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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!

Android Camera Apps

Reported by Jessica Ripley

I’ll admit it, I have an unnatural attachment to my phone. However, I am not an iPhone user. At the mercy of my husband who is the tech guru of the household, we became an Android family, and while I once rolled my eyes at those that had their very lives tied to their smart phones, I became a quick convert once I got my hands on my current Android Samsung Epic.

Yes it is a great phone, but like the iPhone, what makes Android so much darn fun is the Marketplace full of apps (short for Applications in case you are in the dark like I was not so very long ago). There are apps for everything, and after I’d found several games to waste time during my train commute (like tools to balance my budget, and ways to find a new restaurant), as a scrapbooker I naturally began to seek out camera apps. I had long envied those super cool shots that iPhone users were able to get right out of their phone. It was like they had a mini Photoshop (which is also an app by the way) right at their fingertips. But which apps would allow me to do this on my Android phone? I was thrilled to find several! Below are three that I would recommend. All are found in the Android Market:


FxCamera

Cost: Free

FxCamera is an app that does exactly what it says, instantly applies certain effects to your shot. There are a total of six different effects to choose from including:

ToyCam (provides a light leaky colorized effect):


Polandroid (my favorite of the options, includes a Polaroid type frame):

Fisheye (gives the effect of a fish eye lens):

SymmetriCam (creates a mirror image effect of your photos, not necessarily my favorite but could be neat).

Warhol (think Andy Warhol art from your photos):


Normal (normal yes, but also has color filters, sepia option, posterize, and more).

This is a simple to use app that has some basic functionality to give your photos that little extra something. Many of the effects also have options to configure them further, such as adding a faded or aged effect. My favorite of these options is by far the Polandroid, and I use it again and again.

Pros:

  • A very decent app for free.
  • Easy options to navigate and use.

Cons:

  • There are ads since it is a free app, but they are unobtrusive and only in the selection screen.
  • I only use one or two of the effects regularly, and they are similar to effects in another app I have and prefer (see below) so I rarely use this app anymore.

Retro Camera
Cost: Free or $2.99 for the “Plus” version.

Inspired by Lomo and Holga type photography, the Retro Camera app is very fun to use, and turns your phone into one of five vintage cameras. What I love about this app is not only the pictures it takes, but also just the look of the app itself. Each camera is artfully illustrated from the moment you navigate through to select one, to actually taking the photo itself. Choices include:

The Barbl (Creates a square, grungy bordered, low saturation shot):


Little Orange Box (Creates a very grungy shot, highly processed shot, and has a black and white option):




Xolaroid 2000 (Another “Polaroid” type, similar to the effect of that on the FxCamera app but with a black and white option also):


The Pinhole (Provides a shot with a full bleed “35 mm” effect, with low saturation):


The Fudgecan (A square shot with a “burnt” border and low saturation):


As you can see, all of the options provide the slightly faded, grungy look that we love about vintage photos. While I don’t use this one all the time, I do really love the ‘artsty’ effects it brings to photos that are very unique to the app. The only difference between the free and paid version of this app are the advertisements. As of the date of this article, both versions provide the same effects, though the developers are currently taking suggestions on their Facebook page for their next “camera” to add to the group.

Pros:

  • The free version is a bargain indeed.
  • Very fun to use and to play with. One photo could take on many, many different looks with just this one app. (Though you’d have to take the photo several times rather than just edit it, see more on that below)

Cons:

  • Ads for the free version are more “in your face” and never really go away. But, they stay at the bottom of the screen and don’t interfere with your photo fun.
  • The photos this app take may be a little too “stylized” for some.

Vignette
Cost: $4.00, but a free demo version is available.

I highly recommend this camera app for Android. If you only ever wanted to have to deal with one, even with a small cost associated, it is by far my favorite. With over 60 effects, frames, and styles, it provides countless opportunities to play with and edit your photos right from your phone. Here’s a collection of some of favorite shots with this app:


There are far too many options to list (there are eight categories such as “Vintage”, “Lens Effect”, and “Colour Highlight” that have several further sub-options to choose from). However my favorite feature is that I can take a photo using any effect, but apply a different effect (or another, or another) until I achieve the look I want, just like I would do with actions in Photoshop (a series of edits meant to achieve a specific look, but with the act of just one click rather than several adjustments). On other apps, the style you choose to shoot the photo in is the one you are stuck with.

Not only does this app have a plethora of effects from which to choose (from normal to highly stylized), it also includes support for the front facing camera (for those of us who like to take those self portraits for Facebook which again, I’ll admit to that), a self timer, and even a digital zoom. For a $4.00 app, I’ve replaced my $200 point-and-shoot. Why take photos on a regular camera which I then have to download into Photoshop and edit when I can do it in one easy step on my phone? I am also able to further customize the app by saving certain favorite features I like together, such as “Action Movie” (vivid reds against a blue-green tone) together with an “Instant Transfer” frame. Just another two of the many options.


Pros:

  • So many options to choose from, I consider the $4.00 price tag a big bargain.
  • Includes additional features such as support for the front facing camera if your phone has one, self timer, and digital zoom.

Cons:

  • It can be a little slow to load due to the number of options available, but this isn’t a huge deterrent for me to make it my go to app when taking a photo.
  • The number of options could be overwhelming, but I just find them fun!

There are of course many, many other camera app options both free and at a small cost out there to choose from. I’d love to hear if you have an Android phone and have another favorite and why, or if you use any of those above what your favorite feature is.

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

Craft Supply Organizers: What to Look For

Reported by Jessica Ripley

Recently, fellow reporter Taylor Usry wrote a great article on organizing your craft supplies. It is that time isn’t it? With Spring right around the corner, it’s time to declare war on any clutter in our craft areas. Both to start the Spring Cleaning off right, and of course to make way for all the new stuff we choose to get our hot little hands on.

Luckily, the craft industry isn’t a fool when it comes to knowing we not only love our supplies, but also love ways to keep them neat and tidy. There are a multitude of organization items geared specifically toward pretty much anything we as crafters own. From stamps and ink, to ribbon and beads, to paper and punches, if you own it someone will sell you something to put it in. In fact there are so many options, it can sometimes make your head spin while trying to decide just exactly what will work best for you. And then before you know it you need an organizer for all your organizers!

So what should you look for when shopping for a supply organizer? Here is a list of five things to have in mind to keep you both centered and sane while you make a creative space fit just for your needs.

1. How much space do I have to devote to storage?
Look at your crafting area (or room if you are so lucky) and decide first where organizers and storage could go.

  • Look Up: Do you have shelves already or can you install some on the wall? Are they nice and deep or narrow?
  • Look Down: Are there places you could have a free-standing unit? Like under your work table or in a closet?
  • Look Around: Do you have ample counter space? Or just a tiny work area that is often cluttered with your latest project?

I have square shelves and a large L-shaped desk. I never use the entire desk surface as I tend to keep my projects consolidated, so I knew I could utilize my desktop space for storage too. This carousel by Making Memories was then something I knew would work well for me.

Craft Critique’s review of the desktop carousel will help convince you. It does take up a lot of surface area, however it was space I could spare, and it’s been wonderful for having items right at my fingertips.

2. What one thing do I tend to own the most of?
Do you have so many flowers you could rival the royal gardens? Do you desire every bit of ribbon you see? Or do you have so many ink pads the police come calling when they run out at the station for fingerprinting? Whatever your addiction, that is what deserves its own specialized organizer or location. There’s nothing worse that digging through other items just to find your favorites.

In my case, I tend to collect pens. I have all sorts. Therefore they have their own drawer where nothing else is allowed, and where I can spread them out liberally for the picking.

3. Will I use it if I can’t see it? (or forget I have it?)
Are you more likely to use something from your stash if it’s staring you in the face? Or do you have a mental inventory of what you have on hand and know exactly which pieces you would like to work with?

I need to see as many of my supplies as possible or I’ll neglect them. I am horrible at neatly putting something away, only to find it months later, and then not be as in love with it as I was before (I admit it, I like the newness of the trends). So, I knew I needed something that would display what I had or I’d never get to it (or just keep buying new). The solution to this for me was the Clip it Up by Simply Renee.

It’s been perfect for keeping me using what I have, and fit my need for counter top items. I also have see through drawers to remind me I do not need any more beads, ink pads, etc. You can read reviews of the Clip it Up on Craft Critique here and here, and also a recent review of the upper extension piece here.

4. Is it functional for what I create with?
Meaning, is it a good fit for what I like to keep on hand? Or am I just wanting it because it makes for a pretty view?

I have been tempted by many an organizer simply because it looked pretty on the wall when filled with certain products. You’ve seen the pictures too, where a perfectly organized wall unit or shelf is filled with embellishments all in the same color and they are placed just so. That’s not a realistic and working craft room, that’s a photo shoot. If you have the room to enjoy such a thing I say have at it, but if not, remember the difference when you shop.

And finally,

5. Can I re-purpose something I already own, or purchase something less expensive?
While there are a multitude of products to choose from for craft organization, this elite description does come with a price tag. There are many times when with a little thinking outside the box, you can create or find something not specifically meant for craft supplies, but that will do just dandy. So ask yourself:

  • Have I checked the hardware of thrift store for something similar?
  • Do they have something in the office supply store that would work?
  • If I just washed out this spaghetti sauce jar and peeled off the label would anyone besides me ever know it wasn’t meant for buttons?

For example, I used a clear over the door shoe holder just like this one for many of my supplies. It was less than $10.00, and is perfect for my punches and stamps.


I’ve also found many options at thrift stores. An old paper towel holder becomes a ribbon spool, or an outdated spice rack a place for bits and baubles. There is also a bonus of getting to re-purpose thrift store items. Raise your hand if you like to alter things too!

So, whether you are reorganizing what you already have, or purchasing new, keep the above five questions in mind when you go. It will keep your organization process as it should be, simple and stress free.

You can also find lots more ideas and reviews on organizational products right here on Craft Critique. Some examples:

Organizing Done Cheaply

Librarian’s Guide to Organizing Scrapbook Paper

ACDSee for Organizing Digital Supplies

An Organization Blog Carnival (and Part 2)

ScrapOnizer Toolbox

Ribbon Ring

Photo Storage Boxes

Scrapbook Organization: A Manifesto

Ikea for Craft Storage

And more! Use the handy Google search box in the sidebar to look for whatever you might desire. And if you can’t find it here, let us know you want us to review it!

What other things might you look for when deciding on which organizational items work best for you? Any tips or tricks to share with our readers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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