Cougar 13″ Review

As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve recently purchased a digital cutter. A cougar 13″ to be exact – for more details see www.thymegraphics.co.uk.

I decided on this machine after reading lots of reviews of the different machines available out there. Initially I was attracted by the idea of a Cricut, but was put off by the thought of having to buy cartridges to get different shapes, although I’m aware that there are software packages out there such as Sure Cuts A Lot which bypass this. I then looked at a Craft Robo/Craft Robo Lite. These are cheaper machines and allow you to cut any shape, but can only handle thin card. I thought quite carefully about what I wanted from the machine and my main requirements were shaped base cards and welded words. To achieve a good base card you need to use a sturdy piece of card, so I quickly discarded the notion of a Craft Robo.

Whilst investigating options I came across this handy comparison chart http://www.thymegraphics.co.uk/Thyme%20machines%20comparison.html. This introduced me to the idea of a Pazzles or a Cougar. I must admit, there are far more reviews of the Pazzles out there then there are of the Cougars which put me off the Cougar to start with. It worried me a bit that not many people sell them and not many people had posted a review of them. However, there are some negative reviews of the Pazzles, mainly around updating the software as soon as you get it and it occasionally going a bit haywire. However, I could not find one bad review of the Cougar! This is amazing – on the whole when you look for reviews of anything, you’ll find bad reviews. It’s much easier to be negative and people are much more likely to try to discourage you from buying something than they are to encourage you. I especially liked the review I read at http://www.bratpack.org.uk/craft-cutters.

At this point I signed up as a guest member of the Black Cat Forum http://www.blackcatforum.com and from what I read there I was encouraged to email Thyme Graphics with some questions. Dawn quickly replied to my email and as I thought of more questions I fired them off to her. Talk about great customer service, all my queries were answered within half an hour! I started emailing on the Fri, by Saturday I was 90% convinced this was what I wanted. We went away for the weekend and I thought of a few more questions, which Dawn duly answered and by Monday I was ready to buy. I posted on the Black Cat forum a request for people’s opinions on what to buy alongside the machine and then I ordered the machine and some accessories late Monday morning. On Wednesday morning it arrived!

Now (briefly) for the negatives. Don’t worry there aren’t many. The quick start guide arrived via an email link on the Tuesday at which point I panicked – it was 80 pages of instructions! Ok, a third of it was for Mac users, but the other two thirds were full of detailed instructions. I was overwhelmed and suddenly felt very worried about my ability to use this machine! However, I’d had a similar reaction to the instructions I received with my wireless printer, but I found with that I was fine as long as I followed each step one at a time without worrying about what came next. When the (rather large) box arrived, it actually sat in the hall for about an hour until my husband (who was handily working from home) carried it upstairs and told me to open it! Once opened, I set to with the quick start guide, it wasn’t as scary as it looked, but it still took nearly 2 hours from opening the box to making my first test cut.

Now 5 days later, I’m much happier. I’ve already made some fantastic cards – a couple from files downloaded from the Black Cat Forum and a couple from my own attempts to weld words (see some pictures here). It is an amazing machine, I haven’t yet cut chipboard, but am cutting reasonably thick card with success. I’ve only used the blue capped blade so far, but once I’ve experimented with other media and different blades, I’ll add an update to this page. I’ve worked out how to set the size of the images being cut. (I should say here, that my terminology isn’t quite correct, the machine doesn’t cut images, it plots vectors held in .svg files, but I think of them as images). As a owner of a Cougar my Black Cat forum membership was upgraded and I now have access to lots more information, help & templates.

The machine comes with Inkscape and Sign Cut software – you create/edit .svg files in Inkscape and then export to Sign Cut. Between the two, you can do lots of clever things, i.e. if you have different layers you want to cut, you make them different colours in Inkscape, then you can choose which colour you are going to cut in Sign Cut. There are lots of helpful hints, tips & guides to the software available. You can use inkscape to do all kinds of clever things, with sizing, welding words, making outlines/shadows, create hundreds of different shapes and things that I probably haven’t even imagined as yet!

The one thing I haven’t really found though is a guide to the machine itself. Although the manual tells you how to work the machine, it doesn’t tell you how to use it (a subtle difference). I could have done with a guide to explaining the velocity and force settings as well as tips for blade length/height. Basically I kept getting ‘scratches’ across the surface of my card because I couldn’t get it to cut through the card unless I set the blade quite low.

However, I’ve worked out that you have the blade at a height of approx 1mm above the card you’re cutting, the blade length set according to how thick the card is, then adjust the force used to actually cut the card. Confused? Well, the blade sits in a holder, which in my case is a click holder – the length of the blade protruding from the holder is altered by turning a dial, from setting 1 (thin paper) to 6 (thick card). The machine then has two settings – velocity (the speed at which it cuts) and force (the amount of pressure it uses). These are the settings I had trouble with.

I do hope I’m not putting anyone off, forewarned is forearmed and once you know what to expect, you’re fine! Actually, I think the description of these start-up problems should make the machine more attractive to people who want to be able to control what they cut and how. If you want an easy (but potentially limited) craft machine, then this isn’t for you. I actually relish the difficulty because it reassures me that I’ve made the right choice – the other machines would have been simpler to get to grips with, but ultimately I would have been disappointed with their capabilities. I honestly don’t think that is going to happen with this machine.

In summary, if you’re looking for a digital cutter and were thinking of buying a Cricut/Gypsy package for around £600, then look at this instead. You’ll need to use a computer to drive it, and it’s not really portable, but if you’re happy with those caveats, then this is the best use of your money. You’ll be able to cut through anything upto 1.5 mm thick, in an infinite number of sizes (up to the maximum width of the machine you chose), you won’t have to buy cartridges (you can buy .svg files, but they’re relatively inexpensive), you’ll have a reliable machine that means no wasted cardstock (provided you’ve done adequate test cuts and adjustments). I didn’t find it very easy to set up, although I didn’t actually have any  particular problems. The software learning curve is quite steep – yes I’ve produced cards after 5 days, but the only complicated designs have been other peoples. Possibly it has felt difficult at times because I’ve skipped the ‘entry level’ machines and gone straight for the heavy guns!  I would say if you buy this machine you will have thought quite carefully about it due to the cost, and having come to the conclusion, like me, that lesser machines will only offer disappointment, then you’ll be happy. I am.

Advertisements

15 responses to this post.

  1. I own a cougar too, an 18″ model.
    I think the reason there is no “cutting guide” is because card stock can vary from sheet to sheet (not to mention person to person, country to country) so force & velocity potentially vary every time you cut. add in the blade condition – new blade will need less force than one you have used for a while.
    the design can be a factor too – simple designs will work at faster speeds than intricate ones.

    on the Black Cat Forum there is a thread where we posted different media and the speed, force & blade we used – this was when we all first had the machines but we quickly realized it would only ever be a “rule of thumb” guide and every one’s mileage would vary

    I would add that on some models you do have a port that allows a flash drive to be inserted and you can store .plt files on it then cut them without being connected to the computer – but again, only some have this and I think this was older models, hope they bring that feature back, it’s more handy then you think it will be!!

    When asked about my machine I say it’s a professional machine but for a home user.

    Reply

  2. I was thinking more of a guide to approaching test cuts, i.e. for a simple design on bazzil card, start at velocity of 150, force 60, blade depth 3, adjust force upwards in increments of 10 until test cut works. My problem was I didn’t quite know what settings to start with and the best way to go about adjusting them. I’ll have another look at the forum – there’s so much help and information on there I probably missed something!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Pam Ramesh on April 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Your article is very helpful. TFS

    Reply

  4. Thanks for this honest review! It has honestly made me feel so much better about my own “2nd thoughts” been having them since I downloaded that “80 page manual” anticipating the arrival of my 13″ Cougar later this week, when I saw that manual I nearly fell off my chair, but like you I think I’m able to accept the fact that hey while it may take me a few hours, heck even the day to get it out and installed and ready to cut, I too have not been able to find 1 single bad review or negative comment anywhere about their actual performance. Thanks so much for sharing this, I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt so overwhelmed about it all! Cheers Kris

    Reply

  5. Posted by computer forum on May 18, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Nice article, I had experience of this before but wasnt this is nice to know

    Reply

  6. Actually you can if you wish remove two of the steps to getting the right cutting settings.

    I never adjust the blade length (the amount of blade protruding from the holder), I have about 1mm of blade exposed for everything from thick card through to ultra thin metallic vinyl and simply use the force to determine the cut. The more force you use the deeper it will cut, the less force the shallower the cut. That removes one variable from the equation.. I have a click holder that never gets used if anyone wants it, I think I used it twice adjusting the depth and then it was turned to number 6 and left there LOL

    When cutting card and score lines I just use the force also.. if I am using 120 to cut I just dial down the force to 30 to do the score lines, no blade adjusting 😉

    Speed is also something you need not worry about at the start, simply use a slow speed of about 50 which will be suitable for 99% of media if not all. You will eventually get fed up of waiting for cuts to complete at that speed, but by then you will have got over the initial “This machine scares me” stage and be ready to start pushing the envelope. So now you have another thing less to worry about..

    That leaves two things to adjust, the height of the blade in the Cougar clamp, and the force; the height of the blade is a constant, this should be about 1 to 3mm above the surface of the media you intend to cut so just load up your media, loosen the clamp and lift the blade holder, pop a piece of 1.5mm thick chipboard on the media and lower the blade holder until the blade just touches the chipboard then tighten the clamp.

    So now all you have to figure out is the force, this is easy to do using the test cut button on the cougar, For vinyl etc start at about 15 and test cut, increase in steps of 5 until you get the correct setting (write it down for future reference), for paper start at about 30 and go up in steps of 10, for card start at about 50 and go up in steps of 10 or 20..

    Within a very short time you develop an ability to guess the force simply by picking up a piece of media, if not spot on normally only 1 test cut out.

    There is no doubting the Cougar is a scary machine, just the size of the box is intimidating never mind anything else, but once you get that first cut under your belt you quickly come to realise that it is just a big pussy-cat 😉

    Reply

  7. Posted by Pauline on February 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks so much for this VERY helpful info. I own a Cricut Imagine (on my 5th machine at present !!!) and 2 other Cricut machines. Bought a Cameo at launch but am looking for a long term investment after seeing the Cougar in action on TV. I’ve done my homework and am really impressed at the lack of complaints about this machine and the fact that ALL reviews are positive. This, and the fact that the machine itself is really sturdy has made my decision. I will be purchasing a Cougar from Dawn in the not too distant future, and selling at least 2 other cutters which will become obsolete.
    Thanks again.

    Reply

    • Glad the review is useful. I have heard the cameo is very good. Just beware, the cougar learning curve is quite steep, it took a few months before I was confident about using it.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Pauline on February 25, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Re the above reply. Forgot to mention that the reason I am on my 5th Cricut Imagine is that I have had 4 that were faulty.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Pauline on February 26, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Thanks for your comments. Will certainly bear them in mind when/if I’m tearing my hair out. But I know there is lots of support/help out there when I need it.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Deb on March 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for the info. I’m interested in getting started with die-cut machines, and from my research, it looks like the Black Cat is “the best of the best.” Can you explain how to get or create designs to emboss or cut? I’ve been looking for videos on-line that show the computer program at work, but haven’t found any. The cost for the machine is sizeable, but I like the idea of the flexibility of working with many different materials.

    Reply

    • The Black Cat ‘package’ normally includes inkscape and signcut – inkscape is a powerful piece of free(!) software that you can use to design files, or use files other people have designed – the format of the files is .svg. There are lots of companies out there that sell svgs, and lots of people give away free files – have a look any any of my posts and I normally include links to the sites where I’ve got the svgs from. Inkscape then exports to signcut, which ‘drives’ the machine. Or you can choose not to have a signcut license and go for Sure-Cuts-a-Lot (SCAL) or Make-The-Cut(MTC) instead – they both have design software and drivers for the black cat as well. Have a look at http://www.blackcatforumuk.com – you can set up a for guest membership and gets lots of access to info and help, then, if you decide to go for it, you’ll get access to the full site, where there are tutorials and templates and lots of other stuff.

      Reply

  11. Can I just point out that at the moment blackcats are being shipped with SCAL rather than Signcut. There are a couple of issues which need sorting out with signcut and contour cutting on some Mac operating systems so until they are resolved SCAL is being used which now has 3 point laser registration contour cutting.

    If you are not using a Mac computer or specifically want to use Signcut then it can still be supplied on request.

    Also Dawn is somewhat busy at the moment and has left Gaz (Dragon Lord) and myself in temporary charge of http://www.blackcatforumuk.com so anyone who would like a guest membership can contact me at louise @ happyhousecats.co.uk (remove the spaces) and I will arrange it for them. You can still contact Dawn directly if preferred but it will save her a bit of time if you contact me instead.

    Louise (Loupy)

    Reply

  12. Great review!!. I am too thinking of buying cougar!

    Reply

    • Posted by louisepaisley on November 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      If you are looking for a new machine get the Silver Bullet not a Cougar – Dawn, Sherri & Joe are now only selling the superior Silver Bullet Pro machine (but may have reconditioned cougars) and you will not get quality after sales service if you buy a machine from anyone else

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: