Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sometimes you just have to say “No” - Embroidery Digitizing

All kidding aside, nobody wants to turn a customer away or tell them “No” but there are times when being honest about what they’re asking for is better than not being able to deliver a promised product.  Those of us who have been in the industry for a while realize that customers really have no idea what is possible and what is not when it comes to embroidery. 
As a digitizer, I work with promotional sales people that I hope, have at least a running knowledge of embroidery, how it works and what is unreasonable to expect.  They are really the ones who should begin the conversation with their customers about things like lettering getting too small and logos getting too big, gradients in areas too small to do them and 3 or more borders/outlines that simply are too small and/or won’t register properly.
All too often, they say nothing to their client except “yes” and then leave it up to me to be the “bad guy” and tell them their design won’t work for embroidery.  What’s worse, they tell me, “I already told them it was fine” or “this is the way they have to have it, no changes”  which sometimes results in less than optimal designs, high stitch counts and bullet-proof embroidery with too much detail, too small lettering or bigger designs than they should be for the area they’re being sewn on.
Once the customer has brought their art in and had their initial consult with the promotional person, unless they are told at that time that there could be an issue, they have their hopes up and leave that meeting thinking that’s what they will get.  Anything after that is a frustration to them.

If you’re selling embroidery, always be aware of what can be done and what cannot.  Ask questions of the digitizer if you’re not sure and then get back to your customer. Be proactive.  If the customer is buying royal shirts and their design is royal, talk to them about what they plan to do about the colors.  Most times they haven’t even thought of that. It will make a difference in the digitizing and it will save the customer an edit fee most likely.

Lastly, help your customer be flexible and suggest other options that will work. If the customer is steadfast, suggest other decorating options for those designs that are simply too small and detailed for embroidery.  Help me out with what your customer wants instead of tying my hands and leaving me no other choice than to say “No”.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Formats, Formats everywhere! - Coded files vs Stitch files

Here’s how digitizing works with regard to formats.  Embroidery software manufacturers are very proprietary so every software has a native format that can only be opened by someone with that same software.  These native format files carry the program codes that define densities, trims, color breaks and a multitude of other functions that tell the machine how and where to sew.  This is the master digitizing file or coded file that is created when a new design is digitized.

Embroidery machines run stitch files, created from the coded files, but with different formats.  The difference is, stitch files are really just a list of mathematical points on a grid that tell the machine where to put the stitches. Commercial stitch files carry no color information or codes of any kind.  (Home stitch file formats usually carry thread color information.)

For this reason, the master coded copy of a design is always saved. Whether you digitize yourself or have an outside digitizer, editing should always be done from that original to keep the integrity of the coding and to be able to edit the original wireframe of the design.

These days, most high end embroidery softwares have stitch processing.  What this means is that you can open a stitch file in the program and it will analyze and detect densities, stitch lengths and other properties. It re-assigns codes and tries to rebuild wireframe pieces so you can edit and resave the design in your native format. This process is automatic. So basically you’re able to open a non-coded file and edit, enlarge or shrink and the software will (for the most part) retain the densities intended in the design. It does an OK job. In the past, if you enlarged or shrunk a stitch file, the stitch count didn’t change, so larger files didn’t have enough density while smaller files got too dense.

Stitch processing is handy but not perfect.  Since the software is essentially choosing a density that is close to the original, it can be off slightly. It tries to detect where the trims are and does rebuild wireframes however, they are in pieces. It also cannot recreate complex fills and will break them into straight flat areas of fill losing any patterns and sometimes travel stitches.

You wouldn’t notice it the first or maybe the second time, but if you keep opening and processing the same uncoded stitch files for editing, each time the file will deteriorate further.  Your design will have missing stitches or broken and crooked letters and the quality goes down due to re-processing the file multiple times. This is why you always return to the master coded file to edit designs or create new versions from them.

Another benefit to editing only the coded files is that you can save multiple elements of different versions of a design such as taglines or phone numbers, and the art the design was created from, all in the master file.  Instead of deleting the previous tagline, for instance, you are able to simply turn it off within the file before you save your stitch file. If you need it at a later date, it’s still there and you can simply turn it back on.

Once you understand the difference between coded files and stitch files, you can see the reason for keeping both formats of your designs, what the formatting does in each file and why you need to go back to the original to do the editing.


**For more information on NeedleUp’s digitizing services, visit our website at or contact Donna Lehmann by email:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Punch Drunk - Embroidery Edition

Have you ever heard the term “punching” in regards to machine embroidery?

If you’ve been in this crazy business for a long while, you know exactly what this refers to.  If you’ve only been in it for even 10 or 15 years, you may have heard the term but aren’t sure what it means. Less than 10 years, you might not have even come across the term.

I started digitizing over 22 years ago. Back then we called it punching because designs were saved on paper tapes much like the old tele-type tapes (you may even have to look that up J).  These tapes were created on a reel to reel machine that punched holes into the tape which corresponded to stitches in the embroidery software.  Each tape held a design and some designs that were really big, like jacket backs would consist of multiple tapes. When you wanted to load a design, you had to run the tape through the reader and the software would read the holes and bring the design up on the screen, stitch by stitch. Hence, the act of programming embroidery designs was called punching and the people who did it, punchers.  It was nothing to tell customers they’d have their design in 2 or 3 weeks.

Later when technology came forward a bit, we became digitizers.  Design were plotted out on a tablet or large board resembling an architect table and stitches were input directly into the computer. You had to path the design out before you even started because input began with the first stitch and ended with the last, in the exact order it was to sew. If a mistake was made or something was left out, you had to erase everything back to the point where the error or omission was and do it over again. Editing afterwards was limited, at best, and it was confined mostly to moving stitches one at a time. Seems archaic now, right? It kinda was…

We were still a few years away from being able to bring the artwork up into the software to digitize over it. Now of course, everything is done on screen, full editing capabilities and many automated features like complex fills and keyboard lettering that the software does for you.

We’ve come a long way in this industry. I’ve seen all the changes but I’m really glad the process has gotten easier with the advances in embroidery technology.  Even after all this time, I still catch myself using the term punching.  My customer may not know what I’m talking about but it always makes me smile.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What the Font are we talking about? - Embroidery Machine Text

People ask about lettering all the time.  Minimum sizing, font styles, keyboard vs. digitized, are all valid questions.  Here’s a quick primer on machine embroidered text.

Most embroidery designs with lettering are company logos of some sort, which is mostly what commercial embroiders do.  Lettering is important because it carries the pertinent information the client wants people to see, marketing the company name and other business information.

I only use keyboard lettering if it is an exact match to the design (or in the case of multiple names for personalizations) and even when I do, I always have to edit or “clean” it to ensure that it will sew properly and have correct pull compensation.* The rest of the time, it’s more effective to digitize the lettering by hand. It almost takes more time to edit the “canned”* text and the customer gets lettering that exactly matches their art.

That being said, customers will sometimes tell you what font they want on their designs naming a print font they like.  You should know that some embroidery fonts are named the same as their print counterparts but many are not.  Likewise, different embroidery softwares may have different names for the same font.  Certainly, not all print fonts make good embroidery styles.

You should also know that not all embroidery softwares do a great job on keyboard lettering. Many do not, therefore, you should understand what good lettering looks like and how proper characters are pathed and formed to determine if your software is creating letters correctly.  No software is perfect which is why there will always be things you will and should adjust. This is one place where it becomes apparent that all embroidery softwares are not created equal and the cream rises to the top. (IMHO Wilcom has dedicated more time and years of experience in creating their algorithms for lettering and consequently has some of the best keyboard lettering results on the market;  Melco a close second. ) (and yes, I used the W word and the M word in the same sentence)

You can purchased additional coded fonts to add to your keyboard lettering from the manufacturer of your software. These have a specific extension and are created to work with your software program.  (You can also purchase stylized “fonts” online which are really just separately digitized letters that can be used for monograms or to spell words and names.  Each letter is a separate file and you must paste them together to do so)

When using keyboard fonts, follow the software creator’s parameters for each font including size range and join method.* There is a reason they give you that information; you’ll get much better results. Not all fonts can sew effectively at a minimum size of ¼”

Remember, much about the way lettering sews has to do with the fabric also. Nylons and twills can handle smaller text better than knits and denims, sewing the exact same size and font. Be sure to use the correct densities, underlay and traveling stitches for crisp letters.

In the end, “canned” fonts can save you time if you get familiar with the ones in your software and understand their limitations. Oh, and one last thing. Many softwares have a true type font conversion which sounds great in theory but don’t bother. I haven’t seen one yet that didn't suck.
·         “Canned” fonts – slang for keyboard created, pre-digitized coded text
·         Pull compensation – a setting related to stitching that increases width to compensate for the pull of the fabric which draws inward due to thread tension.
·         Join Method – how the software configures the path of the letters and where the crossover stitch between letters will be.
Donna Lehmann has been in the commercial side of the industry for 22 years.  For more information on NeedleUp’s Digitizing services, email Donna at or call 303-287-6633 for info and pricing.  Visit  to see some of our most recent work.