Product Review: Sizzix Vagabond by Tim Holtz

Hi everyone,

My friend, Suzanne Dean, asked me to do this product review a while back for publication in Through The Craftroom Door magazine. It was published in the Christmas 2011 edition and I totally forgot to post it here for your benefit too. So sorry for the delay but here it is … Enjoy!

Product Review : Sizzix Vagabond by Tim Holtz
Reported by Stephanie Lee

I am the proud owner of the amazing, sought-after Sizzix Vagabond die cutting machine by Tim Holtz. After all the big hype about the machine after summer 2010 CHA, I caved after 2 months and had to see what I was missing. I LOVE it! What’s not to like about the machine – the outside resembles a trendy, well-travelled suitcase and the inside is a powerhouse workhorse. It’s designed by a man, what do you expect.

What’s in the box:

  • the machine itself
  • a set of stickers to decorate it with (what a fun way to personalize the machine)
  • a pair of standard cutting pads
  • one solo platform
  • one solo shim

The stickers don’t last too well though – they are a little worn from me opening and closing the machine. I don’t mind that they are worn – makes my machine looks more authentic. However, 2 of them have already loss it’s stickiness and fallen off. It’s probably been eaten by my vacuum cleaner some weeks ago.

The Solo Shim is a thin piece of plastic that fits securely on top of the Solo Platform.

They both measure about 6 1/4″ x 13″ and are to be used when cutting a Sizzlet, embossing with a Texture Folder, or using other-brand dies (e.g. Spellbinders Nestabilities and Papertrey Ink dies).

One thing that I immediately loved about the shim and platform was that it clearly stated right on it when you should use the Solo Shim (with thin materials), and when you should use the platform alone (when cutting folded card stock or materials thicker than card stock such as chipboard, Grungeboard, etc).

There was no fumbling around for the instruction booklet or racking my brain to remember what I should or shouldn’t do.

The outside:

On the top of the machine, on either sides of the handle bars, are the buttons to operate the machine.  One side’s buttons are just for decoration, the other side has a motor button and a forward/reverse switch.

Now, this won’t work unless you get out the power cord and plug it in.  Where is the power cord?  Tucked into a nifty side compartment for storage!  How well thought-out is that – an all-in-one machine without having to find another place to keep your cords. Also makes it super easy to take it for crops.

Dimensions: 12 1/2″ x 4 5/8″ x 9″ (Closed) and 15 1/4″ x 12 1/2″ x 10 1/4″ (with Handle Up and Doors Open)
Weight: It weighs about 14 lbs.

The inside:

I saw a comparison of the Vagabond’s motor with the Big Shot Express on Scrapbook Update and the vagabond’s motor is about twice the size of the Big Shot Express. No, I didn’t crack apart my ‘bond but here is a picture of the motor comparison.

Impressive isn’t it – and it purrs like a big motor should. With my greeting card business, I run the machine about 4 hrs a day and put all kinds of materials in it and everything glides through the machine like butter. Here are some of the things that have gone into the machine:

That was obviously the first thing that went into the machine – I’m a paper crafter after all. Easy Peasy – cuts like a dream – for thick or thin cardstock. No fraying or puckering or stuck edges that I have to cut apart. See for yourself.

Had to try something else,

Burlap & Canvas Fabric
I love making fabric flowers so I had to test to see if the machine is up to snuff. Sure enough, a flower came out on burlap – clean cut; works like a charm. I wanted to see if the machine could cut more delicate pattern, so I cut a flourish out with canvas. Perfect cut!

A little thicker material but quite essential to a paper crafter – easy cut again, machine purred like a baby.

At this point my husband came into the room to see what all that cheering was about. And he suggested some “real” material to try.

I was thinking transparency thickness acrylic but I had run out so instead I took one of my Spellbinders packaging acrylic (much thicker) and tried that. I have to admit I was nervous I might break my machine but the dove I cut out, just fell out of the backing the moment I removed the cutting plates. Crisped edges, smooth cut! Wow!

I had some difficulty photographic acrylic so I decided to emboss it – might take the glare away so I could take a picture of it.

Embossing Folder
Yup – no surprise by now – the vagabond embosses even acrylic like a dream!! I embossed cardstock too and it leaves a nice deep impression as well. Tip: for a thinning cardstock, sandwich another cardstock in to take the pressure off the embossing so it doesn’t tear through the paper.

(Nope – embossing didn’t take the glare away so I had to paint it as well)

By now, my husband was nodding his head, suitably impressed and he suggested that HE try metal. While he was setting up the sandwich, I started pulling up the Sizzix website for a customer service number and some warrantee information in case I needed one. I also sat across the room – in case something cracked or splinted and pierced whomever was near the machine.  Look at the result!!

Are YOU impressed now!! The vagabond cuts through everything like butter. No fraying, splintered edges, crumpled edges, no nothing. I included a photo of the negative space of the ornament die cut – it just fell out of the negative space, I did not have to cut out any stubborn, half-cut edges!!

Spellbinders, Papertrey Ink and other thin dies
No need to guess – cuts like a dream. You do need a Solo Thin Die Adapter (purchased separately) to add to your sandwich to give it the thickness it needs.

Most of my Spellbinders Grand Nestabilities fit into the width of the machine too – all with the exception of the very largest size and the 2nd largest size (for oval/circle/broader shapes)

The Verdict
Overall, I am absolutely in love with my ‘bond.  IN LOVE.  Mine’s affectionately called Big Daddy. Everything I tried in it either cut or embossed wonderfully.

Once, I put a wrong sandwich in the machine (my own oversight; not a machine fault) and the machine got jammed. Wouldn’t move an inch with my sandwich stuck in the middle. I nervously googled every possible solution to see how I could get my sandwich out without burning out the motor or breaking my Big Daddy. No result that could help me – it was too new at that time.

I called Sizzix customer service and they kindly walked me through inching the sandwich out manually, literally inch by inch. I finally got it out and the machine had eaten a big hole in my embossing mat. I ran the machine a few times (without anything in it) to make sure nothing else was stuck up in the rollers that could cause another jam. After picking off the pieces and dusting it off, it’s still working like new. Any lesser machine (AND any less motor) would have been decimated by me.

I think everyone should own a Vagabond! (No, I don’t work for Sizzix or Tim Holtz, although I wish I did)

The Vagabond retails for about $200 and is available online.  (*edited to note: the cheapest I have found online is $150) It is completely compatible with Sizzix products, and has a wide range of accessories to make it compatible with competitor’s products.

Thank you for hanging on with me till the end – if you are seriously shopping for a die cut machine, you wouldn’t regret this one!


Wire Works Kite

Good morning everyone,

It’s time for Wire Works Wednesday with Flower Soft wires.

I made a kite!

Somehow, it makes me so happy that I made a kite as if it was some kind of adventurous boy scout accomplishment or something. My kite was made from my homemade washi tape adventures – you may have read about it in this post. I have LOTS of them laying around so you will see them pop up again from time to time. The kite “string” was made from Flower Soft wires, colored with Copic Markers. The sentiment is also from Flower Soft! Bet you didn’t know Flower Soft makes stamps too – I didn’t either till now of course … they have a select few very cute stamps you should check out. The “wind” for the kite is also Flower Soft diamond range – Silver.

I also have had several friends recently ask me if you could use floral wire as a substitute for Flower Soft wires so I thought I should address this here in case you were also wondering. Technically, you could since it bends the same way (maybe the floral wires are a bit stiffer).

However, I would still recommend using Flower Soft wires – not because I am on the Flower Soft design team and I feel compelled to steer you towards the product – but because I have used both floral wires and Flower Soft wires and I truly prefer the white matted paper covered Flower Soft wires to the glossy plastic coated floral wires (or even the paper covered green floral wires). I prefer them because of these reasons:

- I could color on the Flower Soft wires while I couldn’t on the green floral wires (plastic or paper) – hence allowing me to use the wires for different projects (such as the kite one above).

- I have also found that glue sticks better on the Flower Soft wires than the floral wires (especially the glossy plastic ones).

So there you have it! Have fun with your wires!


Book Review: Spellbinders Nestabilities Basics & Beyond

Hi everyone,

It’s been a while since I read a book or did a book review. So here is one that I recently read – Spellbinders Nestabilities Basics & Beyond.

This is really a project book created by Stacey Caron, CEO of Spellbinders. It’s a 62 page book – 9 pages of techniques and the rest projects. What I like about the book:

  • quite a few “outside the box” techniques on how to use your Spellbinders dies, beyond just running it through the machine as is.
  • very cool and amazingly pretty projects using these techniques. Awesome eye candy!

What I’m not so enthused about: I don’t really know when I would actually do these projects

  • like the candy bar wrapper on pg 28 – really … whomever I give candy to will just be ripping thru the wrapper before the candy actually leaves my hand!!
  • There were also a couple of table top Christmas tree projects – not my thing. I can see myself trying it once in my lifetime just for fun; then what – probably never go near that project again. I mean how many table top Christmas trees do I need or want – I already have a regular floor size one?

All in all, I like this book – but I’m not overly impressed. I like the techniques section best – all 9 pages of it. It gives me creative ideas on how to use my Spellbinders dies – the one I spend lots of money on. So the more I use it, the better I feel about it. Here are techniques they feature in the book:

  • regular die cutting (this one I do all the time)
  • selective die cutting
  • making a shaped card (this one I tried)
  • making windows (this one I tried)
  • making frames (this one I tried)
  • stenciling (this one I tried)
  • making tissue paper carnations (this one I tried)
  • box top technique
  • making a tree
  • pyramid-image technique
  • dimensional flowers

Bottom line – buy at your own risk if this is your thing. Oh and feel free to ask me more questions if you want to know more.


Book Review: Coloring Techniques for Card Making

Before I begin this book review, how do you like the new look of my blog? The old pink was just getting too much for me – it was giving me heartburn. So here is a cleaner slate to start a new month and a new post … here goes:

This book is well laid out and it outlines various coloring medium options that opened my eyes beyond my repertoire of watercolor pencils and Copic markers for coloring.

The book is organized by the 3 broad and different coloring techniques:

1) Colored-pencils Techniques

2) Watercolor Techniques

3) Marker Techniques

Within each technique, the author also covers how to use different coloring tools to color. For instance, to achieve watercolor techniques (in section 2), you can use reinkers, ink pads, distress ink, water color pencils, water color crayons, alcohol inks to achieve the water color effect!! It didn’t even occur to me to use more than just water color pencils.

In addition, the author provides step by step instructions on how to used each coloring tool and showcases various projects done of that technique. She also talks about which paper is suitable for each coloring medium.

There could be better photos distinguishing the overall look of the technique used and but I just love how organized the book is laid out and it certainly helps me focus on the technique that I would love to learn more. Great reference for beginners!

And a bonus: I am giving this book away in my blog candy – so put your name in the blue froggy thingy and win this book.


Book Review: Copic Coloring Guide

I am doing a series of book reviews on my blog on some of my recent craft book purchases. Today, I’m reviewing the Copic Coloring Guide by Marianne Walker & Colleen Schaan. The book just came out in June 2011 and I just finished reading it – cover to cover – yes, I’m obsessed like that.

Well, let’s just say, I’m glad it came out but I’m mildly disappointed with it. Specifically, I’m glad because there are 16 pages in the book dedicated to coloring techniques (ie. inking and blending techniques, how to use your colors and colorless blender to create specific looks). This was expanded in the project area where I am surprised how frequently the transfer blending was used as opposed to coloring it directly on the paper (on paper blending). No wonder my work is just not looking as refined as these “artists”, even if I have been through the certification program.

I’m disappointed because out of a 63 page book (yes, this one is magazine-sized), there was only 18 pages dedicated to teaching you to color!! (Really, 11 pages – after you take away 7 pages of product introduction.) The rest of the book was all the other different cards from contributing artists – just like every other idea book out there. If I hadn’t read it cover-to-cover and line-to-line, I wouldn’t have discovered how these artists use their markers to create their cards. 63 pages just to make 1 discovery. Couldn’t each artists describe at greater length their coloring techniques?? (instead of step by step instruction of HOW they made the cards)

It’s a nice to have book; not a must-have.

And here is something positive to end the review – I found some nice color family that I could add to my personal Copic color book.


Book Review: Shadows & Shading

Recently, I’ve purchased a few craft/Copic related books that I wanted to share as I read them.

The 1st one I had to read is Marianne Walker’s new book: Shadows & Shading, just because it came highly recommended by my Copic Instructors, Debbie Olson and Lori Craig.

The size of the book was surprising small – I had expected a regular magazine-sized book but it turned out to be this tiny little half-sized book (5.5″ x 8.5″). The content, however, certainly didn’t disappoint. For such a small book, it certainly packs a punch. In fact, it’s a must-have book for any serious artist who wishes to gain a technical understanding of shadow placement and shading.

There are only 5 chapters in the book (excluding conclusion and glossary)

- lights and shadow basics

- light sources

- shading basic objects

- complex objects

- the color of shadows

Marianne goes through each chapter explaining in very simple layman’s term how to translate various light source into shadows. She writes about where light hits different shaded objects and how to break complex objects down to a collection of simple objects (eg. a person’s face is made up of ovals, triangles, cylinders etc). She also shares how to create different tone using different colored shadows.

There is something new in every page that takes my coloring to a different dimension. I’m sure there are more in-depth books on shadows and shading out in the market but this book is definitely in-depth enough for me to make my coloring and drawing look realistic and more than sufficient to make my cards and scrapbooking look professional.

It’s a must-have reference guide.


Copic Markers – Testing cardstock

I promised I would share more about what I learnt from my Copic Certification Program, so I’m starting with my 1st major takeaway about paper and how to test which one works for you.

The basic understanding to know is how ink will move on paper.

  • It will bleed through (or saturate) almost all paper. The thicker the paper, the less bleed through you will get.
  • It will feather across the paper (feathering is when you color to line and the ink still moves beyond the line).

Bleed through is not an indication of how good the paper is, only how thick it is and how much ink you will need to use to get a good blend. On the other hand, you will want a paper that feathers minimally so you don’t spend hours carefully coloring an image to have it “ooze” outside the lines.

Here are the steps to test a paper:

1) On the paper you are testing, draw a circle with your Copic multiliner (or stamp one with your memento ink)

2) Pick a light and dark shade marker (I picked YR02 & YR 07)
3) Color your circle with the light shade (YR02 in my example) carefully to the line

  • if your colors seep outside the line, test another paper; if not, move to step 4.

4) Flick on a darker shade (YR07 in my example) on half of the circle

  • if your colors seep outside the line, test another paper; if not, move to step 5.

5) Go back with lighter shade (YR02) and blend it, any feathering would be more pronounced with a darker color and with all the blending work you have done.

  • if your colors seep outside the line, test another paper; if not, move to step 6.

6) Let your work dry a little for a few minutes and touch the colored area with the chiselled tip of a colorless blender (0)

  • ideally, you should see a crisp lighten shape of your chiselled tip instead of a fuzzy blob of lighten shape where your colorless blender touched. A crisp line will allow you more control when using your colorless blender to create texture and correct mistake.

A paper that would be good to use will have met all testing steps, giving you most control over your coloring.

Here are the papers I tested:

I found that I like Papertrey Ink Stamper’s Select and Copic X-Press It Blending card the best.

Papertrey Ink Stamper Select White ($0.15/sheet) is the thickest of the lot I tested, it took more ink to evenly saturate my circle and blend my colors – the higher saturation point of the paper works for me because it gives me time to work. I like that the colors remained very vibrant and almost true to the original colors I picked out. The same can be said with the Copic X-press It blending card. The colorless blender also left a crisp shape.

Copic X-Press It Blending card ($0.36/sheet) is also a fairly thick paper – not as thick as Papertrey, but about the same thickness as the Gina K 120# and Cryogen 84# and 89# – but it has a very smooth finish that allows the ink to stay on the surface a lot longer so it blends the best of all. I tend to be a bit “heavy-handed” when laying down ink, so with the smooth finish, my coloring started pitting a little as well because there was so much ink on the surface of the paper, which I kinda like because it looked like my image has some unintentional texture.

Gina K Pure Luxury White (80# & 120#) ($0.19 & $0.28/sheet) also as a similar smooth finish as the Copic X-press It Blending Card which I love. But was a bit softer and more absorbent than the Copic X-express It Blending Card, hence the colors looked more saturated and there was more marginally more feathering. 80# feathered more and saturated faster than the 120# but blended better – it looked more natural. The colorless blender marker was not quite as crisp as the Papertrey and Copic X-press It.

Cryogen White Curious Metallics cardstock (84# & 89#) ($0.34/sheet) was the only one that is slightly off-white and has a shimmer to the paper. I love the shimmer – wonderful “texture” to my coloring but I did not like the off-white color – I lost some highlighting potential because it wasn’t bright white. It does blend well with minimal feathering. It is a fairly soft paper and colors absorbed pretty quickly into the paper and the end result of my coloring seem significantly darker and more intense (almost cartoony dark). 89# didn’t absorb quick as quickly as 84#.

Bazzill Smoothies Coconut Swirl ($.23/sheet) also feathered quite a bit for me. It started feathering just after I laid on my darker colors before I even started blending.

Neenah Classic Crest Solar White (80# & 120#) ($0.12/sheet) performed the worst for me because it is so soft and absorbent and it saturated and feather before I even finished coloring my circle. I’m a slow worker.

My bottom line is, you have to learn the properties of the paper you are using. Any paper can give you the results you want as long as you learn where the saturation point of that paper is. That means practicing and testing with different paper to find one that fits your style.


Lessons from Copic Certification Program.

Good morning!

Wow!! The Copic Certification Designer Program was very intense and rigorous … in a good way. Almost 8 hours of listening, testing papers, ink, blending and airbrushing techniques and loads of information. More than you could ever get off the tutorials and YouTube videos on the internet. There are alot of information on the internet that gives you an overview and basic level of information. This program goes beyond that basic information and really arms you with more in-depth information that you can actually teach someone and I left with the intense curiosity to try out more papers and practice all those techniques I learnt.

Here are my major takeaways. Please watch for future posts of specific tutorials because there is simply too much information to put in 1 post.

1) Product Basics (Marker, Paper & Inks):

- There are 2 ways ink will move on a paper: saturate (or soak through) a paper and feather across the paper (or the image line). Soaking/bleeding through a paper is not necessarily an indication of a good or bad paper. Because a thicker paper will not bleed through as much as a thinner paper.

- You have to learned the properties of the paper you are using. Any paper will give you the results you want as long as you learn where the saturation point of that paper is. While other artist may like 1 paper over another, you have to find the paper that suits your coloring style (e.g. how “heavy-handed” you are with coloring). Before the program, Neenah Solar White paper was the paper that came highly recommended to me by others but I found that no matter how careful I was, my colors keep feathering outside the line and I kept over saturating the paper. I found that the thicker paper like Papertrey Ink Stampers Select and the Copic X-press It Blending card works best for my coloring. You just have to try it and find your own.

2) Coloring, Blending & Color Theory:

- Color values (light tone, mid tone or dark tone) is what makes an object realistic – doesn’t matter what color you choose. A purple apple will look realistic if you use a right value – everyone will know it’s an apple, not a round circle or a purple blob.

For more details of the Copic numbering system, see the Copic website.

- Any color that is too vibrant or intense can be muted with grays, follow the Copic Color Wheel to determine which grays to use.

: Y/YG – use W grays

: G/BG – use T grays

: B/BV – use N grays

: V/RV – use C grays

: YR/R – use T grays

You get more than 346 colors if you add grays to your arsenal.

- 4 different blending techniques for different detail level of image and blending different colors.

3) Mixed Media, Ink & Airbrushing:

- You can do so much more with the colorless blender (and the refill) beyond just correcting your mistakes. There is a whole world of texturing you can do to your colored image using a bit of fabric and blender solution. Imagine your little stamped person with real imprint of jeans textured into your jean color!

- ABS 1 is the kit to get – it’s portable with room to grow into a compressor with just a larger hose; ABS 2 is solely a portable kit with 15 mins of air; ABS 3 is solely an air compressor kit.

4) Shading:

- Just get Marianne Walker’s Shadows & Shading book. It will tell you where to put your light, mid and dark tones & where the shadow should go for different shaped objects.

Did I say this program is intense!! It is well worth the investment and it certainly open my eyes to the world of artistry.

Many thanks to Debbie Olson and Lori Craig for taking the time to share your amazing talents.

And last but not least, here is a picture of my goodie bag.


Copic Certification …

Hello bloggers … tomorrow is the Copic Certification Designer Program in Minneapolis that I am attending!!!! Woohooo!!! I have been counting down to this day for the last 2 months and I suppose I should share a little about what it is. Here is the information taken from the Copic Marker website.

Copic Certified Designer Program Overview

The Copic Certification program is designed for papercrafters, scrapbookers, and rubber stampers. This one-day intensive program is available for teachers, store owners, and designers who wish to learn diverse applications for Copic products with the intent of sharing them with their classes, stores, workshops, or through their designs. The class is technique based and no finished projects will be produced.

All of the training you receive as a Copic Certified designer is intended to be shared with others. Once you are a Copic Certified Designer you will be listed above through our Copic Certified Instructor Search. Here people will be able to search for Certified Designers in their area.

For a complete list of where the classes will be held, please visit the Copic Marker website.

I currently have 150 Copic Sketch markers and I just love how the Copic Markers work for me – they blend so well they make my work look like a professional artist, when I know I’m not. I also love that the inks are alcohol-based – which means they stay fast on other non-paper medium like fabric, metals, plastic and whatever surface you use. Excellent from a mixed medium artwork perspective.

They are a little pricey, ranging from $4.15-$9 a marker but I have found that Oozak has the best price online – make sure you check the “member” price … membership does have its privileges. (or you can try your luck on Ebay). And best of all, they are refillable, the nibs replaceable and they also attach to an airbrush system – you never need another marker again.

I love my Copics and will definitely post more after the class.