Wednesday, August 20, 2008

manual die cutters - some considerations

When I started out stamping years ago, the notion of using a die cutter to cut shapes, particularly intricate or delicate shapes, was an attractive one.

I started out with the original red Sizzix. It did the job for quite a while and there are a lot of folks out there who are still quite satisfied with that machine. Tinker a bit and you can use many types of dies and embossing folders. You can emboss with brass stencils, too. The drawbacks to this machine are its weight. It's definitely not portable. It takes a pump type action to use it and you have to manually move your platform through the machine. Some people find that difficult. It also has a narrower opening and a narrower platform so some of the bigger dies (and by this I mean big from the standpoint of width; thickness is not an issue) and most texture plates cannot be used with it. They just won't fit through the opening.

As I recall, the Wizard was one of the next machines that became the subject of many discussions. People like the fact that it's metal and durable. Early on there were complaints that it was difficult to crank dies through, but it cut and it embossed beautifully according to the ones who persisted and learned to love it. I don't have one, so I won't comment any further.

My next foray into the world of manual die cutters came when the Big Shot was released. I liked the Sizzix, but I liked the Sidekick even more. The Big Shot seemed like a bigger version of the Sidekick, so I went with it.

The advantages of the Big Shot in its current incarnation:
  • crank action - You simply turn a crank to roll your platform through the machine.
  • large platform - This allows the machine to accept all of the non-commercial dies out there. You can also cut multiple dies in one pass.
  • versatility - It is a die cutter--anything from wafer thin dies to thick dies like the Bigz. It embosses. You can use Cuttlebug embossing folders, Sizzix folders, texture plates like the ones by Sizzix or Fiskars, even brass stencils. Yes, you do need other accessories like an embossing mat, but you'd need those with other machines as well. You can also use a wide variety of materials in it. And with the largest opening of the current die cutters, it can accept all cutting plates--it can be trickier to use competitors' dies if you don't have plates that will fit through your machine.
  • multipurpose platform - This makes life so simple! One platform, hinged, with tabbed "pages" that allow you to change the thickness. The instructions and diagrams are printed right on the platform. You don't need to memorize or pull out a printout of what "sandwich" to use for which dies or folders. It's all right there.
  • durability - I've had my Big Shot for a few years now. If you stop by here often, you know that I experiment a lot. LOL! I tend to challenge this machine by running things through it that people don't normally use. It's done great!
  • stability - The Big Shot does have a bigger footprint. Space isn't so much an issue for me. It's actually better for me to have a machine that I can use almost anywhere, like the floor or on a counter, or on the dining room table. I tend to move around with my crafting. But the bigger footprint keeps the machine from moving as I crank things through it.
  • convenience - I store my cutting plates and multipurpose platform on the bed of my Big Shot. Everything is right there where I can find it.
  • longevity - So far it has stood the test of time with me and my experimenting!
The disadvantages:
  • size - Some people want and need a machine that takes up less space.
  • not as portable - The Big Shot doesn't fold up. It does have a handle that makes it easier to carry, but it's certainly larger than the Cuttlebug and the Wizard.
Okay, now about the Cuttlebug. Most of the recent buzz had been about the Cuttlebug, at least until Stampin' Up decided to team up with Sizzix to offer the Big Shot and some exclusive dies. I have one of these and have played with it a bit.

Here are what I perceive to be the advantages:
  • size - The machine folds up and takes up little space when folded.
  • portable - Because of its small size when folded, it's one of the more portable machines. It's not light though. It still has some heft to it. It has a nice carrying handle, too.
  • crank action - Again, this is a machine that you roll your platform though.
  • suction - When you open up the platform of this machine, the base will attach to the surface of your work area via suction to stabilize it.
  • versatility - This machine will take all non-commercial dies, thick or thin. It can emboss with folders, brass stencils, and texture plates given the proper accessories. It should be noted that to use some of the Bigz dies, particularly the XL dies, some tinkering will be necessary to get those to work, but they will fit.
Some disadvantages:
  • stability - I don't always use a smooth surface when working, so if the base can't stick to something, I have to make sure to stabilize the machine myself as I roll things through. Even if I am using a smooth surface, the suction can sometimes fail and I'm stuck pinning the machine down myself, especially if I'm in the middle of cranking something through. With the Sidekick there was a separate lever to re-do the suction. With the Cuttlebug you'd have to close and reopen the platform--something you might not be able to do if you're in the middle of cranking.
  • sandwiches - I suppose if you use the machine often enough you'll eventually learn all of the sandwich combinations for the various dies, folders, and texture plates. I find that I have to refer to a printout, which is okay, but inconvenient.
  • storage - The machine doesn't take up much room, but I do have to have a way to keep the A, B, and C plates all together as well as keep them near the machine. Again, this is something that I find to be a disadvantage given the way that I tend to craft here.
  • durability - So far so good as far as my experimentation goes, but I do get the impression that this machine isn't as tolerant of my weird combinations. I can't quite bring myself to push things as far with this machine for fear of breaking it. I know this is very subjective.
  • no long cutting plates available for use with the XL dies
I'm sure that it's clear that I'm a big fan of my Big Shot. It does everything for me. The multipurpose platform is a big plus! The fact that I can use the Sizzix XL dies and the long cutting plates is also a plus. Add in that I can use the crease pad to cut and emboss Nestabilities dies in one pass and that's another advantage.

The Cuttlebug is a good machine, too. For me it comes in second. I don't mind tinkering and looking for ways to make things work in it, but when it comes right down to it, quicker and simpler and more foolproof will generally win out for me and in most cases that will be the Big Shot way of doing things.

At some point I'm hoping to update a couple of the charts that you can find here. That's on my To-Do list. I'll just remind anyone who may not know that they can always be found in my sidebar in the Tutorials for the Big Shot and Cuttlebug menu. I'm talking about the Die Cutter Comparison chart and the chart showing die cutters and their compatibility with various materials.

It seems like there are a lot of questions out there at the moment about these two die cutters, so I just thought I'd put in my 2 cents since I have both. I'd also like to point out a YouTube video made by Spellbinders that shows how their dies can be used in the Cuttlebug, the Quickutz Revolution, the original Sizzix, and the Big Shot/Big Kick machines. It gives you a good look at how these machines work and what's entailed in cutting and embossing with each. You get a look at the multipurpose platform and at the embossing mats. You won't see the crease pad in use--you'll just have to take my word for it that it can be a simpler process than what was shown in the video. Click on the crease pad label at the bottom of this to read more. Maybe this will help some decide which machine will work best for their needs, because that's what it really boils down to.


  1. Thanks for the great analysis. I have a cuttlebug and will stick with it. I use it a lot for me, but I don't have the time to do nearly as much crafting as I'd like, so it doesn't really get that much use compared to others. For my usage, the price differential between the cuttlebug and the Bigshot is the main thing. If I were doing a LOT more, maybe the BigShot would be worth the investment. The best thing about this report of yours is that it confirms for me that the CB is sufficient for my needs- so i won't even be tempted to spend the big $$$.


  2. Thanks, Jay! Right now I'm a bit envious of all you can do with the Big Shot but space is a major factor for me. All my toys need to fit into one corner of our familyroom. Maybe some day Provo Craft, keeping with the same format, will come out with a wider "bug" that would accomodate the BigZ dies - that would make me very happy:)

  3. LadyDoc, lately I've seen more competitive pricing for the Big Shot and Big Kick. They tend to be bundled with other accessories, so if you think that you'll use them, you can find some pretty good deals. The gap in pricing has closed a lot though, I think.

    And Cindy, the Bigz dies will fit through the Cuttlebug. It's the width of the plates that are the problem. So, if you're willing to try to work around that, the Cuttlebug can work just fine for you.

    Thanks for coming by!

  4. Jay, I have used one BigZ - the scalloped card - no problems - thanks to your experimenting. I was mostly referring to items like the long plates and crease pad (that you have to cut down to fit). If the CuttleBug were just a bit wider, I wouldn't have to make all the special adjustments:)


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