Sunday, 2 March 2014

Testdriving My Digital Studio

For a while I have been thinking about trying out the Stampin' Up My Digital Studio (MDS) software. It's basically a digital scrapbooking software, but it's quite versatile so you can make lots of things from scrapbook pages and photo albums to cards and practically anything. You can use a supplied template or create everything from scratch or do anything in between. There is a completely free, no-hassle and no-obligations 30-day trial of the software. You can download it from the Stampin' Up store. It's a 1Gb download, so for my countryside internet connection, it took quite a while.

On to the actual software. You can download it for either Windows or Mac, and it's really quick and easy to install, just click a button and it does the rest. When you start the software it prompts you to select your type of project and then shows you the main dashboard.

I started with creating a layout for a photo I had. I used the colour picker to match the element colours to colours on the photo, I thought that was a great tool to use. The photo I used is one of those photo-booth strips with four photos, hence the elongated shape of the photo. It took me quite a while to create this layout, but it was the first project I did. Using the large background stamps slowed things down quite a bit, but I think the end result was quite fun although now that I look at it and compare to another scrapbook layout I made earlier, it's quite similar... I may not have the most creative mind.

I also created a greeting card, which was very quick and easy to do. I did enjoy creating the card, but I'm not sure if I would feel as much accomplishment in sending a digitally designed, printed card compared to a hand crafted physical paper card where you can see all the different layers and elements. But I have my craft room which I can stock full of crafting supplies, and for people who don't have that, I think this could be a great way to be creative without having to physically hoard a crazy amount of crafting supplies. I ended up using the Mixed Bunch set, which I also have as a real stamp. I just love it, it's so incredibly versatile!
I printed the card as well, which ended up being a bit of a tricky affair as my printer doesn't provide all that many options for flexible layouts for printing, and I needed to get some empty space on the cardstock in the right place to be able to fold the card. In the end, I had to export it as a jpg (as my printer's most flexible printing interface is for photos and it wouldn't recognize pdfs...) including an empty first page, this way I was able to position it correctly onto a sheet of A4 paper. Not too difficult now that I know how to do it, but slightly annoying before I figured it out. Again, not the fault of the software, but the lack of printing options on my printer. Apparently, SU also offer a printing service, so you can order your photo books etc directly from them if you prefer. 

I have several reservations about the software, some of them maybe more justified than others. First of all, the software was excruciatingly slow on my MacBook Pro from a few years back. I had to wait between most of the operations for several seconds, and the big stamps took much longer than that to load. I was also very frustrated with the difficulty to select objects, I often had to mouse around and try to click several points of an object before it would get selected. This might be connected with the performance issues, but I can't know for sure. So it took me quite a while to build my test cards and backgrounds, just because it took forever to move things around. Particularly the large background stamps were hopeless, in the photo layout where I used two of them, I wanted to pull my hair out from time to time.

Also, there was a few bugs where the software just threw up some java error messages and refused to do what I wanted to. However thankfully it seemed quite stabile, so I didn't lose any of my projects. I should have made a note of what I was trying to do when I got the error messages, but unfortunately I didn't and I can't remember anymore what created the problems.

My main objection, and I admit this is not quite a fair point, is that although the demo comes with quite a nice selection of add-ins, and the full version with even more, Stampin' Up's model of making money is obviously to sell add-ins. Obviously at just shy of £14, the software is not expensive and Stampin' Up is a for-profit company, so they are completely free to sell anything and it's up to everyone whether they want to buy the additional content or not. You can buy additional DSPs, stamps and other elements for a few pounds each and I can see that being a slippery slope for a craft hoarder like me. I believe I would be just as bad at hoarding digital content as I am at hoarding real life, physical crafting stuff. And I can see so much money being spent on that. So for me, knowing myself and my obsession with crafting, I would end up spending soooo much money on this. Kudos to Stampin' Up for making the content so amazing that I can't resist it!

However, there is obviously a lot of upsides to MDS as well. It is very intuitive to use, if you have ever used any other image manipulation programs, or even Powerpoint, you will be able to jump right in and start creating. And there are lots of tutorial videos online, starting from the very basics and covering everything up to advanced stuff. Browsing through the videos I found lots of little tips and tricks that seem so obvious once someone has shown you how to do it, but you wouldn't think of on your own. The software truly is very versatile and will allow you to do almost anything your imagination comes up with. 

The other good thing is that you can import any non-Stampin' Up components you want as well. The background papers are jpg files and the stamps, punches and embellishments are svg files. There are tutorials out there how to do it, and the internet is full of downloadable content, so if you really only want to pay for the software and not spend another penny, that is also possible. Obviously it's a shame that the Stampin' Up stuff is so adorable that it is really hard to resist. One benefit I would see of the digital downloads, which are so much cheaper than buying actual physical crafting supplies, is like the other day when I ordered a rather expensive stamp set basically to make one card for one specific person. Yes, I do think I will end up using that stamp set in the future as well, but it might have been worth it paying about £4 for a digital version instead of £18 for the real deal. But then again, giving a completely hand-crafted paper card instead of a printout of a digital one also has it's upside, so it's again a question of preference.

All in all, I'm weighing the pros and cons and I'm not sure whether I will buy the software. However, my main reservation is mostly about whether I would actually use it very much. And I can also see a never-ending obsession to buy more and more add-ins, resulting in my credit card trying to run away and hide every time I turn on the computer. Also, the snail pace of using the software on my computer (not sure if the problem is the software or the slightly old computer, I suspect a combo of both) do weigh in on my decision. If you are a starting crafter who doesn't have a lot of space for physical crafting but you would like to scrapbook and do photo albums, this might be something for you (although I recognise there are as many providers of photo album services are there are grains of sand on the beach, so there is plenty to choose from). If you are a more established crafter, it depends on how much you enjoy working with physical paper and how much you enjoy working in a digital environment whether this is worth it for you. In the end, the software with the standard set of add-ins comes at about the same price as one single stamp set, and you will definitely get more bang for your buck here, but it's only worth it if you will actually use it. 

No comments: