Monday, August 30, 2010

Understanding the eCraft

A new follower asked me a couple of questions, so I thought that it would be a good idea to address it here so that anyone that is new to the eCraft can understand what I am referring to in my posts and on my videos.

The first question that she asked was in regards to unbranded cardstock and how the eCraft Settings Chart would work for her.  Even if you are not using the name brand paper, if you are somewhat familiar with it, find a paper on the list that is similar to what you are using in terms of density and use that as a starting point.  Since I don't know which paper you are referring to, I probably have a pretty good idea of what the paper is like.  I would look at the Recollections settings as a good starting point.  From there, test out your paper similar to how I am testing the papers here.  Even if the paper that you are using is listed, it is always advisable to make a test cut because there are so many factors that can affect how well a paper will cut.

The next question that was asked was in regards to the tabs, and she hadn't seen anything like it on the Slice or the CraftRobo.  So here is my explanation of the eCraft and how it is different from any other cutting system out there.

The eCraft does not use a mat.  All the cutting systems that I am aware of use some sort of mat to hold the paper in place while the machine is cutting.  The Slice for example uses a glass mat that you have to apply an adhesive to, and the Craft Robo has a sticky mat that you stick your paper to and then load the mat.  So how does the eCraft hold the paper in place?  The eCraft uses a roller system.  When you insert your paper there is a roller above your paper and below your paper.  These rollers hold the paper in place while the machine is cutting so that the paper doesn't travel.  Since the eCraft has this roller system, the engineers at Craftwell had to come up with a way for the cut image to be held to the paper so that the cut piece doesn't get caught up in the rollers.  The solution for this was the tabs.  You can program the machine as to how often these tabs occur (tab density) and how big the tabs are (tab width).  Once you cut your design and remove the paper from the machine, these tabs are all that is holding your cut to the paper.  In most cases, the cut will pop out of the paper.  Sometimes you may have to work it a little to get these tabs to release the cut, but I have found that this is most likely to happen with intricate shapes such as flourishes that have swirls.  Sometimes the tabs may be visible after removing from the paper.  In this case, you can sand them down or snip them off.

So what is the advantage of the tabs over using the mats?  There are three that I have found.  The first is purely economical.  If you are using the sticky mats, they either have to be replaced or "re-stickied" occasionally.  These mats can be quite expensive to replace.  I have a Cricut Expression and a pack of 2 mats would run anywhere from $10-13.  I did  make a habit of "re-sticking" my mats.  This did cost some money to pay for the adhesive and then it also took some time to do it.  The second advantage is removing the cuts.  When using a sticky mat, you have to pry the cuts off the mat with a spatula tool, and occasionally you will have trouble removing a cut and it will tear, so then you have to start all over again.  The third advantage is that the sticky mat is just cumbersome.  It can be a challenge to keep it clean, and you have to store them somewhere so that they are accessible.  Before I had the eCraft, whenever I wanted to make a cut, I found myself thinking about how much I wanted that cut.  The reason for that is because of the mats, I just did not like dealing with them.

If you are in the market for an electronic die cutting machine, there is something else that I think you should consider before making your decision. Is this system cartridge based?  I will refer to the Cricut Expression because it is the die cutter that I am most familiar with.  Provo Craft (Cricut) has made all Cricut products cartridge based.  What this means is that you need to buy their cartridges to have designs to cut.  Because of this you are limited to the cuts available on the cartridges and by the cartridges that you own.  If you are considering a cartridge based system, look at the available cartridges and make sure that the "feel" of these cartridges matches your style.  If you do not like the cuts available on these cartridges, then you should not buy that die cutting machine.  The good news is that there are other options for these systems, even though the manufacturers won't tell you about them.  In regards to the Cricut, there are two software programs available (made by non-Provo Craft companies) that will allow you to cut True Type fonts (thousands available for free) as well as SVG files (scalable vector graphics files).  There are also thousands of SVG files available online for free.  The two programs that I am familiar with are Sure Cuts A Lot and Make The Cut.  I recommend Make the Cut over Sure Cuts A Lot.  The catch with these programs is that if you use them, the manufacturer's will void your warranty.  I am not convinced that the manufacturer would even know if you did or not, but you should be aware of that.

What the eCraft is doing that is different from other cutting systems is that it is not strictly cartridge based.  The eCraft has SD cards with designs available on them, but you are not limited to those SD cards.  The eCraft also has software that will allow you to cut True Type Fonts and SVG files, and that software is from Craftwell the makers of the eCraft.  So no worries about voiding your warranty.  The other thing that Craftwell is doing is (not available yet).  From what I have heard, this website will allow you to view the images available on the SD cards and will allow you to purchase these images individually.  That means that if you like a cut on an SD card, you will not have to buy the entire SD card, you would have the option of buying only that image.  Supposedly, there will also be the possibility for you to put  your designs on the site so that other users can purchase them, and you could make some money from your hard work.  Craftwell also has announced that there will be an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad application that is will also you to design on the go.  I should point out that the software, the website, and the app, are not available yet.  I have only seen demos of these products and have not used them yet myself, so I cannot at this point say how well they work.  Once these products become available to me, I will report my findings here on my blog.

Another thing that you should consider is the company behind the cutter.  Craftwell is new to the electronic die cutter market, and that has its advantages and disadvantages.  The disadvantage is the unknown.  Can they compete against the other more established companies out there, and will they make enough money on the products so that they have the money to re-invest and make improvements to existing products and develop new products?  The advantage (and ultimately the reason why I decided to buy) is that Craftwell really wants to make a great product.  They have postponed the release of the eCraft because of the feedback that they received from the beta testers.  They did not want to put an inferior product out on the market, and get a poor reputation because of it.  They decided that it was better to wait and make it great before releasing it.  They also have been really responsive to the consumers out there.  I have written about how I sent Craftwell an e-mail on a Sunday before I made the decision to buy with some questions, and just a few hours later I received an e-mail back from the Vice President.  I was truly shocked, and great customer service is a huge plus to me.  I again will refer to Provo Craft, because I am more familiar with them.  Last fall they released a product called the Gypsy.  The Gypsy is a handheld device that allows you to design your cuts (using only their cartridges) on the go.  The Gypsy was released with a lot of fanfare.  I actually was not going to get one, and then I ended up winning one in a contest, so I got one of the very first Gypsys.  The Gypsy was overpriced right out of the gate at $299, and it was filled with problems.  I found it had fewer features than their computer software Design Studio (which was not a great program, and in fact their consumers have been screaming for certain things to be fixed on it and it has not happened yet).  Just recently, through various updates, the Gypsy is now similar to Design Studio.  Also interesting to note, is that recently people can get the Gypsy for $99 or less!  I mention this because Provo Craft had to know that the Gypsy was not a great product when they released it, but they released it anyway.  Then after all the complaints, why did it take over 6 months for them to fix it?  My guess is that if they had waited to release it until all of these problems were solved, they would have been better off.  The price of the product alone would not have plummeted, and they would have most likely sold more units because word of mouth advertising is not only the best advertising out there, but it also doesn't cost them anything!

In closing, every crafter is different and has different needs.  I am not going to tell you which machine you should buy, but I will advise you to look at it closely.  I decided to take a gamble when I pre-ordered the eCraft because based on the information I had, I felt it would be the best choice for me.  I like to deal with companies that care about their products and their customers.  I like the idea of not having a mat.  I like the idea of being able to purchase only the images that I want.  I like the idea that the company making the product actually encourages us crafters to expand and grow with their product by offering us options beyond their SD cards.  Do I like my Cricut Expression?  I do, it has worked well for me.  Will I buy another Cricut Expression when mine breaks? I don't know yet.  Whatever decision you make, make sure that it is the right decision for you. 

On another note:  Tom Meeks over at the Create and Cut Blog has made another great discovery about tab density. Check out his post HERE, and if you are not following his blog, you really should as I have found his unique perspective to be invaluable.  I would not understand the eCraft nearly as well as I do without his contributions!  Thank you Tom for all you have done, and I look forward to going to your blog everyday!

Thanks to everyone who made it through this rather long post!  I will have some more results to share you with tomorrow!

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