Creatopia: lots of functions in a… not-so-small package
Xyron’s Creatopia is, basically, an attempt to make an all-in-one craft station. By inserting different components into the base machine, it can add adhesive to items, laminate, cut, emboss, or die-cut; basically everything a paper crafter would need, in one handy package. Its handiness is somewhat reduced by having to remove and replace the components to change the machine’s functionality, but this is a relatively easy process that can only get easier as one gets familiarized with it.
I purchased mine as a birthday gift for myself, and ended up receiving it in the mail a full month early. I bought it in large part for the die-cutting capability, heartened by reports that it’s supposed to take practically any manufacturer’s dies. I’ll go over the different components that were included in my starter kit plus the die-cutting component which I received as a gift from a relative. The one functionality that gets left out, this way, is the laminate, which I’m happy enough to either borrow a heat laminator for or manually use self-adhesive plastic for, so I’m unlikely to purchase the component.
Definitely not my #1 priority among the machine’s functions – it was tested with the standard permanent adhesive that is part of the starter kit, to back two batches of ATCs with excessive marker bleed before die-cutting them. This component is actually two separate parts – one to hold the two rolls of adhesive-with-backing/cover plastic, and one with a pair of rolls and a scalpel to affix the adhesive to the item and sever the rolls once you’re done.
The good is that the adhesive seems very good, and it was easy to peel the newly-stickied items off the adhesive-backing and stick them on the paper I’d picked out to serve as backing for the cards. The built-in knife for severing the roll of adhesive when the items have gone through also worked very well. I wouldn’t want to use it for anything that didn’t have at least a little bit of stiffness to it, mostly owing to the adhesive being very sticky and I doubt it would be trivial to remove if it decided to stick to itself, but also because I have concerns about how well something too flimsy would feed into the rollers.
The bad is that unless you always have the Stickz component and adhesive cartridge inserted into the machine, there doesn’t really seem to be a good way of “starting” an adhesive run. In my test run I ended up with a little less than an inch on one side of my card uncovered by adhesive where the protective plastic had doubled up under the card instead of passing over it, as manually sticking the pair of sheets between the rollers didn’t seem very doable when I made a half-hearted attempt to try it. In this area, the instruction manual is sadly quite lacking, seeming to take for granted that the user will know how to best start a new gluing session. Maybe prior users of Xyron’s other products would?
I don’t believe I will buy another roll of adhesive when this runs out, but it’s quite possible I’ll use it again while I have it.
My initial impression of the Cutz component wasn’t great; I wanted to cut a 12″ by 12″ sheet of scrapbooking cardstock into quarters to make birthday invitations and not only was I having trouble getting the paper to feed completely straight (which rather eliminates the point of a paper cutter), I also couldn’t seem to get it to cut through the material properly. The former there seems to be a trick to that I’ve yet to discover, while the latter turned out to be the work of my over-cautious nature: when locking the cutting blade in place, it’s supposed to “click” when it locks, and I’d never pushed the locking bar past the point where it got stiff before the “click”. Once I corrected that mistake it cut splendidly, if still tending to shift a little sideways. I suspect having an extra of the rubber feeding rollers might help that somewhat.
I do have a more traditional paper cutter, which has some advantages over the Cutz, and some disadvantages; the most obvious difference being the Cutz’s novelty blades (the starter kit came with two different scalloped blades). My particular paper cutter has the problem that it’s difficult to figure out exactly where it will cut, which is one major reason I continue using the Cutz despite its odd tendency to sometimes veer off to a side. Practise does help with cutting straight, though the most reliable method I’ve found for doing so can hardly be called proper, as it involves passing my hand into the machine next to the blade.
Also worth noting is that the blades do not lock in their “unlocked” position, where the cutting edge is withdrawn into the plastic cartridge, so I recommend storing them with a rubber band or similar holding the locking bar into the unlocked position.
Patternz & Borderz
I like the idea of pattern rollers that emboss repeating patterns on whatever you feed through them, and I’ll readily admit that my scrapbooking cardstock embossed absolutely beautifully with the heart Patternz that was included with the starting kit. This line in my opinion mainly suffers from one thing: the available selection of patterns is very limited, and especially the full-page ones aren’t something I’d personally spend money on getting more of. They do emboss well, however.
The Borderz patterns fare a bit better in selection, and though they’re still limited, they’re nice, fairly dense patterns that look a bit better at least as examples.
The final component available for the Creatopia is the die-cutter/folder-embosser Shapez. It is not included in the starting kit, which I consider a bit of a shame, and also turned out to be much more difficult to get a hold of overseas. One reason for both of these annoyances might be its weight — while there are more components which include metal parts, the Shapes seems to have a lot more of them, and weighs surprisingly much for its slight size as a result.
The component is delivered with four cutting plates (and one rubber-like mat) of varying thicknesses, which according to the manufacturer’s information can be combined to accomodate most cutting dies on the market. I don’t own samples of all or even most brands of dies, but I did find that it cut both Sizzix’s thick Bigz dies (a Tim Holtz Alterations-series ATC die) and QuicKutz’s thin dies (a ladybug die I found on sale) excellently. Instructions for what combination of plates to use with what dies are included with the component, and those instructions are refreshingly easy to follow, as long as you’re prepared to generalize a little bit (as each and every line of dies from manufacturers that have many may not always be listed).
The one glaring void in the Shapez’s capabilities is long dies; both the Sizzix machines and the Cuttlebug have extra-long cutting plates available for purchase, and Xyron has neither made matching plates of their own, or come out and said that the other manufacturers’ extended cutting plates will fit in the machine.
I do like the hand-cranked machine – it gives me an opportunity, living in Europe, to use it without fussing with stepdown converters or similar hassles, even if the cranking sometimes leaves me wishing I had at least three hands. I also appreciate how safely packed the components are in the bag included with the starting kit – sure, the bag’s volume is more than half taken up by styrofoam, but I’d rather have that than have the bits and pieces of a $200 machine (about what I ended up paying after shipping) rattling around and possibly getting broken.
The primary failing of the whole concept is in the instructions – they’re clear and simple, with lots of photo illustrations, but this very simplicity can be deceiving, as shown by my trial-and-error discovery of why the cutting blade wasn’t doing its job very well. I would have valued a few more pages spent on each component in the instruction booklet; enough to have space to mention small details like that. I also have to wonder at the lifespan of the rubber roller that serves as a work surface for the cutting – I can see the marks in it already, and I know that many of the cuts I make will be in the same places.
I’m not disappointed in having chosen the Creatopia over the Cuttlebug or Sizzix’s Big Shot, but I am slightly sceptical of the claim that it is in any way an all-in-one machine. After all, the actual workings are what gets switched out when a new component is inserted, and what remains is more or less only a crank and a plastic tray to support items about to pass through the machine. Replacing the components to perform a new task can be awkward, in part for finding somewhere to put them, and I suspect most people who own a Creatopia will after a while end up having the machine permanently set up with their favorite component inserted.
Personally, I am definitely happy enough with this purchase that if I go to buy another die-cutting machine before the Creatopia irrevocably reaches the end of its life span (and I hope that will take quite a few years yet), it will likely be one that takes wider dies, such as Sizzix’s Big Shot Pro.