Friday, 8 May 2015

There's a new toy in the studio! THE BIG SHOT PLUS part1

Well, actually it's a bit of an insult to call it a's not's oh so much more than's definitely a fabulous and much appreciated tool....

Welcome Big Shot Plus to the StudioForty!

So, in this blog post I'm going to talk about the machine, why I chose it and what you get in your standard how to assemble it ready for use. I will post up a 'part 2' on my findings in cutting, embossing and using the machine later on.
As you are aware, lots of arts and crafts take place in my studio - from jewellery making to felting, from drawing and papercrafts to card making and painting, and one thing that has been aiding me in my cardmaking and certainly the basis of my paper flower a die cutting machine.

For those of you unaware of these - Die Cutting machines are basically manual or electronic driven devices that use cutting dies or embossing folders (and in the case of computerised and electronic ones, cartridges and programme files) to cut or make patterns/shapes into paper and cardstock (and some other materials such as draft metals and fabric depending on machine). Manual machines are obviously worked by hand using a crank/handle and cut with pressure via running the material through two rollers. Electronic ones cut with blades via a computerised system and instructions you programme in.

Many years ago I started off with a little Cuttlebug ( as shown in this you tube vid by OdonataCreations ) which to this day I have still got a soft spot for and it has proved a much loved workhorse for me but as dies and embossing folders got bigger and more intricate and bigger machines started appearing on the market, there was only so much I could do with my little old 'bug'. I acquired an original Spellbinders Grand Calibre but found I couldn't use my Tim Holtz/Sizzix steel rule dies in it and it had big 'dead spot' in the centre which made cutting and embossing of larger pieces a bit frustrating and time consuming so I started looking to upgrade to something bigger and with a bit more 'ooomph'!

SIZZIX was a brand name that kept popping up time an time again in my research, a company highly recommended by many crafters, and a company providing reliability and variety with many machines available to suit many needs and requirements...especially within the BIG SHOT range....and I was very interested to hear that these machines would be able to provide much more use in my studio.....not just for papercrafting but also in my jewellery and artwork (more on that later).

The Big Shot range has three different sized machines which you can find the information about on the official SIZZIX PAGE and also Paula Pascual, a designer for them has also blogged a great piece about all three machines HERE. It was the mid range Big Shot Plus that I decided was perfect for my current requirements (in an ideal world I would like the Pro machine but sadly, alas, until I can move to a bigger studio and provide this huge machine with it's own dedicated space and set up, it is no go)

Here are some of the plus features and why I went for the Plus machine -
  • It is a manual machine worked by hand using a crank/handle so in the event of loss of electricity power, you are still able to use this machine. The simple mechanism means obviously no additional electric components to 'go wrong' or break.
  • it has a 9inch wide 'mouth' enabling it easily accommodate up to A4 sized cutting dies and embossing plates and this allows you to rotate many larger dies 90degress to ensure even and clean cuts.
  • The 'Plates' are 9x15inches allowing you to comfortably use A4 paper sheets without having to additionally trim edges to fit...and you could technically run much longer lengths of paper through if needed.
  • the mouth/opening depth enables you to use the thicker steel rule dies (Sizzix state "it works with the entire Sizzix product library (with the exception of Bigz Pro dies) – including our smallest to our big 9" wide plastic-backed dies and embossing tools" , plus many other makes of dies and plates can be used with it's selection of adaptor plates.
  • You can cut a number of dies in one go making your creating more efficient and quicker (NB but please be aware that Sizzix do issue a warning that excessive numbers of dies used resulting in damage to the rollers will void the exercise caution and common sense).
  • The rollers and mechanics are mainly metal based which means it is more durable, powerful, and provides better and even pressure thus enables you to use a variety of materials from fabrics to craft metals....and there are less 'dead spots' which cuts down on the number of times you need to rotate and run the pieces through.
  • The design of the machine is solid and secure, has enough weight to ensure there is no wobbling or instability yet is still lightweight enough to be portable.
  • It has clear plastic cutting plates so you can still see your paper/dies etc when running through and watch in case anything moves out of place. Some other machines use opaque coloured plates so you end up cutting 'blind'.
  • It will take the Vintaj Sizzix deco Emboss and Decoetch plates so you can emboss and 'etch' designs into metals for jewellery making.
I think the design of the Big Shot is well thought out - low slung with a low centre of gravity and large 'footprint' only requiring little pads to protect the table top so there is no wobble or fear of the machine being knocked over. No suction feet are required which means the machine can be placed on any type of flat surface and is always stable. The machine is one solid formed piece with static platforms both sides of the mouth so has no folding up 'flaps' (eg like the Flutter Cutter, Cuttlebug, Xcut Xpress, ) Yes, this means a bigger machine that takes up more storage space BUT the upside of this is that it means less 'parts' of the machine with joints/weak spots and vulnerable areas to break or wear out. So the overall machine is more durable. The static platform supports feeding the plates through (unlike machines such as the Grand Calibre that have no platforms) so you can arrange your dies and papers in situ on the machine, then feed through with no worries of having to gather up the sandwich of plates and accidently dislodging and moving the dies etc out of place.
The large support platforms allow you to set up the plates, dies and paper in situ on the machine....and not compiling the sandwiches of plates on your worktable, then precariously picking it all up and trying to feed through the mouth while worrying you're moving the pieces about.

NB - 'Deadspots' is my reference to the areas on the roller with uneven or less pressure....usually found towards the middle of the rollers. Rollers naturally have more power and pressure at the outer edges where they are nearer to the cogs and mechanisms and all manual craft die cutting machines tend to have this, but the degree to which this happens differs from make to make. You tend to find with larger dies and embossing folders (especially those with more intricate designs) the area near the middle may not be completely cut or marked in the first pass through and you have to run it through the machine a second, third or even more times, rotating the die and paper and repositioning towards the outer edges of the rollers to achieve a full cut/emboss. Having to move and reposition will
always leave you in danger of dislodging the paper and ruining the final finish/cut so the less you have to do this, the better. The more heavier duty machines, the ones with metal mechanisms, tend to suffer from less 'deadspots' as they have better and more even pressure throughout the rollers.
A number of companies are currently offering options of packages in which you can buy the Big Shot Plus machine - a basic package which includes the machine, cutting plates and adaptor plates.... and starter packages with additional dies, papers and accessories. I chose the basic package.

This is an overview of what I got -
The Big shot machine has a chic white and grey heavy duty plastic body with metal mechanics. The overall body measuring 12inch wide by 16inch long. With the handle it is a total of 16inches wide. The design is sleek and rounded with no harsh corners or edges, and it has four sturdy feet and with it's low profile this gives great stability. The handles are both rounded with soft grip rubber and comfortable to use. The ridged/rib design on the base allows the plates to run through the machine smoothly with little resistance and no friction.
You receive the machine packaged securely in a box with polystyrene protection. The handle comes detached and included separately in a bag with it's fittings and needs to be assembled by the user. This is a simple and quick thing to do and there is no other assembly required. Once the handle is fitted the machine is ready for use immediately.

The handle fittings included in your package are as shown in the image above - the handle, a small black screw, a small metal washer, a soft grey rubber button and an allen key plus easy to follow instruction booklet.
There is a protective black plastic cover over the connection for the handle, on the side of the BSP machine. This needs to be removed....
It pulls off easily to expose the metal connection....
It says on the cover, to remove and discard but I have kept it just in case I need to remove the handle again in the future.
The handle slots onto the metal connector, it will naturally fall into the downward position and will just need some gentle support with one hand when you fit the screw.
The tiny metal washer needs to be placed onto the thread/shank of the screw as shown above...
and slotted into the hole in the handle, making sure the handle is pushed into body of the machine so the screw joins with the metal connector.
The allen key is then used to tighten the screw firmly but taking care not to over tighten or you might break the screw and thread.
The soft grey rubber button now fits over the screw to keep it secure.
And that's it...all complete and ready to use. The great thing about this machine is that it's symmetrical in shape so that it can be turned around and used either way, with the handle to the no problems if you're right or left handed.
The basic package includes standard (thick white) base plate, two clear cutting plates and A and B adaptor plates. The base and adaptor plates are printed with very useful information on what plates to use with which Sizzix products. For other makes of dies and embossing plates you will obviously need to try out various configurations of plates...more shims may also be required, and this also applies to the various paper/material used too. Additional plates, accessories and rubber sheets can be purchased from various craft suppliers.

I will be keeping a little notebook to hand so I can write down plate combinations as and when I use and will also give this information out on my 'part 2' post.

For Sizzix products the combinations are as follows -

Sizzlets, Embosslits, Thinlits, Triplits and basic textured Impressions require additional B PLATE adaptor

A4 Textured Impressions require Base & 2 x cutting plates only

Texturz require Base, Silicone rubber sheet, & Impressions pad (rubber sheet and Impressions pad are not included in the basic package and need to be purchased separately)

In Part 2 I'll blog about my first experiences of die cutting and embossing with the Big Shot Plus.

Hope you found this of interest.