Friday, June 17, 2011

Must Haves

We all have them — the things we reach for every 2 seconds when we’re working on a project. Being a graduate student, I’m on a particularly tight budget and am on the (obsessively) picky side of things when it comes to my purchases. There’s a lot of thought that goes into every single debit card swipe, and I do a lot of browsing, researching, and asking before I take the plunge. My collection of tools, paper, etc. is pretty small as far as most people go, but I pride myself on what I can do with a few tools, ink pads, sheets of paper, and my creative mind!

My Top 11 Recommendations:

1. Craft Mat
Some sort of craft mat that allows for peace of mind when working and clean up that can happen in the blink of an eye is essential. I happened to permanently borrow one of my mom’s Tephlon baking sheets that she never really uses. This is really not ideal for most people, as I think these are actually pretty pricey (my dad knew someone who was apparently stashing out reams of the stuff about 10 years ago or something, so we have LOTS, but this isn’t exactly typical). It works like a charm since it wipes clean in a snap with just water and I know it can stand up to my heat gun since it’s made for an oven. However, if you don’t want to raid a family kitchen or hit up some high-end baking store, I recommend the Craft Mat by Ranger. They come in pretty small and medium sized (I suppose that is relative…I’m a hugantic space spreader-outer when I work), and you can pick them up at a store like Michael’s for around $15-$20. You’ll never worry about clean-up again.

2. Cardstock
I learned kind of slowly that cardstock is needed for anything that involves my favie embossing. Paper just isn’t thick enough to stand up to the heat of a heat gun, nor is it stiff enough to hold its own when doing anything relatively 3-dimensional. I know a lot of people are really partial to certain brands, but I haven’t been doing this long enough to find anything I’m ready to swear by. Right now, my purchases are more dictated by price (as in cheap = buyable even though I know pricey = better quality, in most cases). I just make sure to have certain colors on hand that I use frequently, like kraft, brown, white, and off-whitish (very technical). If you want to splurge on some cute printed cardstock, I recommend starting out with some 6x6 or 8x8 paper pads by companies like Basic Grey, Cosmo Cricket, and October Afternoon. The pads have coordinating papers that go great with one another, they're cheaper because they're smaller, and the prints are proportionately sized for smaller areas, like cards.

3. Ink
There are a lot of different inks out there that are used for different things since they all have their own special personalities and properties. They can even be used to color cardstock instead of just for stamping images. For my limited budget, I go for the Color Box Cat’s Eyes since I can get multiple colors in one whack. They’re smaller than a big stamp pad, but you get more for a single purchase. It’s incredibly handy to have so many colors without spending as much money. The great part about them is that since they’re sold as a set, you can use a coupon for a single bigger purchase, when it would otherwise take up 5 trips to do the same thing (yes, I am a coupon freak. But seriously, A.C Moore has 40%-50% off coupons practically every week that Michael’s takes too! Someday when I’m fat, old, happy, and inexplicably wealthy, I’ll support small Mom & Pop stores for all my purchases, but right now, I’d prefer to feed myself.) My only complaint with them is that some of them have seemed to dry up a little quickly. That makes me sad. If you're looking for some more fun inks, Distress Inks by Ranger come in great colors and react interestingly with water, making for ample creative mistakes creations.

4. Stamps
Stamps make my world go ’round. Since I’m really bad at lining things up well, etc., I’m rather inclined to recommend clear stamps. They’re also more affordable since they tend to come in sheets/sets; this expands your stamp collection for the same price as a single wood block stamp, and allows for less thinking when it comes to finding things that “go together.” Clear stamps are also great for storage. Seeing as how I have a bedroom and pretty much nothing else when it comes to space, the smaller, the better. However, I’ve recently discovered a local craft store that carries my favorite Hero Arts stamps that I previously considered off limits since I never pay to have anything shipped, which was my only option up until that point…this was a good and bad discovery. It makes me happier, but it makes me poorer. Some of Hero Arts’s background stamps are just too cute and too overly useful to pass up! I love love love their “Flowers and Dots” stamp. It was worth $13 since I pretty much use it obsessively. Their "Designer Woodgrain" is also very pretty and versatile. If you want big stamps without the woodblock (better for storage!), try "clings," which are kind of a hybrid between clear and woodblock. The HA "Friend Definition" is a cling that I looooove.

5. Heat Gun
Heat guns are a necessity for me since I’m pretty impatient when I work. They’re handy for the obvious reasons of embossing (one of my fav embellishments) but they can also be used to zap some ink or Perfect Pearls spray that just won’t dry fast enough for me (in other words, it takes more than 2 seconds). Mine is a sweet magenta-ish color by Nicole. I picked it up at A.C. Moore about 3 years ago with one of my infamous 50% off coups, so it ended up only costing around $12.50. Normally I think they retail for about $25. This was the cheapest one I could find and it works great — no complaints!

6. Embossing Powder and Embossing Ink
Embossing is quite possibly one of my favorite things ever. It’s such an easy way to play up certain parts of a card or scrapbook page without doing much more than just stamping. It also adds great texture and makes your cards look super-spiffy-professional. I use the clear embossing ink for everything; I find it’s not really necessary to see where I’ve stamped, and I can usually find it by angling it in the light if I need to. I love embossing with clear powder for subtle effects, and then white for phrases to really make them pop since white ink can sometimes leave me a little disappointed. There are also glittery, metallic, and even crackle varieties out there too. My only glitter purchase was disappointing — it never seems to set all the way — but there is a color for anything you could want. I dump mine into little plastic Tupperware type containers, so that I can scoop and pour right over the container, using it as a catcher. This saves the step of dumping the powder from the creased paper back into the jar. (I stole this tip from Jennifer McGuire — she’s uh-may-ZUH-zing). So easy and so much FUN! Plus, if you want to get fancy, embossed areas resist ink, so there are lots of fun tricks to try!

7. Paper Cutter
Scissors are cool, but paper-cutters are waaaay more awesome when it comes to quick-cuts for straight lines and nice right angles. There are a bazillion ones to choose from out there. My parents got an office-style one for me for Christmas last year that doesn’t travel, but has blades that can switch out for scoring, perforating, etc. It’s pretty sweet. I think they were sick of me stealing my dad’s from his office. I don’t even know how I bothered to cut with scissors before that…talk about the Stone Age.

8. Adhesive
A good adhesive makes the difference between a page that is a total flop when you pick it up, and a page that is a total champ when you scrunch it into that clear sleeve. Note: Not all adhesives are created equally. I like the tape runner type, and I always make sure to buy ones that are acid free, especially when it comes to sticking my photos down. I only have permanent right now, but sometimes I wish I had the movable kind, especially when it comes to scrapbooking. You can always seal the deal once you’ve definitely made yourself happy with a layout. For scrapbooks, I suppose you would never need to use permanent if it’s in a sleeve, but for cards, the more permanent the better; I don’t think that the Postal Service always treats my parcels with the fragile daintiness that they deserve. Right now, I’m using Tombow Mono Adhesive DOTS Permanent; this is a wonderful upgrade from the non-dots. The dots roller never gets gunked up! It's fantastic!

9. Perfect Pearls
What can I say? I’m a girl and I like sparkly things. Stick a bit of Perfect Pearls in the Mini Mister by Ranger and shake it up with some good ol’ H2O and you’re good to go spray any surface you want to make perfectly pearly awesome. I didn’t realize that you could purchase them separately when I bought mine, so I got a set of 4 metallics, but you can also buy them singly, at least in the original Perfect Pearl color (so far, it’s the only color I’ve used). I probably use this more than I should, but it’s just so darn pretty! This probably wouldn’t be a necessity for everyone, but it is for me.

10. Babywipes
I know! Sounds weird. But nothing makes clean-up easier than a nice box of babywipes. They clean wet ink off of stamps (except Staz-On--need something special for that!) and are great at mopping up anything and everything off of a craft mat. Plus, they condition stamps, can smell good if you so choose, are cheap, and are very readily available. Woot.

11. White Gel Pen
White gel pens seem like they wouldn't be needed all that often, but you have NO idea. They are awesome for contrast writing on darker cardstock, and they are my absolute new favorite embellishment tool for faux stitching. My favorite is the Uni-Ball Signo Broad, but there are lots out there to choose from that come in different widths and have more or less translucent ability! Check out this great post (and video!) from Kristina Werner for a nice comparison of some of the best of the best.

So that is my top 11 for now; I’m sure it will evolve over time. Hope it’s helpful!

What about you guys? Do you have any items you think I missed? Think I included something that is far superseded by something else? Had a bad or great experience with any particular item? Leave a comment and let me know!

Happy crafting!

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