Reported by Sara McKenzie
This article is a comparison of four different die cut machines:
- The Wizard, by Spellbinders
- Cuttlebug, by ProvoCraft
- BigShot, by Sizzix
- Cricut Expression, by ProvoCraft
And, yes, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I own all of them, and have personal experience with each… always on the lookout for the next best tool, that’s me!!!
What I will not cover is the multitude of other manual and digital cutting machines. Sorry- but I had to stop spending money!!! There are quite a few, and you will see them when you search any of these other machines.
Below, you will find the features and benefits of the four machines as I have experienced them, the suggested retail price, and possible places to find them in person as well as online. And, I will add my own commentary on each die cutter: what I like, what I don’t like, and my opinion of its versatility. As always, I would welcome your comments below, to help expand the experience base to share with all readers.
Here we go! And we’ll start with my least favorite:
The Wizard, by Spellbinders.
I will preface my comments by saying that my machine is older (about 5 years old?), but the basic design has not changed.
The list price is $99.00 on the Spellbinders site. It comes with two White Master Mats, a magnetic spacer mat, a Tan Emboss Pad, and a Universal Cut Mat. It is 9″ wide (including the handle), by 11″ long, and doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. It weighs 5 lbs, but does not have a built-in carrying handle.
This particular machine uses a back-and-forth motion with the handle (as opposed to continuously turning the handle in a circle, as with most other machines). You are instructed to position the machine in a particular fashion, and you are instructed to go through three particular steps to engage your die cut “sandwich” (the cutting mats, cutting die and cardstock) into the machine.
My complaints about this machine?
- The fit of the “sandwich” is REALLY tight! And, if you are not careful, and you don’t hold onto the sandwich as you are passing it through, you can shoot it across your room!!
- You need pretty decent hand strength and arm strength to push the handle back-and-forth.
- The way you position the machine is not intuitive: the logo faces away from you and is upside down; and the way you are supposed to load the “sandwich” is awkward. If you only die-cut periodically, you will have to get your manual out to remind yourself of how you are supposed to best use this machine.
- The machine itself slips and slides all over the place as you are running the sandwich through it. Because you need to use both hands (one on the handle, and one to catch the sandwich) it is not easy to control the movement of the whole machine while you are cutting.
- You can use dies from other manufacturers, but the “sandwich” recipe differs for each type, so you have to keep your manual handy, and be able to recognize the different types of mats supplied, because they are not labeled.
These are not huge complaints, and if you already own this die-cutter, you know that you can make it work just fine, particularly with practice. But if you have not purchased one yet, this is NOT the machine I would recommend as your only investment in a die-cut machine.
Now, I DO like the Spellbinders dies. You can use the same die for cutting, embossing, and as a stencil for selectively adding color to your die cut. And these dies are compatible with the Sizzix machines and the Cuttlebug.
The Cuttlebug is a compact die-cut machine: when not in use, it takes up 5-1/2″ X 11″ on your shelf, and is 6-1/2″ tall. When the platform is down for die-cutting (as shown here), it is only 11″ wide. I’ve seen it listed for as low as $49.99 on JK Crafts and it is also carried by Michael’s, so you might be able to get a good deal with one of their 40% off coupons. It also has a pop-up handle on the top, which makes it easy to carry around. (And it’s not too heavy- 7-1/2 lbs.)
Cuttlebug, by Provocraft
The Cuttlebug comes with three cutting pads (labelled B and C), and a Spacer plate (A). It is a universal die cutter, accepting most dies from other manufacturers. And, it can cut or emboss a variety of materials. The handle turns easily and without requiring a lot of arm strength.
An interesting feature is that when you lower the platforms (which your die “sandwich” rides on), it engages a large suction cup on the bottom, which grips the surface it is sitting on (as long as it is a solid, smooth surface). This helps to hold the machine still while you are cutting your cardstock.
My complaints about the Cuttlebug?
- Only one, really: you have to keep your manual handy to know which plates to use with which dies- i.e. the proper sandwich recipe for your die type. This is NOT a big deal, and at least their plates are all labeled. But it means you need to store the paper manual nearby your machine or in a place where you will remember to find it. (I hope there are others out there who can relate to this: you put something away, thinking you will remember where you put it, but when it comes time to find it… it’s another story entirely!)
- Okay, maybe two complaints: the suction mechanism does not always work like it is supposed to. So the machine can move around a bit while you are using it, and it is a bit top-heavy, so it can actually tip over if you are too vigorous.
I have not used dies made especially for the Cuttlebug. I have successfully used Sizzix dies, and Spellbinders dies easily in the Cuttlebug. I have used the Cuttlebug embossing folders, which do a great job on cardstock, and are the perfect size for the front of a standard A2-sized card.
The BigShot, by Sizzix
The Big Shot is a bit larger machine, and takes up a footprint of 14″ X 9-1/2″ (including the handle). It weighs 8 lbs and can be used on any kind of surface, from a table top, to a tablecloth, or even carpet. The suggested retail price is $99.00 directly from Sizzix, and for the same price, Stampin’ Up! now carries the Big Shot as well. You can occasionally find a lower price online, but so far I’ve only seen it on HSN and QVC. AC Moore carries it for $103.99.
If you are using a traditional Sizzix “Bigz” die, which is about 1/2″ thick, you only need the two clear cutting mats that come with the machine to make your die-cutting “sandwich”. These will also cut through cardstock, felt, fabric, foam, magnet, leather, craft aluminum, and many other materials.
Additionally, Sizzix got smart and made the “Multi-Purpose Platform” ($19.99) to use with your dies.
I did not realize how much I was missing this until I purchased my machine from Stampin’ Up!. Basically, it takes the place of the multiple plates required for cutting the wafer thin dies (like the Sizzlits) or dies from other manufacturers (like Spellbinders “Nestabilities”). In essence, the Multi-Purpose Platform is made up of plastic pages which you can flip over to use, or to move out of the way, depending on what die you are using or whether you want to emboss. AND, the reason I love it: the instructions are written right on each plate for which ones to use for different dies and different applications. You only have to keep track of the machine, the basic cutting plates, and the Multi-Purpose Platform. You don’t need to keep track of other plates or rubber mats and paper manuals. Like I said, I did not realize how great a feature this was until I got my Big Shot and started using it.
The machine is heavy enough that it is very stable while you are cutting. It has a handle that turns easily to pass the die-cut platform through. There is a handle built into the top which makes it very easy to carry.
There is also a “doctor’s bag” made to carry the machine and some dies if you are going to a crop. (SU also sells this carrying case.)
And, Stampin’ Up! has commissioned some exclusive dies that match some of their stamp set designs. This is a nice touch, to be able to use die cuts and stamped images that coordinate.
My complaint about the Big Shot?
- It is truly hard for me to come up with one, but I would say that it takes up a relatively larger footprint on your table or shelves for storage.
Cricut Expression, by ProvoCraft
I’ve previously reviewed the Cricut Expression here on Craft Critique- you can find that post here. But for completeness’ sake, I’ll repeat some of the features and benefits in this post as well.
The Cricut Expression is a digital die-cut machine, which means that it requires electricity. However, it does NOT require dies in the traditional sense. Instead, it uses small cartridges that have computer programming in them for your die-cut shapes. When the cartridge is plugged into the Cricut Expression, the computer program directs a cutting tool, which moves across your cardstock to cut your shapes. It’s really pretty cool!
The footprint is the largest of all four that I’ve mentioned: it’s 21″ X 7-1/2″. So you need some space for storage. It weighs 13 lbs, and it has handles on the two ends, so it requires two hands to move it around. The retail price is $319.99- no, that’s not a typo. It is expensive. I’ve seen it at JKCrafts for $279.99 (pretty much routinely, including two cartridges). The cartridges are also pricey, and run from $38.99 to $79 for new releases. The good news is that these are frequently on sale on various sites online (and too numerous to mention here). [Just Google “Cricut cartridges”.] However, if you put it into perspective, you can spend anywhere from $10 to $19.99 for single Bigz dies for the BigShot, and you can spend up to $149 for a complete alphabet for a manual machine. So for alphabets, you can’t beat the Cricut.
Provocraft did a great job with the design of the Cricut Expression, and clearly paid a lot of attention to the user interface. I used my machine to cut 40 stars within 10 minutes of getting it out of the box! And that included practicing on various weights of paper so I could adjust the pressure level on the cutting tool.
Two other features that I have not used but I learned about since my last post:
- There is an add-on called the Jukebox (made by ProvoCraft), which holds multiple cartridges at the same time. There is also a special ProvoCraft software called “Design Studio” which allows you to combine images from two different cartridges. So you can really start to multiply the use of each cartridge with these two add-ons.
- There is another software called “SureCutsALot” (not made by ProvoCraft) which allows you to use your Cricut with your computer and to cut any TrueType font off your computer. [WARNING: check out this blog post on Cricut- some people have significant problems with getting this system to work on computers with Vista as the operating system.]
The Cricut Expression machine does cut through a variety of materials, including paper, cardstock, adhesive-backed vinyl, stencil material, magnetic material, and flocked, heat transfer fabric. ProvoCraft also makes pens that can be used in place of the cutting blade, so you can draw the desired image.
My complaint about the Cricut Expression?
- The price. Although I honestly don’t think it’s a rip-off; it’s a computer that cuts, so there is a lot of hardware and software involved. It’s just tough to cough up that much money for one piece of equipment in our hobby.
- It does not emboss. Period.
- Don’t buy the Spellbinders Wizard. It is too cludgey to use, and there are other options that are more user friendly.
- If you are really strapped for cash, the Cuttlebug is a good choice. It is compact, it die-cuts a variety of materials, and it embosses.
- If you can swing a $99 investment, you can’t beat the BigShot. Stable during use, it die-cuts through many different types and thicknesses of material, and it can emboss.
- If you can afford the Cricut Expression, and you only want to die cut (and not emboss), then this investment is definitely worth it. This is particularly true if you routinely do things in quantity (like 100 Christmas cards!). Search for good deals online- they are out there.
If you were to force me to recommend just one? I’d go with the BigShot. It die-cuts, and it cuts through tons of different materials; it embosses; the Multi-Purpose Platform is really handy; it is stable and easy to use.
We would love to hear from you on these machines, and your own recommendations!! Do you agree? Disagree? Are there other machines you like better? Let us know!