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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Miss Ginger's Consumer Product Review®: Silhouette Cameo Cutting Machine

Shortly after man discovered fire, he invented the personal computer, which he found rather worthless until he invented a machine to make it print. 
From that point forward, history advanced rapidly as the computer-attached-to-a-typewriter was replaced by dot matrices, lasers, and all sorts of ink-spraying contraptions that we now call "printers".  

Once the typewriter had been obliterated from the desks of happy secretaries everywhere, mankind took aim at the venerable "scissors", and created the "knife plotter" to slice paper, vinyl, and just about anything else that comes on a roll with digital accuracy.  Of course, like all new computer technology, these things were huge and expensive. (Cue cheesy infomercial music:)  
"Until now!" 

The Silhouette Cameo is a small-scale vinyl cutter designed for  hobbyists, scrapbookers, and  crafters. Miss Ginger has been using the Silhouette Cameo cutter for several years now, and finds it to be versatile, well-made, and, most importantly, fun! 

First, a little background on hobby "cutters".  

The first hobby cutters were "punches", not unlike the old one-hole punch we all used a kids to put our homework into binders.  Clever hobby marketers created punches in thousands of shapes, sending many a scrapbooking hausfrau into the poorhouse as she spent the butter and egg money on the latest, newest shapes.  But punches were limited in size and intricacy, so the crafting industry needed to come up with a new idea, since they had run out of simple shapes! 

Next came the "die cutters", which use a sort of high tech "cookie cutter" to punch shapes out of paper and other flat materials.  Die cutters had, and still have, the distinct advantage of being able to emboss paper without cutting it, making textured cards as easy as turning a crank. This machine allowed the craft marketers to rake in millions as they created a seemingly endless array of shapes and textures that led us all to scream "Buy ALL the dies!" At $10- $20 bucks a pop, husbands across the nation where declaring Michael's "off-limits" and canceling internet service to prevent unauthorized ordering. 
Yet still, we wanted more....

Crafting engineers figured out how to make a small-scale electronic cutter for hobby use, but their marketing people screamed "WAIT! Don't screw up our market for shapes!  We need consumables!" and the "cartridge" was born.  In an astounding feat of retro technology, this almost "cutting edge" machine was relegated to the video games of the 1980's by requiring the user to obtain the cutting files on proprietary cartridges that contained the files needed to make this hunk of plastic slice a frog out of green paper.

Then came the Silhouette Cameo, and crafters the world over were freed from the tyranny of craft marketers forever!  The Silhouette, as modern as it is beautiful, allows the user to download design files from the internet, and store them on just about any memory device they see fit.  The machine works with memory cards, USB sticks, or even your computer's hard drive.  Once you've downloaded a file, it's yours forever! 

The file type is proprietary, so the marketers haven't completely lost their minds; you can only use files you download from the "Silhouette Store", a sort of iTunes for shapes.  But there are still huge advantages over cartridges: they download immediately over the internet, you can resize and manipulate them with the Silhouette software, you can store hundreds (maybe thousands?) on one tiny SD card, and most importantly, they are really cheap! You can also create your own designs with the software, which is included with the machine! 

Another huge advantage for Miss Ginger is that this machine, in addition to cutting paper, can cut self-adhesive vinyl, making it useful for lettering and stenciling without having to use adhesive spray or tape.  It can also cut fabric, and can be used as a pen plotter with accessory ink pens. This photo, with cover raised, shows the relatively simple inner workings.  The white plastic rollers are adjustable to different widths of material.  The knife fits into the black cutting head, which you can see to the left of the machine, just above the sheet of vinyl.  When you download a design file, you will use the silhouette software to let the machine know what type of material you are using. Sending the design to the machine is just like send a print job to a printer, and the machine whirs into action, moving the blade side to side, and the material up and down, to cut the lines and curves of your design... so easy! 

What can you make with the Silhouette?  Check out Miss Ginger's craft pages- most of her designs use the machine in some way or another!  In addition to vinyl, paper, and fabric, the machine can cut heat transfer material, so you can iron-on to fabric to create custom garments, pillows, etc.  There is a rhinestone transfer material that Miss Ginger has yet to try, but it allows one to use heat-set rhinestones to create intricate designs. 

The machine is not cheap, but it's not super-expensive, either... it costs about the same as a mid-range sewing machine. The real value, however, comes in the price of the designs... most cost about 99 cents! You download only the ones you need, when you need them, and once you've bought them, you can use them again and again.  The vinyl material is kind of expensive when you buy it in the little rolls they sell at retail, but you can order a commercial-sized roll from US Cutter and use it forever! 

For versatility and usefulness:   5 lipsticks!
For value in the long term: 5 lipsticks!
For quality and durability: 5 lipsticks!

It's unanimous! The Silhouette Cameo earns Miss Ginger's coveted:


Now, what do YOU want to see Miss Ginger make with it? 


Beth said...

Wow, that thing sounds like Baby Jeebus himself brought it down from heaven! What an amazing little machine!

Kyle Leach said...

Miss G, Stan was in business with someone who need an industrial vinyl cutter for many of their projects back in the 80's. That machine cost him $5,000 at that time and only cut vinyl. Glad to see we have come a long way since then. Might pick up one of these for myself sometime. Thanks for the awesome review!


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