Monday, August 25, 2008

Big Shot basics

Neat! I just realized that this is my 300th post. Woo hoo! Seems right that I should be making a post about the Big Shot. I wanted to hit the basics because there are a number of new users out there and many of the same questions keep coming up in discussion forums.

That is my Big Shot. Also pictured are the multipurpose platform and two clear cutting plates (pads). These are the basics that will get you started. Most of the time you'll be using the multipurpose platform (MPP) as your base with your die sandwiched between the two cutting pads on top of it. The die is usually placed with the cutting side facing up and your cardstock or paper on top of it. Sometimes you'll see folks use their dies with the cutting side down. I'm not sure how big a difference it makes, but I know that the thinner dies can bend if used that way. They tend not to bend if used blade up. Makes sense to me to just use them face up, eh?

But before I get too far, let me show you what one of these cutting pads looks like after it's been used a few times. I know this takes some people by surprise.

Don't worry. This is normal. It's a cutting surface that the blade of the die cuts against. It's gonna get marked up.

Here's what mine looks like after years of use. Looks like that on both sides. And yeah, it's cracked in a couple of places, but it still works. I'll probably retire it soon though. :-)

Let me talk about the multipurpose platform. I love this! I like easy and foolproof and this platform helps accomplish that.

It's hinged and tabbed, and it has diagrams and instructions printed right on it! You flip the tabs open or closed to change the thickness of the platform so that it can accommodate the different dies, folders, texture plates etc. You don't cut directly on the platform. It's there only in a supporting role. Most of the time you'll have a clear cutting pad on top of it. You use this tab (Tab 2) for wafer-thin dies. I'll summarize just which ones at the end.

Here is the MPP open to Tab 1. Tab 2 is off to the left and I've already passed that 'page' through the opening of the Big Shot to the other side. Now some folks have supposedly unscrewed the hinges so that they don't have to bother with open 'pages'. Yikes. I'm sure it works, but to me it sort of defeats the purpose. I find this set-up to be very convenient as is and not a problem to handle. This is the Tab setting that you'd use for slightly thicker dies, for texture plates*, for brass stencils*, and for embossing Spellbinders die cuts* like Nestabilities. Note the asterisks--these are cases where you don't use two clear pads; for these items you'll need a silicone pad and the Impressions pad. More on what these do later. But in short, here they take the place of the clear cutting pad that would usually go on top of the stack.

Here is the platform with No Tabs selected. It's supposed to be used with narrower embossing folders. I use this one with the Cuttlebug embossing folders of all sizes. I've used Tab 1 for these in the past, but I get good crisp embossing without my cardstock tearing as often when I go with no tabs. Try it both ways and see which you like better.

I wanted to show that there are times when you won't use a platform at all. This is when you use the Thick Cut, Bigz, XL Bigz, or Original Sizzix dies. You just pass the die through between the two clear cutting pads. No platform needed. No room for one!

And these are some of the accessories than can be useful when using the Big Shot.

The blue pad on the bottom is the Premium Crease Pad. It's made for use with the Cut 'n' Fold dies--these dies have lines that are meant to be scored in addition to lines that are supposed to be cut. Think of box templates as an example. This pad helps assure that the score lines turn out to be scored and not cut. If you use the clear cutting pads, often they'll end up cut. Not good. This pad can also be used to cut and emboss Nestabilities dies in one pass. You may see these around in red and black, too.

The black pad is the Impressions pad. It comes in the Texturz Starter Kit or can be purchased individually. This used to come in the Big Impressions Starter Kit, too. If you've seen references to the BISK, that's what people are talking about. It's slightly thicker and narrower than a clear cutting plate.

The very pliable black mat that you see is the silicone embossing mat. It works the same way as the tan Spellbinder embossing mat, also pictured above, developed for use with Wizard dies. These are both very soft and are easily forced into the sometimes intricate designs of metal dies or stencils to create crisp, detailed embossed images. I included a smaller piece of the tan mat to show that it can be cut down to allow embossing of a stencil image without embossing the edges of the stencil. I think it's great to have smaller pieces as well as the larger ones that can be used for big texture plates. These silicone mats can be bought separately. The kits that I mentioned above include this, the Impressions pad, and three texture plates (six designs).

Let me summarize which MPP settings you'd use with various dies, plates, folders....

Tab 2 for wafer-thin dies:
  • Nestabilities and other Wizard dies
  • Quickutz dies and GooseBumpz embossing dies
  • Bosskut dies
  • Cuttlekids dies
Tab 1:
  • Sizzix Cut 'n' Emboss dies/Embosslits
  • Sizzix Window Cut dies/Clearlits
  • Thin Cut dies/Sizzlits
  • Cuttlebug dies
  • 4" Sizzix embossing folders (Easy Emboss or Simple Impressions)
  • Ellison/Sizzix/Fiskars texture plates*
  • metal stencils*
  • embossing Nestabilities and other Wizard dies* (same set-up as with metal stencils, leave die cut inside die to emboss)
No Tabs:
  • 2 1/2" Sizzix embossing folders
  • Cuttlebug embossing folders of all sizes
No multipurpose platform at all:
  • Sizzix Original or Thick Cuts dies
  • Bigz dies
  • XL Bigz dies (does require XL cutting plates)
  • Sizzix alphabars
  • Sizzix long decorative strips dies (require extended spacer platform and 13" decorative strip cutting pads)
I think that should cover most of the items that you'd think of putting through the Big Shot. These are the basics for getting started. For more info, tips, and tricks, please feel free to check out the Tutorials for the Big Shot and Cuttlebug menu in my sidebar. You can also find info there about what materials you can cut using the various dies.

Edited to add: I've compiled the above information into a chart. The post with the link to that chart can be found HERE.


  1. Congratulations on your 300th post!! Though by this time you know I'm a Cuttlebug owner, I read your whole tutorial on the Big Shot. It's interesting to see what another machine can do:) Great job on the tutorial - even I get it and I don't own one, lol.

  2. Thank you thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU!!!!! You're a genius!!! Sizzix/Ellison should hire you!!! I wish they'd been able to put the names of brand dies on the MPP rather than the generic terms they put on instead.

    And I may have missed it or misunderstood from your post, but I'm still not clear on what the clear embossing folder thingies that came with my Big Kick starter kit are supposed to be good for. I am guessing we are supposed to use it as a sleeve to keep paper or cardstock in place over a brass stencil (the kind you might use with a light table), but I would feel ever so grateful to hear some confirmation of this.

  3. Cindy, thanks for coming by. I appreciate the feedback. Good to know that I managed to get my ideas across clearly. :-)

    Mel, I'd forgotten about those plastic folders that come with the starter kit. I think those are just meant to be used with the metal stencils and counter dies that make up a Sizzix impression folder. They would let you reposition a stencil inside the folder so that you could place the design just where you might want it on your cardstock. You can't really use them for regular metal stencils because without that counter die, you wouldn't get a good crisp emboss. By counter die I mean that plastic side that fits into the cut out areas of the stencil.

    To be honest, I think there were some of those folders in my starter kit from way back. I've never needed them.

    Hope that helps.

  4. THANK YOU!!!!! You're a genius!!!Though by this time you know I'm a Cuttle bug owner, I read your whole tutorial on the Big Shot. It's interesting to see what another machine can do

  5. Hi, I was looking for some information about the Big Shot and I arrived here, on your blog. I think I'll add your blog to my favourite pages, it's very well done and sooooo full of interesting tips! Thank you very much!
    You're so expert and I'm a newbie, so I would like to have your advice (if possible): I'm trying to come to decide what to buy, if the Big Shot (that one black & pink) or the's very difficult to me to decide, they both seems to be very good machines...may can I have your opinion? Every time I seem to have decided, I read something that makes me go in a total confusion!
    Thank you in advance,
    greetings from the Swiss mountains,

  6. Frency, I think that the choice is really more personal preference than anything else. Since I have both machines though, I can give you my opinion and the reasons for it.

    The Big Shot does tend to cost more than the Cuttlebug, but it also comes with accessories that bring the prices closer to even. I think it's a more sturdy machine, and I find it easier to crank and easier to use than the Cuttlebug. I don't have any qualms about experimenting using my Big Shot. I have a good idea of how far I can push the machine before I start having to worry about cracking plates or breaking the machine. The Cuttlebug just doesn't feel like it would hold up the way that my Big Shot does.

    The Big Shot takes up more space, but I find that it's more stable when I use it than the Cuttlebug. With the Cuttlebug the suction doesn't always hold, particularly if the surface isn't smooth. Its smaller footprint makes it less stable if I have to hold the machine steady as I crank.

    Both machines will take all of the non-commercial dies out there, but only the Big Shot can accommodate the clear cutting plates for the XL Bigz dies by Sizzix. There are work-arounds for the Cuttlebug, but it's simply easier to use the plates that were made to be used with these dies.

    The Big Shot has the multipurpose platform. This is a biggie for me. This platform makes it very easy to use wafer thin dies, thick dies, embossing folders, texture plates, brass stencils etc. All of the instructions are printed on the platform, so you don't have to keep track of "sandwich" combinations or the A, B, and C plates etc that you'd need with the Cuttlebug.

    So, having both machines, if my Big Shot broke and I had a choice between using my Cuttlebug full-time or buying a new Big Shot, I'd buy a replacement Big Shot. I think that it's the better machine of the two and find it easier to work with.

    Hope that helps!

  7. Dear Jay,
    I would like to thank you for your very kind, fast and exhaustive answer, I was almost convinced to buy the Big Shot,b but now I've NO DOUBT what I'm going to buy, thank you very much for your help!!!
    It was important to me to have your opinion, as you own both. I hope to be able (one day or another) to create some beautiful things as you do!
    Thanks again and many greetings form here :)

  8. Read your blog with interest. I wondered whether it would be possible to put a copper etched plate (to personal design) through the big shot, and whether, or not, it coule be adapted for use as a sort of printing press! OK probably a silly idea ...but maybe you can explain to me why it would not work?


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