Saturday, July 31, 2010

You might know you could count on a Shopping Diva

I scoured Flickr for these still images of the eCraft booth.  They were posted by Shopping Diva, who by the number of uploads to Flickr (12,000+), appears to be quite a prolific photographer.

For those wanting to see the entire Summer CHA, you might want to visit their Flickr Photostream where you will find more than 1000 photos!

eCraft Videos starting to Surface

This new video of the eCraft at the CHA Summer 2010, showed up this evening. It was uploaded by Cindy Echtinaw of and runs about 2 minutes. The interesting thing that comes to light in this video is that the Print-Then-Cut feature, at the moment, apparently does not do a fill.  This is understandable since the drawing is done using a simply ball-point pen.  The trick, therefore, if we want to Print-Then-Cut is to design the drawings FOR a ball-point pen style.  If we want solid colors then layering objects is probably best.

However, the spokesperson showing the machine in action seemed to hint that in the future the drawing capabilities might be enhanced.  There is a bit of a loud retort from what sounds to be another eCraft employee when someone makes the suggestion that you have to watch for the paper tearing.  Look for it.  It takes several replays to catch on to what is happening.  :)

Our thanks to Cindy and all those that are posting images and videos.

Thinking Big! Image from Summer CHA eCraft booth

For what it's worth, the eCraft folks seem to saying they a BIG thinkers when it comes to examples of designs created with the eCraft.  These images come from and were captured in eCraft's booth, Summer CHA 2010.

 The print is hard to see, so this is what it says...

Inspired by Craftwell's mid-year print ad featuring a 15-inch all-season
paper wreath cut by the eCraft.  JURASSIC WREATH is tge larger-
than life embodiment of our message to crafters everywhere.  It's time
for larger than life ideas.  With the new eCraft, the only limit to your
creativity is the size of your imagination.  So, start thinking BIG.

You know, I'm inclined to agree with them.  The eCraft IS different.  Don't expect it to be perfectly polished right out of the starting gate.  Expect some limitations in the software and even some in cutting performance as well.  This, after all, is a NEW idea and NEW ideas take some refinement.  But, even more important than it being a NEW idea is that it is a BIG and EXPANSIVE idea that sets new boundaries for where digital die cutting cutting machines can go.

This blog is going to be a place to constantly reminds all of us.  


Don't just create a Halloween card with your cutter this year.  Create THE great Halloween COSTUME!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

eCraft - Dressing up the Digital Die Cutter

While we didn't see it on camera, one of the things that was alluded to in the video that Leo Kowal, of, shot was that the eCraft could be used with fabric.

Craftwell has posted three dresses built from fabric, and other materials, cut by the eCraft.  Each dress is created using different materials from glitter paper to wood veneer.  The one we show here was created using hundreds of 1-1/2" glitter paper discs.

I won't steal their thunder by showing the other dresses.  To see the others and an explanation of how each was constructed, go to eCraft's Facebook page.

This versatility was the promise that convinced me to pre-purchase an eCraft.

Up to now, the bulk of the buyers for digital die cutting machines purchased them for their scrapbook projects.  The eCraft promises to open up whole new creative possibilities and markets.  From what I've seen of the creativity of the scrapbooking community, I'm betting that a whole new explosion of creativity is about to burst forth in all directions.

You guys have the ideas, dedication and skills.  I can hardly wait to see what you do with this new tool!

Get ready for Lift-Off!

First Video of the eCraft from CHA by SVGCuts.Com is run by great people with great attitudes.  And, their staff is very proficient in both digital photography and video.  So, I'm VERY pleased to see that they have posted the first video that I have been able to find of the eCraft in action at CHA Summer 2010.

The great thing about this video is that they thought to bring their own SVG file to test!

The other thing of note about this video is that it reveals the changes to the head assembly in a nicely detailed way.

There is one strange quirk in this video.  Look at this screen capture.

Is the video flipped horizontally, or is he driving from the right side of the car and not the left? 
It's a mystery that I shall chase down with all vigor!!!


The entire video was shot by Leo Kowal of with his cell phone camera.  Great video for a cell phone!  If you are interested in using SVG files with the eCraft, then is THE place to visit.  What drew me to the site was how encouraging Leo was to the members in being helpful to them with their own photography.  Leo is a great photographer and I was immediately impressed not only by the quality of his advice; but, his willingness to go the extra mile to be helpful.  I'm very happy to have found that great site... in spite of the fact that I am equally glad I wasn't on the same road with him that day.  Talk about multi-tasking!!!!  Wow!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Videos of CHA 2010 Reveal the Cricut Imagine

I was alerted to The Purple Paper Paradise Blog which, brings us a brief "first look" at the Cricut Imagine based on what appear to be the very first videos released to the web.

I'll wait until we see more before commenting.  But, conspicuously absent are any live demos of the machine.  We HEAR about the machine in the videos; but, we don't see it actually printing and cutting.  Perhaps we'll see that in later videos that get posted.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Easy" that isn't

We're in a bit of a holding pattern since CHA has not begun and the eCraft machines are still in the delivery pipeline.  So, in an effort to become a little LESS clueless about digital cutters, I thought I'd use the time to look around a bit at all the current offerings.

I begin by exploring the Sizzix eClips by viewing their promotional videos.

Because the eClips is limited to modifying internal or cartridge based shapes, it falls outside of our area of interest.  Bur, even so, the quest was not without some merit that helps to remind us of some basic things we need to keep in mind when evaluating software and systems.

Before viewing a video that demonstrates the eClips navigation system, I'd like to point out some of my observations so that when you take the time to view the short video, you can see if you agree or not.

The whole point of the video is to convince you that the remote control is very EASY to use.  But, it appears to me that they completely missed the boat on that one by the layout of their buttons.  The demonstrator is constantly going back and forth between the screen and various buttons that have very few visual clues as to their immediate function. Until one learns the relationship of the screen and buttons at different points along the design flow, it appears to me that the interface isn't intuitive at all.

By including buttons around the perimeter of the screen, they could have used the screen, itself, to provide clues as to the appropriate actions at any stage of the design process.  A great example of a truly easy screen\button interface can be found on many digital keyboards.  Watch how effortlessly the player can switch styles, etc.  That is because the the screen and buttons are linked. No jumping back and forth.


Now, let's compare the Sizzix eClips design in which the screen and buttons are NOT obviously linked.  Let's take a look at the navigation video for the eClips remote.

To me this is a perfect example of calling something EASY when it is not.

Of course, to be fair, "easy" is a relative term.  But, my criteria is based on the possible design verses the chosen design.  And, by this criteria, the eClips designers could have done a LOT better job actually making the eClips easy to use with fewer steps involved in the user's design workflow. 

Nice idea?  Perhaps.  But, the implementation seems poor to me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cricut Imagine and the eCraft. What does it tell us?

Lysa, one of the followers of this blog, asked me if I could comment on the rumored Cricut Imagine.  My answer to her is that I am even MORE clueless about the Cricut Imagine than I am about the eCraft or the Gazelle.

But, hey!  That hasn't been much of a road block so far.  So, why not give it a try.

I am as excited about the rumored features of the Cricut Imagine as I am about the rumored features of the eCraft.  And, that is because I have learned that improvements of any kind from any manufacturer in a certain niche end up being good for everyone.

I have been an "early adopter" of technology for a long, long time.  And, I have been a real fan of some of the products and manufacturers along the way.  But, I learned early on that while it's OK to be a FAN, it is very short-sighted to be a LOYAL FAN.  The manufacturer and product that meets my needs today might not be the manufacturer or product that meets my needs tomorrow.  I want the best fit for my particular needs and that means keeping my options open.

There will be blogs that are all gaga over the Cricut Imagine's breakthrough innovation as if it came out of the blue.  But, innovation is inevitable and ideas are never created in a vacuum.  That's why toy manufacturers virtually never accept ideas sent to them by people with whom they've never worked.  Fifteen people might mail in the very same idea at the very same time and every one of them will feel that it is a completely original idea that "suddenly popped into my mind.

It doesn't take very long scouring the cutter forums to see that many people have longed for the day when they no longer would need to use a mat.  And, eCraft responded.  It also doesn't take very long to see how important "Print & Cut" is to getting the most out of a cutting machine.  And, that is the vacuum that Provo decided to address with the Cricut Imagine.  But, what does one have to do with the other?

I have to believe that the decison by Craftwell to bundle eCraftShop Pro software was, at least in part, in response to the buzz about the Cricut Imagine.  Aside from Lysa, who is a person after my own heart surrounded by machines, most digital cutter owners aren't going to be buying multiple machines. So, the market pressure of Cricut helps potential eCraft buyers because it forced Craftwell to respond by offering more.

But, don't think it stops here.  I am amazed that it has taken so long to combine inkjet technology (if that is what the Imagine is using) with a cutting blade.  I mean, it just seems like a no-brainer!  When I look into the future I envision being able to create real puffy-stickers using printable gels.   And, I think just being able to emboss with a digital cutting machine is going to be quite boring in the not too distant future.  How about being able to print out in full RELIEF as digital cutters and personal 3D printing merges together.  I also expect you can forget about those replaceable blades.  Why not using a laser to cut that can cut to ANY controlled depth.  And, don't forget the supplies.  Glitter paper is cool.  But, materials that might be able store 3D images or sound would be even cooler.

Cricut fans should be glad that Provo is still innovating.  But, please don't let this tiny step forward, that seems SO big now, fool you into seeing yourselves as a LOYAL Cricut fan.  If you do, sooner of later you will find yourself disappointed.  Be loyal to your own needs.  That is what is really important.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Wonderful Ending to the Funtime Software Yahoo Group Experience

Concurrently with my writing my criticism of the Yahoo group for Funtime Software, the moderator of that group was writing me one of the most gracious and kind replies I have ever gotten from someone whom I'd criticized.

First, she asked me to come back, and then, instead of being defensive about their policy, let me know that my email to the moderator had convinced them that the policy might be a bit too stringent.  Since policies are developed over time in response to issues that come up I can certainly understand that.  There is a bit of a pendulum effect.

But, what I want to communicate here is how impressed I was by her spirit, attitude and gentleness in communicating that they had heard what I had to say.  What more can anyone ask than that?

So, of course I am going to rejoin. 

How could I not, with a moderator that is that committed to listening to her members and who responded so kindly without a hint of defensiveness.

I certainly won't be posting blatant sales links; but, she knows that if a person is looking to solve some problem and I know the solution and the best place to find it, that I AM going to communicate it.  That, after all, is what "community" is all about.  And, certainly, at the very heart of community is reconciliation.

I'm happily off to rejoin.

Don't Expect me to be too hard on eCraftShop Immediately

There is one rule in software that has always been true and will always be true.

No matter how hard a company might try, software is never fully tested until it gets into the hands of consumers.

That is because developers, and those astute enough to be selected as alpha and beta testers, know what NOT to do.  Lurking somewhere out there, ready to buy an eCraft, are people that do NOT know what NOT to do.  And, they are going to do it. 

I expect to be one of them.

"Gee.  I only tried to make 1000 quarter inch circles spaced 1/200th of an inch apart.  Why ain't it working?"

So, this post is to put everyone on notice that even if I find MAJOR flaws in eCraftShop software, version 1.0, I will only point it out.  I will NOT join any chorus of those roundly denouncing it as "garbage".  Hopefully, there will be no need for ANYONE to say that.  But, it's important to realize that software design and development is an evolutionary process involving positive feedback and responses to that feedback.

I'll give you a relatively recent example.

Canon supplies the Digital Photo Professional (DPP) RAW format processor with every SLR camera.  Frankly, the first time I used the first version I was appalled and stuck with PhotoShop.  But, I kept coming back to try it with each revision.  And, now I've come to LOVE that product.  It is the only thing I now use to process my digital images and it's wonderful.

Expect to hit some glitches as we put the new software from eCraft through it's paces.  But, let's also be fair and constructive.  Of course, patience will have its limits.  If it isn't a fabulous product by version 3.0 then we'll have good reason to gripe.

But, for now, let's cut them some slack.  I know I will.  One can be honest without being harsh.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

So... What is the Plan from the Clueless Guy!


There was a time when it appeared the eCraft might NEVER see the light of Day.  But, now Kim Bush, from whom I ordered my machine, assures me that one will be here either this week or next.   Uh Oh!  It's time to get with the program and come up with a plan that will help prove that even a clueless guy can be useful.

So, I thought I'd let you in on how I plan to test my eCraft while letting you look over my shoulder.

All of us by now are up to speed on my liabilities when it comes to intelligently testing the eCraft.  The first being, of course, the fact that I have absolutely NO real experience with ANY digital cutter.  Yep.  That has got to be seen as a bit of a liability in the REAL world.  But, we are in a VIRTUAL world.  And, we all know that in a virtual world it's easy for clueless people to excel.  (Political Blogs, anyone?)

And, my plan is to excel at beating up on my new eCraft so you don't have to.  My plan is to ignore the hype and get down to the nuts and bolts of learning and using that thing.  My plan is to be honest when I'm confused and deliriously happy when I find that I can figure something out easily.

And, my plan is to ignore the fact that I'm clueless about digital cutting machines and bring to the table those experiences and skills where I am NOT clueless.  So, what are some of these.

First, I'll bring my 15 years of video production experience to try to make interesting and informative videos that pack a lot of information in 90 seconds for less.  I expect some things to demand longer.  But, the discipline of aiming to come in under 90 seconds will remind me that your time is precious and you don't need a boring monologue.  You need concise and useful information in as short a time as possible.

Next, I'll bring my photography skills to the table.  I don't mind if you wander on over to my Flickr sight and browse through the 8,500+ photos.  You'll find bad shots and good shots and you will see that I do NOT try to hide my mistakes if the subject is useful.  So, one of the first things I am going to try to do is to get USEFUL images that explore every aspect of the eCraft that might be truly helpful for you to see.

And, then I'll put my software interface design experience to work to seriously ferret out areas in eCraftShop Pro that still need improvement and identiy those areas that are so brilliant that even I can figure them out easily.  That design experience includes videos games (early eighties), consumer application design (Time-Life Software & Reston Publishing  mid-80's) , Hasbro NEMO Project (1985), Nolan Bushnell's Axlon toy company (1985),  the first professional desktop video application sold by a major video company (JVC Video Titler, 1984) based on the Mindset PC compatible computer, perhaps the first real-time lip sync computer animation (1985) and countless medical research and industrial data applications.

If you can help me in those areas where I am clueless, by feeding me things you like to see or see tested, then together we won't be clueless any more.  We'll virtually be EXPERTS by the time we're done!

Another Reason to long for the eCraft's Arrival!

One of the most important aspects of creative products, especially those that rely on learning and using software, is the community surrounding that product.  One of the first things I do when considering a product is to see how vibrant the community around that product is. 

I have been involved in product related communities for longer than internet groups have existed... right back to the old direct dial Compuserve days.  And, in all these past years I have never felt the need to unsubscribe out of disgust.  Until now.

And, the only thing that would make me do so is if the rules and the application of the rules was such that one could not help people without getting a reprimand and then finding that others are NOT getting reprimanded for blatant breaking of the rules.  In other words as the saying goes, "Everyone is equal.  But, some are more equal than others."

The Gazelle was not an inexpensive printer at the time I purchased it.  So, even though I definitely think the eCraft design is more to my liking, I thought I would at least give the Gazelle a shot and try to see if the Funtime software was better than my initial reaction.  So, I joined a Yahoo group for Funtime.  It turned out to be a Not-so-Funtime.

I always try to be as helpful as I can within an online community.  So, because I do not know Funtime all that well, I looked for other opportunities to be helpful in areas of my expertise.  Almost immediately I saw a question from someone who wanted recommendations for a good photo printer.  Now, as someone who captured more than 8000 images last year, and has been printing digital camera images since 1996, I KNOW a little bit about photo printers.  I have at least 10 printers right now of various brands for different purposes.  Some are wide carriage for posters and others only print on CDs and DVDs. 

As timing would have it, I'd just purchased a Canon MX870 for it's multi-page scanning capability.  And, I got it at a great price...$149.95  So, I made the fatal mistake of not only telling the person about the printer; but, suggesting a place that was even less expensive. 

ZING!  The polite email informed me that while I was only trying to be helpful that was NOT allowed.


So, a day or two later, after removing the offending link to B & H Photo, I mentioned that I am getting excellent color and great yeild from all of my calibrated Canon printers.  That prompted the direct question... "How do you calibrate your printer?"  Good question.  Easy answer.  I use Spyder Studio 3 screen and printer calibration system manufactured by Datacolor... and included a link to Datacolor's site so that the questioner could see what it was like.

ZING!  Another polite email informed me of my terrible offense.

So, THEY recieved an email in response.  I noticed that one member had directly referred members to a sales site for a continuous ink system and that message had remained without being ZINGED! into non-existence. 

I can understand that a company that creates a group might want to prevent members of that group from posting links to competitor's sites.  That's certainly legitimate.  But, for the life of me, I cannot understand keeping people who have asked for help, in entirely NON-COMPETING areas, from getting the most direct help they can, including links to the manufacturer.  The Funtime Software Yahoo group is the first in my experience that goes that far and even then appears to apply those rules haphazzardly.

I don't need that.  Community is community and I've found several other digital cutter related communities that do allow their members to share the kinds of information that they need as long as the help is not a link to a competitor.  I can live with that rule.

I was on the fence about keeping the Gazelle and using precious time to learn Funtime in more depth.  Not any more.  I'll keep it for a while as I fully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the eCraft machine.  But, if the eCraft does all I need, then the need for Funtime disappears. 

I unsubscribed and, at least for now, will pack up the Gazelle for now and look for the eCraft to arrive.

Products like digital cutters are more than simply steel and plastic.  They are idea realizers.  And, no matter who we are we need help getting the most of our selected idea realizer.  And, there is no better way to get this help than to be a part of a vibrant community of people helping people.  If members can't help without getting ZINGED! then it's hard to believe that you are truly getting all the help that others want to give because they, too, might be being ZINGED! as they try to answer YOUR question.  And, that is unacceptable.

Monday, July 19, 2010

We won't have to wait much longer - eCraft is shipping!

There is a new announcement on the eCraft Facebook Page announcing that some eCraft cutting machines have been shipped and stores should have them on their shelves by the last week in July.

This announcement, was expected because it would have been very tough for Craftwell to go onto the Crafts and Hobby Association (CHA) show floor still promising delivery in the future.  After all, it has been almost a year since those tantalizing videos of the current machine started showing up on YouTube and Vimeo.

I'm hoping to have one to review by the end of this week or the next.  The person from whom I bought mine will be at CHA, so if it does not arrive in their store by this week we'll have to wait until their return to pick it up.  That's OK.  The important thing is that any smoke and mirrors rumors can be put to rest.  It IS shipping and is shipping NOW.


Those who pre-ordered will be getting the Pro version of the eCraftShop software.  That's a $159.99 value for free, based on the reported price up to this point. 

But, we can only pre-order at the $259.95 price through July 25, 2010.  On Monday, July 26, 2020 the pre-order price goes up to $349.95.  We understand that those who pr-order from the first delivery batch, on the boat as this is being written, will also get the Pro version of the software with their eCraft.  Once the first batch of machines is gone, the price and packaging might be completely different.

Again, based on the enthusiasm of those that have had pre-production machines, it looks like those that pre-order will NOT be disappointed.  I'm crossing my fingers and hoping I get one this week so that those of you on the fence will have more independent information.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Popping a Gasket!

As I sit here, waiting for the release of the eCraft digital die cutter I realized that I could either pop a gasket or make one. I decided it was much more useful to make one.

Maybe it's a guy thing or the fact that I am not nearly artistic enough to whip up one of those terrific scrapbooking projects that blow people away. But, you'll probably find that my projects are a bit outside the mainstream for a cutting machine user. After all, one of the reasons I picked up my daughter's machine is that, aside from helping her (My favorite excuse) I also want to make some light modifiers for my many microscopes. But, more on that later.

Right now, I want to get back to my alternative to popping a gasket.

This past year we had a lot of snow here in Maryland. And, I happen to own three snow blowers of various vintages. We haven't had any significant snow in years.  Of course, now that I needed them every single one of them had some issue with their carburetors. So, I ordered new carburetors for them.

Unfortunately, one of the carburetors arrived without a gasket. So, this evening, to take my mind off the eCraft delivery, I decided to cut my own gasket with the Gazelle. Not a very artistic endeavor. But, useful nonetheless.

So, I first placed the carburetor on a scanner and came up with this image.

I then worked with the image in PhotoImpact until I had created a JPG that looked like this.
Then I imported the above image into Funtime, vectorized it through a mysterious process, that I still do not think I have completely right.  And, then asked the Gazelle to cut the gasket shape out of cardboard.  Amazingly, it was precisely the correct size!

Hardly stunning.  But, digital cutters are tools and the more uses we find for them the more we can justify their cost and the time it takes to learn to use them.  Now, when it snows next year I WILL be ready.  (Which means, of course, that we won't see snow for at LEAST another 5 years or so.)

P.S.  Don't show your mechanically minded spouses this blog entry unless you want greasy fingerprints on that pink cutter of yours.  Once they see this they'll think of a LOT of uses for it out in the garage.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Musing on Cutter Mats... Or, Lack Thereof!

Ah... the idle mind. Or... actually, in this case, the mind that refuses to remain idle in the face of absolutely NO new information. My mind has refused to be idle of late. And, it's all because of that illusive eCraft cutting machine!!

Sans facts, my mind races to fill in the blanks... right or wrong. As I fight the traffic around the DC beltway, my brain refuses to allow me to simply growl at the other drivers and wanders off into an imaginary world where I have the eCraft in my hot little hands.

There is something about the brain that actually LIKES not having all the facts. This leaves it free to wander in any direction it wants. And, somewhere between Tyson's Corner and Cabin John, Maryland the brain in this head took off into musing about the possibilities afforded by NOT having to immediately remove a cut shape from its page.

Now, with a mat, when I cut a shape I'm forced to either lift the shape or lift the page from which it was cut,  separating the two.  I have little choice in the matter.  The adhesive demands it.  And, like it or not that has ramifications on the types of applications we can effectively address with our cutter.

But, with the eCraft, the material comes out of the printer with the cut shape and the page, from which is has been cut, still intact and  TOGETHER. And, THAT started my brain thinking in 3D.

Suppose we design a set of pages with registration holes that might fit onto a corresponding set of pegs in a precise layout. Then, from page to page, we made changes to a shape. If we print each layer, leaving the page/shape intact and placed each page over the registration pegs, we could build up precisely aligned layers creating a 3D object.

Now, that isn't easy with a mat system. And, it might not be practical with a matless system. But, it sure might be fun to try.

Sitting next to me and staring at me is one of the little guys in the image below that printed with the Desktop Factory 3D printer.  If you look closely, you can see that he is built in layers.

About three years ago it looked like personal 3D printers might be VERY nearing release.  I began a 3D Printing blog and was fortunate enough to be able to test some 3D printer materials from Desktop Factory... including testing removing support materials from this little reindeer.

Unfortunately, we are still a ways away from having an off-the-shelf personal 3D printer that can do more than simply extrude plastic. The least expensive, the BTF 3000 is still over $3000!  In the meantime, that should not stop us from THINKING in 3D, even if it's a bit clunky. And, a mat-less cutter might be just a small step closer to that 3D dream.

The resolution and detail is not going to be even close to what a real 3D printer can deliver.  But, that shouldn't stop us from seeing what we CAN do to go beyond 2D in new and different ways that go beyond simply folding.  And, it shouldn't stop us from expanding our imaginations to widen our views of what a digital die cutter can do for us.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

So, what do we think after a few days with the Bosskut Gazelle?

A digital cutting machine is no small investment either in money or the time that it takes to make it useful.  One only has one shot at capturing one's initial feelings about whether or not that investment looked like a wise choice in the first few days of using one.  And, the answer to that should be helpful to many, many people sitting on the fence who, like me, have never really tried one yet.

I'm in the unique position of having made an investment one year ago and just now opening the box to see if the vision I had back then was true or not.  For a variety of good reasons the Gazelle went unused for a year and has just been taken out of the box and set up.  And, at the same time a new cutter is coming on the market that promises to be a better match for the goals we have for a cutter.  So, effectively, I have made investments in two different cutters with little experience with one and no experience with the other.  Now, I am embarking on the first steps to see if those investments are worth it.

So, after these first few days of using a Gazelle, with a version of Funtime that is one revision back, what are our initial feelings?  (I'm including both daughters and both grandchildren since all now have had a chance to see the Gazelle in action.)

Costs are both tangible and intangible

It didn't take long to find out that one can spend a LOT of money on suitable paper and that these machines don't come with a million canned shapes.  Expendables are not going to be cheap.  So, one had better weigh the operating costs as just as important as the initial machine cost.   The Gazelle, when I pre-ordered it in 2009, was $429.99.   The eCraft, at the time I pre-ordered it, was $259.95.  Yet, I don't expect that to be the bulk of the costs of owning either machine.  This means that in order to say that these purchases were "worth it" we have to factor in well over $688 in initial costs, alone. These are the bottom line tangible costs.

We also have to factor in the time it will take to learn the software and the quirks of each machine.  That is time that could be spent doing something else or time that cuts into the time we were spending on other things we see as creative and important.  Those are the intangible costs.

Both tangible and intangible costs need to be considered when evaluating whether or not we have made a good investment.

Returns will be both tangible and intangible.

Tangible returns for our particular situation will be realized if either or both of the machines are able to enhance the production capabilities of my daughter's artistic endeavors.  That is going to take some time to know for sure.  But, based on the little experience we now have, we are ready to make a prediction.

Intangible returns for our particular situation will be realized if our minds and creativity are stimulated in new and substantial ways.  This is NOT a trite thing.  The creative mind is an age-defying mind.  And, opening creativity in one area spawns new opportunities for creativity in others.  I place a HUGE premium and value on creativity.  And, I measure an activity's impact on my levels of creativity by how well it triggers new branches and opportunities for growth in other activities.

The same is true for my children and grandchildren.  Above all, we want to foster creative and active brains.  So, while some returns are going to be intangible, they end up having tangible value in terms of evaluating whether or not an investment in something like these cutters is going to be worth it.

The current consensus?

To a person, we have been surprised by the potential we see in just the few cuts that we have made.  We're still totally clueless about 99% of the capabilities and that has not stopped every one of us from realizing that we've been missing something that a cutter can bring to schoolwork, play, art, fun and many other areas of our lives.  We range in age from 8 to 66.  And, we've had a blast.

We've talked about materials, experimental techniques and possible out of the ordinary applications.  And, most telling of all, my artist daughter laments the fact that I didn't bring the machine home to hook it up and see what it could do much sooner.

We are confident that both of these investments will turn out to be good ones.

I can't exactly tell you WHY we are so confident.  We certainly weren't this confident BEFORE we actually used one.  In fact, I considered it a moderately big gamble with some money to be recovered by selling off the machine if it didn't pan out.  But, with just a few cuts under out belt our consensus is that we see places to go with these machines and can't wait to compare the eCraft with the Gazelle in terms of the ideas that have been spawned in just a few short days.

But, if we are wrong, you will be the first to know.

There is always the chance that we will end up being frustrated and disappointed.  And, if that turns out to be the case, then I promise you that I'll communicate that to you just as loudly and forcefully as I do my positive findings.  I've already mentioned that the mat is a pain.  But, one that I can live with for now because the current choice is mat or no cuts.  We might find that the eCraft's no mat strategy is so good that we end up parting ways with the Gazelle.  But, it might be equally true that the eCraft might not be able to pull off some important types of cuts because it does not use a mat.  Either way, you will know it when we make whatever determination we make.

The purpose of this blog is to keep you in the loop to help you when it comes time to make your own decisions about investing in a computer driven cutter.  And, right this minute, I'm among those that fall on the "Yes" side of the equation when it comes to answering the question, "Was it worth it?".


I have only been using a cutting machine with a mat for a week.  But, I already know that I will be VERY happy to have one that does NOT need a mat!

Wow! This has got to be the shortest entry that I've ever made in a blog.  And, possibly the most heartfelt!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Will the eCraft SD Memory Let Us Use Our Cutter Like Our iPod?

I was in a conversation with someone about the Razor/Razorblade concept that dominated Provo's thinking when they first introduced the Cricut. The idea was that once a person bought the initial machine the real money was in the secondary market for cartridges. After all, it has worked for the printer companies like HP and Epson. Surely it's a great idea for the cutter market!

Or, is it?

Let me take you back to 1981, with the first generation of video game consoles. I was with Astrocade then, the manfacturers of the Bally Professional Arcade.

Initially game cartridges were in very limited in both variety and supply. So, parents had no trouble at all choosing the top five or six game cartridges and they generally spent at least as much on games as they did on the console itself.

But, that all changed in late 1981 when the number of game cartridge offerings exploded.  When parents were faced with hundreds of choices they threw up their hands and made no choice at all.  That was the principle reason for the video game market crash in 1982.

In just a few minutes of researching the web, I see that there are more than a hundred different cartridges available for the Cricut and more are coming.  On the one hand this is great.  It provides for a huge number of prepackaged shapes.  On the other hand it also threatens to give us a huge headache!  How in the world does one know they are making the best investment in a cartridge when they have more than 100 from which to choose?  At some point brain freeze sets in.

And... I also think that at some point we begin to realize that the prize images we'd like to cut are distributed over many cartridges.  So, in order to purchase the 10 images we want we might have to purchase multiple cartridges at enormous cost.

People faced that very same delemma with music albums.  There was a time when in order to get the one song you liked, you had to buy an entire album.  But, along came the cassette tape and people started compiling their own tapes with just their favorites on one single tape. 

And, then came the ultimate in freedom of choice and that was the iPod revolution where single songs could be purchased and a person could compile hundreds of their favorite songs that could be individually accessed with one appliance.

I'm hoping that the SD chip concept that eCraft is introducing does that for die cutter fans.  Instead of selecting from hundreds of pre-compiled cartridges, we should be able to locate individual favorite images and download them to an SD chip.  That SD chip then becomes the equivalent of our iPod... our own personal compilation of our own personal favorite images.

Yes, the number of choices goes up.  But, if the efficiency in finding the right image also goes up by enhanced cataloging and search techniques, the it all gets so much easier when sitting at the machine and having that one compiled SD of favorites always available.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Observation about relying on 'Feature Comparison' lists.

One of the things you receive when joining the eCraft forums on Yahoo is an excel spreadsheet that compares various software programs with the two programs to be offered by Craftwell for the eCraft cutting machines.

While these lists can be useful, it can also be misleading to rely on them too much.

Many years ago, I was with the National Head Start Data Project. It was an effort to help local Head Start centers computerize their record keeping and communication.   Among the things with which we were tasked was to provide a means by which Head Start leaders could compare the various offerings to select the one that best met their needs.  It didn't take long for politics to trump reason and truth.

If we made any value judgements at all in terms of the true ease of use and other real considerations one should use in determining the best software package, we soon had some congressman breathing down our backs.  So, it was decided that the only way to keep the vendors from running to their congressman was to simply provide a huge list of features and check those features addressed by each software package.

Vendors aren't dumb.  Since this was a multi-year effort, they soon learned to include as many features as possible even if it virtually destroyed any real usefulness or ease of use for their product!  The feature check trumped easy use and good design.  It was, at least in my opinion, a disaster.

By the way, the added useless complexity had a perverse benefit to the vendors.  They made more money on training people to use their software than they did on the software itself.   One even bragged to me personally that he would never make his software package easier because he'd lose training money!

When choosing a software package, complexity (the most features) is usually not the best criteria on which to base decisions.  If the software package meets your basic needs and does so reliably and simply then that is the most important consideration.  Usually, the daily routine of using even the most comprehensive and complex software packages can be boiled down into doing just a few simple things. 

My goal is to help you find those few simple things in Inkscape and at least one or two software packages dedicated to computer controlled die cutting machines.  So, don't always look at what a software package lacks.  Look at what is has and make a determination if this subset of possible features is adequate for your needs right now.  Then push the vendor to add those features that you KNOW you need; but, that they do not now provide.  Updates based on true need are the real way to grow great software.

Of course, there is one feature that all of us should insistently push all manufacturers and die cut software makers to embrace. And, that is directly importing SVG files for cross compatibility between higher end graphics tools and the cutting software.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

SVG - The Universal Starting Point for Creating Cutter Files

Most cutter manufacturers have their own native file types for defining the files that can be used with their cutter.  But, there is one file type that has gained prominence as the universal portable standard.  Most of the recent versions of cutter software have the means to import an SVG file.

SGV stands for Scalable Vector Graphics.  Vector graphics use geometric objects such as lines, circles and curves to create an image.  The fact that objects are defined as formulas, rather than groups of pixels, allows us to recreate the objects at any size.  Hence, the Scalable part of the name.

In effect, when a cutter receives the data from a vector graphic it is told to begin at a certain language and make an arc or line of a certain radius or length and then turn so many degrees and move in another arc or line.  The degrees always remain the same.  But, the distance or radius of all the arcs and lines are increased or decreased by the same percentage relative to the original.

We can view a vector object as a path.  It's a bit like a child following a treasure map.  Suppose treasure was actually buried at the starting point of the map.  The map's directions might say:
  1. Turn West and take 5 steps
  2. Turn South and take 5 steps
  3. Turn East and take 5 steps
  4. Turn North and take 5 steps
Even if we altered the map to say go 20 steps after each turn, the child would still end up at the very same starting point.  And, that is true of the vector graphics our cutting machines use.  They simply follow the direction and distance commands sent to them based on the information in the vector graphic.

What many people don't know is that, unlike raster images, an SVG file is simply a special form of text file in an XML format.  XML uses descriptors and tags in a simple format to store data.  The great thing about this format is that we can actually go in and manually change the way a graphic behaves using a simple text editor like Notepad.

Rather than try to worry about specific cutter file types, we are going to concentrate on SVG files as our CREATE emphasis in this blog.  And, while there are several programs that can create SVG files, we're going to limit our tutorials to a free program called Inkscape so that anyone might be able to participate.

Craftwell has announced that eCraftShop Pro will be able to import SVG files.  And, since the target audience of this blog is those that want to create and cut their own designs. we're assuming that we'll need and want the pro version of the software.  I doubt that many of those following this blog will be content to simply work with prepackaged shapes.

So, while we wait for the eCraft machine to arrive, let's steep ourselves in the intricacies of Inkscape.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blogs having information about the Craftwell eCraft

I will update this particular entry as I find new independent sites that you might find helpful as you do your homework regarding purchasing a new cutting machine.  In particular, as we wait for actual eCraft machines to be delivered, I will try to locate sites that seem to have some independent experience and views.

The following sites are well worth checking out.

Kim Bush is really excited by the potential of the eCraft cutting machine.  Kim apparently runs the Cutters Creek Store and has experience with a wide range of cutting machines and software.  So, she seems to be in a great position to give straight talk about the relative merits of both the hardware and the software from Craftwell.

I keep returning to her site and have joined her Yahoo group dedicated to those interested in the eCraft.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive some interesting documentation regarding the software, etc. along with my greeting.

There isn't the same level of information.  But, Nicole Bouche (Nicki) seems to be actively keeping in touch with the eCraft team and promises to create some videos immediately after the first units ship.

This blog comes to us from the UK.  She is an expert Robo user.  And, talks about the months she spent learning to use the Robo, which she now loves.  This promises to bring us some very valuable insight into the software and relative ease (or not) of learning to use the new eCraft.  She seems to be a beta tester, so this is a site to watch as the beta testers are released from their non-disclosure agreements.

Obviously, no sites have definitive information at this time. But, the above sites seem to be trying to do their best not only to pre-sell the eCraft; but, to ferret out every scrap of information they can.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The more I study available cutters, the more intriguing the eCraft

As I have said before in this blog, I am completely new to the intricacies of electric die cutting machines. I've always thought that being a complete novice at something puts one in a unique position to analyze it without the baggage of a "This is the way we've always done it." mentality.

Ignorance really can be bliss. At least as long as we are willing to admit our ignorance and be willing to come back and revisit our wrong assumptions later.

With that in mind, let me share the state of my mind with regards to the BossKut Gazelle sitting right next to me and the Craftwell's eCraft, which, more and more, I hope to have sitting next to me in the future.

I've already posted about my dismay with dongles and what it may say about a company's view of its customers. But, now I'm going to have to refine that a bit. Bosskut does not produce the FunTime software. They bundle it. So, the dongle decision comes from the software manufacturer, not Bosskut.

So, far Bosskut, itself, has been incredibly helpful. They have a forum and the moderators are extremely quick to help anyone that asks for that help. Yet, there is something that stands in the way of a quick and direct learning experience that is difficult to describe. But, let me try.

There is a marvelous area of Philadelpia that is known as Fabric Row. As you enter these shops you are faced with thousands of bolts of fabric crammed into every nook and cranny to the point where if you are as wide as I am, it's best someone else goes in for the hunt! The people, at least in the stores I've visited, are wonderfully helpful and friendly. But, the sheer volume of choices is overwhelming. You KNOW that what you want is in there somewhere; but, who knows how long it will take to find it!

And, as I pour over the threads in the Bosskut forums it seems to me that that is where most first time users find themselves. The sheer volume of both hardware and software considerations is just plain overwhelming. Do I appreciate the great spirit of the Bosskut moderators and the owners of Bosskut? Absolutely. I have no complaints at all with them or their spirit.

But, even so, I long for something that promises to be simpler and more straightforward. And, the more I study all I can find about the eCraft machine, the more I THINK that its technology is the answer to my longing.

Being able to simply lay paper in a paper tray and not having to spray sticky stuff on a mat and position the paper because there is no mat!  Having a machine that can run off of battery power. A machine that both draws and cuts in one motion.

So far Craftwell hasn't mentioned needing a vinyl blade and a regular blade to cut different materials. It might be that they will introduce different tyes of blades in the future. But, so far I haven't found it to be so. It looks like my poor little brain can rest easy and just buy one standard set of blades. It's only going to be taxed by having to choose what color pens I might want to use. But, I can live with that.

There is really nothing at all wrong with my Gazelle. But, I'm just lazy enough to want something easier and simpler. I think I want an eCraft. Take a look at this video and see if you, too, find yourself enticed by its promise.

eCraft Video at Cardstock Headquarters

One doesn't have to find that a current product is bad in order to want to replace it.  One only has to find that some future product is better and more efficient.  And, that seems to be my dominant thinking right now.  The Gazelle seems to be a wonderful machine marketed by wonderful people and supported by wonderful people.  But, maybe the technology is about to be trumped so decidedly that one can honestly justify making the leap.

We certainly haven't gotten our investment back on the Gazelle.  But, that isn't Bosskut's fault.  It's ours.  But, our real investment can't be seen simply as the cost of a piece of hardware.  It has to be measured in terms of how well our decisions will contribute to achieving our production and artistic goals.  Perhaps, setting aside the Gazelle and all that it entails in terms of a learning curve with both hardware and software is actually a BETTER investment decision in the long run.  Right now, that appears to be so.

Will I have to come back, hat in hand and revisit this question later, having more experience under my belt?  Perhaps.  But, so far in my life, I've been an excellent judge of winning technologies.  And, I'm betting that my instincts regarding the eCraft and the eCraft management will not fail me.