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Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY: Silhouette SD

Reported by Jessica Ripley

Of all the craft products that are on the market today, it seems to me the most difficult one to reach a decision on when it comes to what to purchase is a die cutting machine. Not only does there seem to be a version of every shape and size from capability to budget, choosing a die cutting machine is not really a “this one is the best” type of purchase. When reviewing all that is out there, we also have to take into account our personal feelings and needs, because in truth all those machines are “good,” it is just a matter of which one is “best” for us.

We are faced with questions such as:

  • Do we want excellent portability, or will the machine stay in one place on our craft rooms never to move?
  • Do we want the capability to cut our own designs or are we okay with strictly pre-made ones?
  • How computer-savvy do we need to be to use the thing?
  • At what point does the price (and future costs associated with) no longer equal a good investment?

I have asked myself all of these questions before, and that led me to originally choose a different die cutting machine for my needs. I won’t be comparing the two in this article, as again which machine we prefer can be just as much of a personal choice as anything, however I do feel like I should mention testing out and playing with the Silhouette SD has probably changed my mind on which machine I would recommend to a friend if they were faced with those same questions above. Here’s the lowdown that I’d share with them, which I hope you find helpful in your pursuit of the perfect machine for you too.

What you get

Out of the box the Silhouette SD comes complete with just about everything to get you up and running.

  • The Silhouette SD machine, which is lightweight and not overly bulky (a must for precious craft space).
  • An electrical cord and USB cord for computer connection.
  • 2 cutting mats (one for thick media, one for thin media).
  • 3 blade caps (you replace a cap on the blade for different cuts when it comes to the Silhouette SD rather than the blade itself, which I did like).
  • 1 installation CD (complete with 50 preloaded designs) and 1 detailed tutorial CD (Software for Windows XP/Vista/7 and Mac OS X 10.5.8 and higher).
  • A basic manual.
  • $10 download card for the Silhouette Online Store.

What else you need (or might need)

  • A computer, Mac or PC.
  • A longer USB cord. I found the cord which came with the machine too short for my particular set up, however an existing (much longer) cord from another machine I had on hand worked great.
  • Material to cut of course (paper from your stash, or anything from Silhouette’s line of other materials including heat transfers, temporary tattoo paper, vinyl, etc).
  • Basic computer skills.
  • An SD card to make the most of the Silhouette SD’s capability (it seems to me like they could have tossed one in the box, but most of us probably have one on hand).
  • Patience and time for the learning curve.

Set up

Initial set up of the Silhouette SD was quick and easy. The software installed on my Windows 7 PC in minutes (though do make sure all Windows updates have been applied to your computer first, as this did add to the total time for install on my end).

As far as physical space, the machine does not take up a lot of room. You do need space in front and behind it for the material to move while being cut. The machine cuts 8 1/2″ x 12″ size or smaller using a mat.

The technical side (software and online)

The paper manual which comes in the box is enough to get you up and cutting quickly, however the array of tools and options in the software does require you take some time to watch the tutorial CD and learn the basics. The tutorials are very well put together and easy to understand, especially if you are a visual learner like I am.


I liked the look of the software; it is slightly customizable in appearance (color and button size), and pretty easy to navigate. Here’s an image of the basic desktop you start off with for each new design.


I especially appreciated that hovering with the pointer over a particular tool brought up its name until I got the hang of what they all were. If you are familiar with photo editing or drawing programs, the software will seem very intuitive to you. If not, the tutorials (which are very specific) will give you a great handle on it quickly.

You are able to cut just about any design (pre-made, your own, or a traced scan) with the Silhouette SD. All True Type fonts installed on your computer can be cut, which opens up the flood gates for font possibilities in projects.

As mentioned above, the Silhouette SD software comes pre-loaded with 50 extremely usable designs:


Right at your finger tips is also a link to the online store with thousands of options to choose from (most are 99 cents each, though subscription programs are available which reduce the cost greatly), including designs from well-known companies like Hero Arts and Donna Downey. I quickly spent the $10 download card that comes with the machine while looking at all the great options!

Of course, possibilities are endless when you take into account designing your own images as well. Here’s a simple project made by creating my own design using standards fonts (Impact and Lucida Handwriting). The weld tool makes easy work of combining letters.

My design in the software:


And the finished project:

Performance

Though I only had opportunity to test the Silhouette SD on regular cardstock and paper for this review, it worked absolutely great. The machine is noisy when cutting, but does the job. I appreciate the 2 different cutting mats for different thicknesses of media, between which the only difference is the amount of adhesive (the lesser amount of adhesive meant for thinner materials).

As far as actual cutting, the Silhouette SD has more than just one option too. It also perforates. I love this option which makes super quick work of folded projects such as this pillow box (this template comes with the software).


Other features

The Silhouette has a Print and Cut feature which for me was the tipping point on why I’d now lean towards recommending this machine to a friend. I am a very big fan of cutting elements out of patterned paper for projects, and this option is quick, easy, and works great.

As an example, these 3D flowers were available in the online store.


First I printed them with the necessary registration marks so the Silhouette knows where to cut (this is covered in the tutorials) and then simply loaded into the machine for cutting. Here’s a peek of the Silhouette SD in action with the lid raised.


And the result:


Here’s a card using the finished flowers (which would have been about $2.99 in a pre-made pack).


The card template and sentiment also come preloaded with the software, and the dress form is from the online store.

To make the Print and Cut feature even more appealing, the software also includes a trace tool for tracing scanned images you wish to cut out. The trace tool takes a little getting used to, but once I practiced a bit I was able to make a near perfect replica of this vintage doily in a few easy steps. First I scanned the doily into Photoshop Elements and saved the image as a bitmap, then opened the bitmap image in Silhouette SD Studio and followed the steps to trace it, and finally proceeded just like I would with a print and cut image:



Finally, the Silhouette SD has portability thanks to the SD card slot located on the machine.


Designs are able to be loaded onto an SD card and then retrieved by the machine for cutting while not connected to a computer.

To sum up, let’s revisit those primary questions above when purchasing a die cutting machine.

  • Do we want excellent portability or will the machine stay in one place on our craft rooms never to move?

You don’t have to necessarily choose with the Silhouette SD. Thanks to the SD card slot, you are able to pre-load designs to be cut onto an SD card (not included), unplug the machine from your computer, and take it with you to a crop or anywhere else. You must, of course, take the time to load up the SD card with images first, however if you do so with ones you use often that can become very handy. I myself don’t crop out of the home much, but traveling from my craft area (where my husband is playing a loud video game) to the dining room table (where I don’t have to hear “watch your back!” every few minutes) is a nice option.

  • Do we want the capability to cut our own designs or are we OK with strictly pre-made ones?

Again no choice necessary here. Countless designs are available online, many great ones come with the machine preloaded in the software, and designing our own is a piece of cake once you get the hang of the software. And, no need to buy many designs we don’t care for either just to get a few that we do.

  • How computer savvy do we need to be to use the thing?

Basics are definitely needed, and knowledge of working with other drawing type programs would put you that much further ahead of the learning curve, however the tutorials are very good at explaining each and every tool. So there should not be any intimidation about the computer needs as long as you are willing to take the time to learn.

  • And of course at what point does the price (and future costs associated with) no longer equal a good investment?

There is certainly more freedom in how we can answer this question with the Silhouette SD versus other machines currently on the market. For one, designs can be purchased separately for 99 cents, however if you become good at it you can also design your own for free (or download the weekly freebies from the online store to build your collection also). If you find you are constantly wanting to use new images, you can choose one of the subscription plans available which roll over from month to month if you do not use them up. Also there is no third party software to purchase in order to increase the capability of the machine, it simply comes with the flexibility we wish they all had.

Pros:

  • The Silhouette SD can cut just about any image, increasing its value potential over other machines.
  • The software and online store are user friendly and fairly easy to navigate after a bit of learning time.
  • Many options are available from cutting style (straight line or perforated), cutting mat (thin or thicker media), to material which can be cut (Silhouette also offers vinyl, heat transfer material, flocked paper, and even temporary tattoo paper).

Cons:

  • Initial purchase price of around $200 is expensive and may not fit your budget, no matter what the possibilities for use could be.
  • The Silhouette cuts a smaller size overall than other die cutting machines (8 1/2″ x 12″ vs 12″ x 12″ or larger), and if you have large 12″ x 12″ stash you will be trimming a lot before cutting is possible.
  • Like other machines, eventually the blade and mats will need to be replaced which will be an added cost.

Good DEALS…
Our friends at Silhouette are providing our readers with some fabulous offers… from now until June 29, 2011, you can get…

1 Silhouette SD 
2 Packages Temporary Tattoo Paper 
for $199 (U.S. only) (that’s a $120 savings!)

Also, (wait for it…)

25% off all other products in the Silhouette shop (excluding gift cards and download codes). So if you already own the machine but want to get some of that cool Tattoo Paper or Heat Transfer material, now is the time.

To partake in this amazing offer, head on over to Silhouette and use Promo Code CRITIQUE. Offer ends June 29, 2011.
 
AND A GIVEAWAY!

They’ve also given us a Silhouette SD and two packages of their Tattoo Paper to give away to one of our very lucky readers. First enter by leaving a comment below answering the following question(s):

Do you own a Silhouette SD or are you considering purchasing one? What are your thoughts on how this machine can do versus other machines you know of? 

We can’t wait to hear from you on this one! This will give you one entry but wait, there’s more…

Optional Bonus Entries
Earn additional entry for each of the following:

■ Tweet about the giveaway! (example): WIN a Free Silhouette on @CraftCritique from @silhouetteam and read the Reviews. http://is.gd/QxOcYB

Like Silhouette America on Facebook and let them know you saw them on Craft Critique!

■ Link to the giveaway on Facebook!

Please enter one comment per entry. So, once you have done any of the additional entries remember to come back and comment to let us know. Contest closes at midnight. Good Luck!

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight: Wacom Bamboo Craft Tablet

Reported by Jessica Ripley

There are those certain items in the store that we daydream about. We visit the aisle they are in, probably pick them up and read the box, but then put them back down because well… do we really need it? And then we decide to let it remain a daydream for now.

That was my relationship with a Wacom Tablet until I was granted the most wonderful opportunity to review the Bamboo Craft. I had heard of the tablets and their capabilities, but since I wasn’t a digital designer per-se and felt like I could get by okay with what I did do using my mouse, I hadn’t thought it a necessary purchase.

But now that I’ve had the time to play with this amazingly fun piece of technology, that thought would pretty much be the same as “Well I have scissors, so do I really need a paper punch?” Yes! Yes I do!

It’s always hard to touch on every single aspect of either a tech tool like this or software, but I’ve included some of the main points and highlights in the review below as to what convinced me.

In the Box:

As listed on Wacom’s website:

  • Bamboo Craft tablet
  • Bamboo Craft pen
  • Quick Start guide
  • Installation CD (includes driver software, interactive tutorial and user’s manual)
  • Software DVD (containing Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 7.0 Win/6.0 Mac, Corel® Painter™ Essentials 4.0, Nik® Color Efex Pro™ 3.0 WE3)
  • DVD with 26 scrapbooking lessons from Jane Conner-ziser and a library of digital craft embellishments
  • Offer for free 8″ x 8″ photo album from Shutterfly
  • Offer for free online store from Café Press
  • Offer for free one-year subscription to Scrapbooking & Beyond Magazine
  • Offer for free online training with DigitalScrapbookPlace.com

That is a lot! And so much too. For the price of what I might just only pay for the tablet, also included is great software to use it with like Photoshop Elements. If you haven’t made the jump into purchasing really great photo editing software yet, this just may be the reason you should. Not to mention the fun free offers that come with the tablet as well (in the form of coupon codes to use online).

Installation (Technical Mumbo Jumbo):

The Wacom Bamboo Craft Tablet works with both PCs and Macs. System requirements are PC Windows 7, Vista or XP with Service Pack 2, Mac, or Mac OS X (10.4.8 or higher). You will also need a color display, powered USB port, and a CD/DVD drive. Installing the software and tablet is extremely easy. Simply place the installation CD into your computer’s drive, plug the tablet into a standard USB port, and follow the prompts to get up and running. I installed the software on both my Desktop PC (running on Windows 7) and my Laptop PC (running on Vista). It installs quickly, in about 5 minutes.

The tablet is ambidextrous, you can set up the orientation for whether you are right or left handed. The cord is also nice and long as you can see in the photo above, so there is ample room to play with setting up the tablet to fit your work space. It measures approximately 10″ x 7″, though the area where you can actually gesture and write is smaller, about 5″ x 3.5″ for gesturing and 6″ x 3.5″ for the pen (both proved to be plenty large for me).

Getting Started:

After installation is complete, the fun can begin! Well almost. I’m one that normally wants to jump right in and start playing with a new toy rather than read through the manual or instructions, but not only is that step necessary in order to getting started with the tablet, some practice is needed as well. I highly recommend going through the tutorials, otherwise it can be a bit frustrating at first to get used to the gestures and movements.

There are two sections for the tutorials, one for gesturing with your fingers, and one geared toward using the pen.

Gesture movements will be very familiar to anyone with a touch screen device (such as a smart phone) as they are very similar (think pinch-out to zoom for example). In this way, the tablet is basically an enlarged track pad (what tracks cursor movements on a laptop). While using the pen is my preferred method for doing just about everything on the tablet, being able to gesture as well makes it such a fantastic tool for my laptop. I’ll never leave home without it in my laptop bag again.

Pen movements are extremely easy as well, and don’t have as much of a learning curve as gesturing does. I was surprised to learn that when using the pen to move a cursor around the screen you don’t actually touch the pen tip to the table surface, it only needs to be a little off the surface (we’re talking millimeters) to work. Touching the pen to the surface is like a mouse click, and works the same as left clicking does (tap one to click, twice to double click, hold to drag and select). The pen and gesture movements are fully customizable, everything from pen pressure to speed can be set to your tastes.


I actually was a little frustrated with the performance speed at first, I thought it was slow, until I realized I could customize it for me. Thinking I had to crank it up all the way I did so, and that was way too fast! So I was then easily able to find a happy medium.

There are also 2 buttons on the pen itself, and 4 buttons on the tablet which you can customize to whatever you would like. These are called “Express Keys”. For example, I’ve customized some of mine to be a right click and un-do, and even programmed one of the Express Keys to open up Photoshop Elements. Just another way the tablet can make your digital editing or web surfing that much easier.

The tutorials on the installation CD are very helpful and enough to get you going. There are even smiley faces along the way when you practice a gesture correctly, and sad faces if you don’t. You also won’t be moved along to the next step in a tutorial until you correctly perform the gesture or pen stroke you have been taught (though you can cheat and skip ahead too if you know you understand and want to just move on… cheater). While these tutorials are fine, I found the video tutorials by Jane Conner-zier included with the tablet on a separate CD to be much more helpful.


These are actually geared toward digital scrapbooking, and made the technical necessary movements of the pen make more sense to me.

After I completed the basic tutorials I did some general playing around, and kept thinking how beneficial it might be if I could actually share those experiences with you via a few screen videos. So I’ve done so. Below is a brief intro to one of the Wacom Tablet’s features, and then we’ll get into the crafty applications.


Using the tablet and software, a few highlights:


As mentioned above, the tablet comes with some most excellent software, included Photoshop Elements 7, Corel Painter Essentials 4, and Nik Color Efex Pro 3. While the versions of PSE and Corel Painter that are included are the full versions (seriously, wahoo), it’s important to note that the Nik Color Efex is just a sampling of 3 available filters to whet your appetite for them.

I primarily use Photoshop Elements to edit photos, and was anxious to try out the tablet using the pen on a specific technique, extraction. I found that using the pen in extracting an object worked wonderfully, much easier for me than using a traditional mouse. Here’s a video which shows the process taking place on my computer screen:

I had never used Corel Painter before so am not as familiar with what I should try in the software using the tablet, however I can tell you that it is so much fun! Navigation is easy, and pen strokes are picked up just like paint strokes on a canvas. This is a program I will be playing with a lot in the future!

And speaking of canvas, it’s worth mentioning that the tablet surface was designed to mimic the feel of writing on paper and absolutely delivers on that. It’s very comfortable and doesn’t feel slippery or anything like that at all.

I also wanted to briefly show you one of the filters that comes with the Color Efex software, I’m not sure I’m that tempted to buy the full expensive version of Color Efex, but it is fun to use the samples:


When it comes to digital scrapbooking, I again primarily use Photoshop Elements. Just in case you are unfamiliar with even the basics of digital scrapbooking however, that is no reason to think the tablet isn’t for you! As mentioned above it comes complete with a CD of tutorials geared towards using the tablet for just that, as well as online training at DigitalScrapbookPlace.com. Wacom has even included several digital kits to get you started right away:



Utilizing the pen when creating a digital page is just as easy as using a traditional mouse, and then some. I found my navigation faster and my strokes more precise. One thing I wanted to try in particular was adding my own hand writing to a digital page. Here’s a video showing that process:

(Digital supplies used in the above video by Bluebird Chic at Misstiina)

While I have to admit I’m not completely thrilled with the result of my handwritten date, I can also tell you that it’s 10 times better than when I first picked up the pen, and that I know with practice it will just get better.

Finally, I wanted to use the tablet to create a hybrid element. I also wanted to try it out in an art program which didn’t come included with it, so decided on regular old “MS Paint” Here’s a look at my experience in doing so:

It worked great! Not saying my artwork is great, but you know what I mean.

Here’s the finished hybrid project once I printed my flowers out, a cute little storage pouch for the tablet itself so it stays safe while traveling in my laptop bag, which it will be doing often!



In Summary:

I’ll be honest, of course didn’t expect I’d not like the tablet when it arrived, however I can also say I didn’t expect to like it so much due to all the wonderful things that come with it. At a price of around $129 it seems steep at first (hence always putting it back on the shelf) but the software that comes with the tablet more than accounts for the cost and then some. If you already have Photoshop Elements and Corel Painter, it may not be as wonderful a bargain, but in that respect, if you do have those programs already the tablet will enhance their performance for you, increasing their value. It’s an easy to use, fun, capable piece of technology, and I highly recommend it.

It’s difficult to sum up the pros and cons for something that has so much to it, but here’s a few in general.

Pros:

  • Delivers big-time on what is advertised, including making navigation in programs (and on the web) fast and fun, and enhancing ability to create digitally or edit photos.
  • Comes with full versions of 2 excellent photo editing programs, Photoshop Elements 7 and Corel Painter Essentials 4.
  • Takes a lap top’s capability up a notch, acting as a larger track pad for finger gestures.

Cons:

  • This is not a “jump right in and be an expert” tool. It takes practice and patience in order to fully utilize what it can do, and can be frustrating at first.
  • Price might be a factor if you already own the software which it comes with, thus reducing the overall bargain (or if you would want a higher version of either of those).
  • If you are not a big photo editor or digital scrapbooker, this may not be something you would get as much enjoyment out of as someone who is.

Now I’d love to hear what you think. Do you own a Wacom Bamboo Craft Tablet and love it or no? Have you picked one up and put it down before and didn’t buy one? Tell us your thoughts and let’s discuss.

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Happy National Scrapbooking Day!

Some of our best scrapbooking product reviews
We have reviewed so many scrapbooking products over the years that we thought we would share with you some of our most popular, compiled just for you. Whether you are a digital, paper or hybrid scrapbooker, we have articles for everyone with some great projects to inspire you.

Also be sure to tune into our Facebook Page all day to see how our reporters and readers are celebrating National Scrapbooking Day!


Comparison of Die Cutting Machines

Shimmerz, Blingz and Spritz

Posi-Bendr Bow-Easy

ProvoCraft Cricut Expression Machine

Marks Paper Company

Organization Products

HP Photosmart All in One Printer

K and Company’s Que Sera Sera Specialty and Designer Paper Pads

Tonic Guillotine Paper Trimmer

Kitschy Digital Designs

Spellbinder Nestabilities

ACdSee Software for Organizing Digital Scrapbooking Supplies

Book Review: Photojojo! by Amit Gupta with Kelly Jensen

Creating Keepsakes Easier-than-Ever Scrapbooking 2

Quickutz Silhouette Digital Craft Cutter

Purple Cows 13″ Hot Laminator Kit

Vendor Spotlight: EK Success Brands – Martha Stewart Halloween

EK Success Slim Profile Border and Shape Punches

Sultane French Paper Company

We R Memory Keepers’ Crop-A-Dile Corner Chomper Craft Tool

Digital Scrapbook Artist 2, Digital Scrapbooking Software

Crop-A-Dile by We R Memory Keepers

Scotch ATG Gun

Scor-Bug by Scor-Pal

Tim Holtz Idea-ology Sanding Block

Elmer’s Glue Sticky Dot Stamper

Fiskars Combo Border and Corner Punch

Provocraft Cricut Deep Cut Blade and Housing

Chatterbox Easy Brad Maker Kit

The Crafters Workshop – Doodling Templates

Basic Grey Precision File Set

ZVA Creative Crystals

The Scrapbooker’s Creativity Kit

Do you have any plans to celebrate National Scrapbooking Day today? What are your favorite scrapbooking products?

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 & GIVEAWAY! (day 2)

I love Digital Scrapbooking. I have to admit that I did resist it for awhile, thinking that my precious touch it and feel it paper way was all I would ever need or enjoy. Not to mention I was a bit confused by the “technical” aspect of using software to make a page. However once I took that leap and gave it a try, I found that not only was the learning process of how to create a digital page not as difficult as I thought, but that I actually really enjoyed the creative process too! It is different and yet very similar to paper scrapbooking (as far as design and memory keeping are concerned), and now my digital supply collection is starting to rival my paper one (albeit about a thousand times easier to store and keep uncluttered on my hard drive).

So now, I’m a big advocate of giving Digital Scrapbooking a try and frequently encourage those that haven’t yet to do so. From those that have never given it a go however, I hear most often two basic reasons why they have not:

1. I just can’t afford that ‘fancy’ software.
2. I just know I won’t be able to understand all that technical mumbo jumbo.

And honestly? I didn’t have the best arguments against those two reasons. The most popular program out there to digitally scrap with is pretty expensive. Also it can be intimidating to use for a true beginner. So, when offered the chance to review Digital Scrapbook Artist 2, a software program that seemed to possibly solve both of those issues, I jumped at the chance!

First a note, I don’t mean this review to be a comparison between Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 and that ever popular more expensive program, so won’t be going that route. However as a frequent user of the latter, I found myself instinctively looking for options that I am used to using to create a digital page. I pretty much found them all. Would a beginner know to look for “Layers,” “Drop Shadows,” and “Brushes” when creating a page? Hmmmm maybe not, but if you are an experienced digital scrapbooker with that other program than I can tell you that in Digital Scrapbook Artist 2, like Ragu, “It’s in there.”

I was able to play with the software for a few weeks before writing this article, and enjoyed it very much. Below are some of my condensed experiences during that time, as the program has a lot to offer.

Installation is quick and easy. A set-up wizard takes you through the process and you are ready to dive in after about 5 minutes.

The start up wizard pops up when you open the program and offers three options:

1. Start with a theme, which is both a fantastically easy option as well as super-quick. The five digital kits that come with the program are very cute, and come complete with pre-made pages for you to simply drag and drop your photo into. Using one of these I created a layout in minutes:

Everything on the pre-made layout is customizable. Remove a flower, add a button, change the background, it’s all up to you.

2. Open a saved work. Something to note on saving in this program is that your document will not automatically save to a traditional “JPEG” format. It will save as a .Sbp format which cannot be opened in other photo editing programs, or sent to certain online photo printing sites as it is specific to this software. There is an “export as” option though, which will allow you to save as a JPEG or PDF.

3. Start with a blank page. I absolutely loved how the space on the screen is organized by Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 in order to create a page from scratch. To the left are spaces for pretty much everything you might desire on a page: backgrounds (your “paper”), photos, embellishments, materials (pretty literally – knits, fabrics, etc. to add some elements with texture), frames, and letters.

To add items to these spaces you can either add from the free kits that come with the software, download new kits directly from Daisytrail.com (some are free, some to purchase), or from one of the collections of kits available for purchase also at Daisytrail.com. Each collection disk has 10 kits. I was so happy to be able to play with Collection 4 and found them all quite cute! Here’s a layout using their Haberdashery Kit:

There is no need to crop a photo to fit a frame either, simply drag and drop and the software automatically fits the photo inside the frame.

The elements are definitely hybrid project worthy (printing digital elements to use on a paper project) as well. Here’s a card I created after printing embellishments from the Painted Backyard Kit:

Adding the actual items to a page is a breeze. Just drag and drop. Click on the items to re-size or rotate them. Can you use digital supplies you might already have? Yes, you can. I did so by adding these items as “photos” and dragged and dropped them into a page as I did other elements.

To the left are more great options to customize your page, my absolute favorite of which is the “Palette.” When using one of their kits, Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 gives you a palette of coordinating colors to go with it. I use this option to select the perfect color of text for my journaling. Easy!


Here also you will find a unique option that the program offers called Stencils. They are just that, digital stencils that you place on your layout and “spray” with paint to fill in. Sure you could do this with a digital brush, but this way is just plain fun!


Finally at the top are two of the popular actions when creating a digital page, including:

Drop Shadow: Incredibly easy to use in order to add a little more depth to an object on the page. Simply select the object, and then drag the shadow out to the desired depth. Think of drop shadows as digital “pop-dots.”

Transparency: I found this option a little difficult to use and get the hang of how I wanted an object to appear, but it is a neat effect.

Also included is a photo-editing lab where you can add many effects to your photos before scrapping them. There are standards such as convert to black-and-white, adjust the contrast, etc., however there are also more advanced editing options such as Levels (an adjustment I make to almost every digital photo I take!). Available are one-click actions to add numerous effects to your photo (over 70 according to the Daisy Trail website).

Finally, my favorite feature of the entire program is their Image Cut-Out Studio in the Photo Lab.

I’ve never been particularly great at using the various methods to extract an object from a photo in other programs, however somehow this option is so instinctive as to what you want to cut out, it makes it incredibly easy! I love digital pages with extracted images, and this is the first one I’ve done that I’m pleased with:

(Created with the Home Sweet Home kit)

There is so much more that this program has to offer such as blending, cut out tools, and filters. Each is easy to use. I highly recommend popping over to the website to watch their video to get another look. As a program strictly meant for digital scrapbooking, Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 delivers the goods.

So to go back to those two excuses at the top:

1. I just can’t afford that ‘fancy’ software.
Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 is $49.99, half the cost of the most popular digital scrapbooking program out there, and you get just about all of the features you could ever want to create a digital layout. (FYI I’m not saying you get it “all” because I’m in no way an expert on either program, but I really didn’t lack for anything).

2. I just know I won’t be able to understand all that technical mumbo jumbo.
This program is made for scrapbookers, and so their tools are specific to what you might want to do while creating a page. Do you need to do a little learning before hand? Well sure, just like with any computer software, but they talk to you like you are a scrapbooker and play to those instincts while teaching you how to use it. The program has many helpful tutorials to get you started and using the software, and there is also a community online at Daisytrail.com should you need help along the way.

To sum up:

Pros:

  • Ease of use. The program is meant for digital scrapbooking, so as a scrapbooker, it is easy to understand how things work and what they are for.
  • The Photo Lab allows you to edit and tweak your photos just as another program would, and the one-click filters and actions are fun. The Cut Out Studio is amazing!
  • Cost. For what the program does, it’s my opinion that $50 is extremely reasonable.

Cons:

  • Even as someone with experience digital scrapbooking, there were a few times when I got stuck on how to make something work. But I always found the answer in the “help” section, and truthfully am glad there aren’t constant tips popping up in my face for things I already knew how to do.
  • Layouts don’t automatically save in a standard JPEG format, you’ll need to export the finished project to do so.
  • Using digital elements you already have is possible, but not quite as easy as using those that are specific to the software (meaning you have to use them as “Photos” rather than “Backgrounds” or “Embellishments” unless there is a way to do this that I have not found). Edited to add: Another reason why we love our readers, Marilyn was so kind to point out in the comments below that yes indeed it is possible to import digital elements you already own or purchase outside of Daisy Trail as “Backgrounds, Frames, etc” by using an option in the program called “Digi Kit Creator”. By using this unique feature, I was able to upload my already owned Digital Elements and tag them with the appropriate names so they would be easily organized and accessible when creating a layout. What a great feature! Thanks very much Marilyn! And of course other helpful tips are abundant at Daisytrail.com, here’s a quick link to this info in their forums: http://www.daisytrail.com/search.html?from_forums=0&q=Digikit+Creator.

Finally, if you are interested but aren’t sure, Daisy Trail also has a free version called Digital Scrapbook Artist Compact so you can get a feel for the software’s style.

GIVEAWAY!
Daisy Trail is giving one lucky reader a free copy of the Digital Scrapbook Artist 2 Software. Leave a comment on this post telling us your thoughts as either an experienced or total beginning digital scrapbooker? Have you used this program and have anything to add? One comment per person, per Vendor Spotlight: Digital Scrapbook Artisit 2 article, please. Winner will be selected Wednesday, April 28th at 6pm CST.

Disclosure

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Vendor Spotlight: Marks Paper Company

This week’s vendor spotlight is sure to appeal to cardmakers and scrapbookers alike! Marks Paper Company is new to the scene, but definitely has their finger the papercrafting pulse. In addition to awesome traditional scrapbooking kits, they also have matching digital kits!

Here’s a link to the About page on their site, so you can read a little more about Stacy & Dan Marks. We have scheduled six articles over the next three days, so you’ll be able to see just how versatile these kits are. First up, the always inspiring Julia!

Reported by Julia Stainton

When I first heard of Marks Paper Company on the net, I knew it was a paper line I was going to have to try. Paper that looked like fabric, gorgeous colors and prints…I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I love paper and I was so excited to have the opportunity to review Marks Paper Company new English Garden Collection for Craft Critique.

Marks Paper Company is a new scrapbooking product company in the crafting market. English Garden is their third paper collection and has just been released. This paper line, as well as all Marks Paper Company lines have a beautiful vintage look with its own fresh twist. I love how on trend this paper is. The unique feature of Marks Paper Company offerings is the fabric-look that is part of each of their papers.

Upon receiving my new goodies, I was so excited to get started with them, I actually forgot to take a photo of all the papers spread out. I’m sure you can get a good representation of the line through the various projects I’ve created. I loved each and every paper in the line. The English Garden line consists of 5 different double sided papers featuring the palette of soft blue, dark olive and eggplant. The textured print on the papers looks quite convincing, especially on-line. I actually expected the paper to have a textured feel to it but the paper is smooth. My teenaged daughter was actually thought that it was fabric on the altered project piece and wondered how I did that. I think the fabric look is a fabulous one and works so well with stitching and distressed techniques. One thing I did notice when working with these papers was how the A & B sides of the papers were laid out. Each paper has a more floral feminine side and the other side is more graphic. If you are more interested in creating feminine rather than masculine projects or vice versa, this works extremely well with little waste. Love this concept. Also part of the English Garden line are a 1″ covered buttons package and a sheet of die cuts. The die cut sheet is new to MPC and I found it really useful and easy to work with. I’d love to see this again in their next release.

When working with patterned paper, there are many different techniques and projects I like to use and create. I found that this beautiful collection worked extremely well for creating cards, altered projects and scrapbooking layouts. I’ve broken down my favorite criteria for great paper below and how the English Garden line worked for me.

Stitching: I love stitching on my projects. This paper works great for stitching on and the fabric look makes this a great choice for embellishing projects

Stamping: I like to stamp on patterned paper or use it in conjunction with stamped elements. While most of the papers in this line were too patterned to stamp on top of…the patterns themselves worked well with other stamped elements. Inking worked very well on these papers without smearing. I especially loved sponged and inked edges.

Sanding: The white inner core in this paper looks great sanded. While the paper is not especially thick, it does sand well and hold up to this technique.

Die-cutting: MCP paper is extremely easy to die-cut and cut easily and cleanly.


One of the really exciting things about Marks Paper Company is the digital option that is available. While I didn’t end up with time to create a project with it…I love the option of creating hybrid or digital designs with this line. Just think…if you run out of paper, you can print some more or simply use it to create digital scrapbooking pages with. It’s sooo pretty! As well as the English Garden Digital Kit (only $4.00 btw!), there is also a add-on digital printables kit. The printables kit is in pdf format and which makes it super easy to use for beginning hybrid crafters. No Photoshopping required.

Pros:

  • great colors and patterns that work well together…I loved every piece in this line and found it extremely easy to create with
  • love the fabric-look to the papers…it really is subtle but fairly convincing
  • double sided paper in a nice 65# weight…sturdy enough to hold up to distressing but not so thick that it is difficult and bulky to work with
  • great paper or digital options for traditional scrapbooking, digital or hybrid papercrafting

Cons:

  • the fabric-look is just a print…I’d have loved to see some texture to the paper
  • as Marks Paper Company is a budding company, the line is small… I’m hoping to see a larger line and more embellishments as the company grows
  • because of the newness of this company…this paper may be difficult to find in local stores… try an on-line option

Where to Find it:

Marks Paper Company – purchase direct from Marks $.90 a sheet

Scrapfreak.com

Where to Find MPC links

Marks Paper Company paper and products are extremely easy to use and at $.90 US for a double-sided sheet, the paper cost is right on market trend. Marks Paper Company papers are a great value and fun to use and the fabric-look theme is an original and unique selling-point. I’d rate them as a 9/10 and would love to use more of Marks Paper Company product in the future.

I used almost every scrap of my papers and die cuts as I just loved this product. I loved the way the line was put together and after initial use, I’m definitely a Marks Paper Company fan. I can’t wait to see what their next line is! I’m following their newsletter and blog to find out.

So, what do you think? Have you tried Marks Paper Company products? Is this a line you want to try? We’d love to hear from you!

Giveaway! Stacy at Marks Paper Company has agreed to send an English Garden collection to one of our readers from the USA. Leave a comment on any of the Vendor Spotlight: Marks Paper Company posts to be entered. Contest ends Friday night at midnight, winner will be announced on Saturday, July 11, 2009.

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight : Kitschy Digitals – Cut Out Sheets

Here’s some more information about the creative mind behind Kitchy Digitals: Danielle Thompson

Danielle Thompson is a mom to two little boys, a graphic designer, a photographer, a lover of all things vintage, and a Blythe doll enthusiast. 🙂 She lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she has a part-time graphic design job, but spends the better portion of her work week designing digital kits for her small business, Kitschy Digitals. Her digital kits can be used by scrapbookers and crafters alike, and she also sells printed goods of her designs in her Kitschy Digitals {Goods} shop, along with other fun things like embroidery patterns. She also sells a menagerie of goods in her Etsy shop, Tiny Bazaar, like photo prints, paper goods, and soon-to-come wall decals! When she’s not working on things for her shops, or dreaming up new ideas, she loves to play with her photos in Photoshop, craft, blog, decorate her home, play with her boys, travel (or dream about traveling) and putter around the internet.

Here’s a review of her Cut Out Sheets
Reported By
Jessica Ripley

Do you absolutely love the adorable digital designs from Kitschy Digitals by Danielle Thompson but aren’t necessarily a digital scrapbooker? Or what if you are, but have some hybrid projects in mind, and your printer ink leaves much to be desired when it comes to quality?

Then your problems are completely solved with these fabulous pre-printed cut out sheets. What a wonderful option to be offered for those of us who may fall into one of the two categories above. These individual 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets each contain coordinating elements from some of the Kitschy Digitals kit themes such as: Olivia, Kawaii Cute Fruits, and Woodland. Though not all digital products are available in this pre-printed format, I was pleased to find favorites such as the Thrift-Store Chic Frames, Vintage Flowers, and Feathers are, and snatched them right up for some creating.

Each cut out sheet is described as “professionally printed on 80# matte cover stock,” and when I received my well-packaged order in the mail (they also have lighting fast shipping by the way), I was extremely pleased with the quality of the paper itself. While I’m not expert enough to confirm it is 80#, the thickness of the paper is comparable to a sturdy card stock. Thick enough to take some manipulation such as bending or distressing, but thin enough to easily be trimmed with scissors. The print quality is also superb. It indeed does look professional, with bright uniform color. The images have a nice finish too, with a very light sheen. I also admit I tested accidentally spilling a bit of my beverage on a little gnome to see if his color streaked, but it didn’t at all and he dried out just fine.

The actual images themselves are really cute and fun. My favorite theme just might be Woodland, which I used in the layout below:

(Other supplies used include patterned paper from Sassafras Lass and Making Memories, and Thickers from American Crafts)

In this layout I used Diamond Glaze on a few of the mushrooms, and once again the colors held up fine and did not run.

You do have some work ahead of you with these sheets of course, since just as the name implies you must cut out the elements prior to working with them. Some are quicker to cut out than others due to the amount of detail, however these elements look just as cute with a bit of the white card stock left around the edges to make the process easy. Use of a regular paper trimmer made cutting out the inside of the square frames a breeze, so by all means don’t be intimidated by the elements not being pre-cut.

The most realistic elements of those available in the cut out sheets are the feathers and flowers, which are just beautiful. The depth they have achieved with a flat printed image is fantastic!

(Other Supplies used in this layout include cardstock by Bazzill, patterned paper from Hambly Studios, and Thickers from American Crafts)

Adding pop dots or other 3D adhesives gives them even more dimension.


Of course a major advantage to using printed versions of digital supplies, is that you can use the elements in altered projects or crafts rather than being limited to layouts. For example, I used the adorable Kawaii Cute Fruits and Olivia elements to create a mini recipe book:


I also up-cycled here a bit and used a Making Memories journaling tag book as my album. As I find recipes I enjoy I can simply write them in.


I also loved the variety of frames which come in great colors and styles. I used them to create another project which I’ll call a “photo bouquet” by framing copies of heritage photos, attaching green floral wire, and inserting into an arrangement. Just a fun spring-time display.

I have so many other ideas in mind and can’t wait to continue to play with these. Be sure to also check out the Kitschy Digitals Blog for some amazing inspiration from Danielle and her fabulously talented Creative Team. (Talk about talent and inspiration!)


I very much enjoyed working with these cut-out sheets. The designs are fresh and fun. Should you have a good quality printer at home, you can certainly achieve many of the same hybrid projects by printing the elements yourself from a digital kit, however once again, these pre-printed sheets are a great option for those that don’t.

Pros:

  • A great option for those who wish to create with these cute designs but aren’t necessarily digital-savvy, or do not have a good printer at home.
  • The paper and print quality are both superb and have a professional look and feel.
  • A variety of some of the more popular Kitschy elements are available, and you receive many on one sheet that coordinate.

Cons:

  • You do have some work to cut out the elements by hand.
  • Once you use the pre-printed element on a project, it is used up. Unlike their digital counterparts which are able to be used again and again.
  • A few of the elements are more difficult to cut out than others.

These pre-printed sheets are available at a cost of $2.50 each in the Kitschy Digitals store, and through Danielle Thompson’s Etsy Shop Tiny Bazaar. You can also find her digital and printable kits at Two Peas in a Bucket. I consider the price to be pretty fair for the quality of printing of the images, as well as the amount included on each sheet. For what these are meant to be, they get a 10 overall from me. The quality, fun designs, and inspirational value all factor into that too.

Let us know what you think as well. Does the fact that the elements need to be cut deter you at all? What about having the pre-printed versions vs. the digital which you can keep forever… do you lean toward one more than the other? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Giveaway Time!!! Danielle has generously donated prizes for 2 winners. One winner will get digital kits and one will win print kits/embroidery patterns. All you have to do is leave your comments letting us know what you love about Kitschy Digitals on any of the Kitschy Digitals posts. You have until Friday at Midnight to enter and the winners will be announced on Saturday!
Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Purple Cows 13" Hot Laminator Kit

New reporter week continues… this is Amanda’s first article for us… show her some love 🙂

Reported By Amanda Talbert

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a couple of the teachers at my kids’ school. We were talking about all of the tools the teachers have access to in the workroom, and one of the teachers said, “The reason I decided to become a teacher was the laminator. I looked forward to laminating all the way through college.” Obviously that’s not really why she decided to become a teacher, but she made a good point. Laminating is cool. You can use a laminating machine to make water- and cupcake frosting-safe recipe cards. You can use a laminating machine to make sure that old picture of you in your husband’s wallet doesn’t make you look old. You can even use a laminator to make fantastic Disney-inspired Mother’s Day gifts. The best part is that you don’t have to get a teaching degree to have access to a laminator!

Purple Cows sells a 13″ Hot Laminator Kit you can use at home. The laminator retails for around $70.00. It’s small and compact, weighing in at 5 lbs., yet large enough to laminate a 12″ x 12″ scrapbook page.

To use the machine you just plug it in and turn it on with a switch on the side. There is a power light on top, and a ready light that becomes lit when the machine is hot enough to laminate. It took less than 3 minutes from plug in to green light. The kit comes with “Hot Pockets” that you sandwich your project between and then insert into the machine. They come in these sizes: 25 business card, 25 letter, 5 luggage, 5 6″x6″, 5 8″x8″, and 5 12″x12″ hot laminating pouches. You can buy refills of the pouches online, at craft stores, and in office supply stores.


The hot pocket will slowly draw into the laminator and when it appears on the other side it will be heat-sealed closed. I timed how long it took for one of my business card-sized hybrid mini album pages to make the journey from cold to hot, and it took 21 seconds.

The laminator is very easy to use, and I have already thought of a million things to use it for. I’ve made two of these mini albums; the first is already being enjoyed by the gift recipient.

I do have two complaints. First, the leading end of the pouch can sometimes come out the other side slightly bent or crimped. Second, a few of my pouches didn’t seal along the sides.

I found a second trip through the machine, perpendicular to the original pass, fixed both of these problems completely. You cannot laminate very thick items like chipboard or 3D embellishments. I didn’t have a problem with this because I wanted to attach these elements after the laminating to give some depth and texture to my project. You can laminate things that are the thickness of several sheets of paper. My project consisted of two sheets of glossy photo paper.

Digital Hybrid template by Melissa Wilson Designs at The Digi Chick.


Pros:

  • Affordable to the home crafter and scrapbooker
  • Easy to set-up and use
  • Compact and light-weight
  • Refills are easy to find and inexpensive
  • There are a wide range of uses

Cons:

  • Crimping on one edge of laminated pouch.
  • May take two passes in order to completely close the pouches.
  • Doesn’t laminate 3D items (but would you want it to? They wouldn’t be 3D anymore.)

You can purchase the Purple Cows 13″ Hot Laminator at
Scrapbook.com
Crafts, Etc.
Wizard of Math through Amazon.com

Bottom line, I would buy this again. I love being able to protect my knitting patterns, my paper crafts, and my recipes. I’m not sure I can live without the ability to laminate my photos. Do you have any suggestions for things I can laminate? What would you laminate? I can’t wait to find something new!

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!