge and getting the cut I want.

  9. Wonderful observations about both machines. And very timely for me as I was thinking about add a cameo to my arsenal of tools. Your thoughts are so clearly stated and non-biased that I feel I can make a very informed decision on whether to buy or not. Thanks!!

  10. I was so disgusted at Provo Craft for not allowing 3rd party software. Don't they realize that the extra soft ware enhances their Cricut? So I made the decision to ban them from my life forever. I now have a Silhouette Cameo and wonder how I ever lived without it. I love that machine! It is so easy to use and I love the online store that downloads right into my Cameo files. I make most of my own files using Inkscape so rarely use my monthy $25.00 but manage to find enough before I lose my credits at the end of 60 days. I highly recommend this machine.

  11. I love my Cricut Expression! Maybe because I've only owned it for a little over 2 years. I have about 60 cartridges, and I have barely scratched the surface of what I can make with all these cartridges. It seems that the newer machines are superior cutters. However, I think if you have a fresh mat, sharp blades, and the right settings on your Cricut, one can achieve the same high quality results. Thanks for your write-up.

  12. Another issue I have found with those people who are complaining about the cost of a cartridge - a good Fiskars or Martha Stewart punch runs about $16. I can buy 2 punches (or 3 punches with coupons) for about the same price as a cartridge with 350 -700 images that I can cut any size I want. It makes those cartridges look pretty cheap to me...

  13. Thank you for your breakdown - I have been thinking about purchasing a cameo. I have had my Expression for about three years, I have a Gypsy and an Imagine as well. I have quite an investment in cartridges as well. I love my machines, but would love to create my own files. However, after your breakdown, I think I will wait until my machines no longer work. I still enjoy creating with them very much.

    rissaflor atyahoo dotcom

  14. Great points Diane. I have 3 cricuts, a gypsy and a back up gypsy but would invest in a cameo if the budget allowed. I would like more design freedom but enjoy the portability of the gypsy....

  15. Thank you so much for your thoughtful analysis!I have not been one to "jump on the bandwagon" for every new machine or tool that comes along. Not that I don't cave eventually, but I haven't bought any machine or cartridge immediately upon release. It's always been a good move for me. Gives them a chance to work out some bugs, and lower some prices. For the most part, I am happy with my Cricut products. Although the thing that worries me the most is that my Gypsy will die and not be replaceable. I dread having to go back to inserting cartridges in my machine, or not being able to weld titles, which is the extent of my "designing". I can't link my carts to CCR, nor do I want to learn how to use the flawed software, and I certainly don't want to go back to being tied to a computer for cutting. I especially love your analysis of cartridge/image costs! I have very few carts that I paid more than $40 for, and more recently, $25-30. And I don't buy a cartridge for just one or two images - I need to like many if not most of the images to take the plunge. It's all personal preference. I can imagine that someday I'll take the plunge on a Cameo or other cutter - I love the idea of being able to cut more intricate cuts smoothly. But for now, I just don't have the time to utilize the tools I have, or to learn a new system. I also don't have the luxury of a large craftroom to have two machines set up.

  16. I am a computer person and I have fallen in like with the new Cricut Craft Room. I tried picking up my gypsy, but it did not work like a computer. I found the Cricut Craft Room easy to learn and it works for me. I guess that is the key - what works for you. Use the right tool for the right job.

  17. Great work. I love your ideas and info.


  18. Thanks Diane for this great summary. I am a long time cricut owner and also have a gypsy. I also own Make the cut, which I love. Having bought it long ago, I have been able to cut on my cricut with it.
    Although I don't like some of the policies of ProvoCraft I don't have any intent on selling my cricut even though I bought a cameo earlier this year. I have accumulated a large library of mostly free SVG files. I find that delicate cuts work better on the cameo. I haven't bought very many cartridges lately but I'm always amazed at what I find on my old cartridges that I never used.


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