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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is Embroidery Digitizing part of Colorado’s new moral dilemma?

Embroidery Digitizing in Colorado
Recently, Colorado passed some laws legalizing medical and recreational marijuana and we’re still figuring out, as a state, what it all means to local trade and living. Whether you are “for it” or “against it”, it affects everyone in some way or another and as a business owner, I’ve had to make some decisions myself.

Dispensaries in the metro area have popped up all over and, as businesses themselves, they are looking to market their shops and goods. This means that I’m getting calls asking whether I will do business with them to digitize their logos and help them find embroiderers.

You see, some embroidery companies refuse to do embroidery for or do business with, anyone selling marijuana, running dispensaries and/or paraphernalia shops, much like some of the banks and loans in town. Since they didn’t vote for the law and don’t agree with it, they turn those potential customers away even if it means losing a job. This is, of course, their prerogative… it IS their business.

For me, I’ve made my decision. (Just so you know, I’ve never smoked pot and I certainly didn’t vote for this law.) My business is embroidery, nothing more, nothing less. 95% of my jobs are corporate logos and I’ve very good at what I do. This issue has nothing to do with my feelings about the marijuana industry. I sell embroidery designs to customers that own businesses….period.

I’ve done designs for churches I wasn’t affiliated with, restaurants I haven’t (or wouldn’t) eat at, and political logos for people running for different offices on both sides. To me, refusing to digitize a customer’s logo because it’s for a pot dispensary is as stupid as refusing to digitize a logo for a bar because people shouldn’t drink. After all, they are both legal. For my business, that’s where the line is. You have to make the decision for yourself.

As far as embroidery, will you turn down a biker group because you don’t like them? A bar with a logo of a half naked woman? How about a meat packing plant because you’re a vegetarian?

It’s not my job to pass moral judgment. I do embroidery. That’s my job.

What do you think about this issue? Have you turned down jobs because of your beliefs?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Embroidery: Customer purchased vs customer supplied garments

Many embroiderers struggle with their pricing policies on several levels. What should my margins be? What is my competition charging? What garments/brands will I offer and what’s the most cost efficient way to get them in and turned around for my customer?

Another often pondered dilemma is whether to accept garments supplied by the customer for embroidery.  Many embroiderers struggle with this question and go back and forth, especially when they hit a snag.

Many larger embroiderers simply won’t do this. The reasons are many but the basics are:

·         Can’t make a profit on the garments if they are supplied

·         Can’t control the quality (many customers buy the cheapest they can find, which then effects the quality of the finished embroidery)

·         Can’t replace a garment if the machine tears a hole or otherwise damages it

·         Wreaks havoc with production - Many times customers will bring a “laundry basket” of different garments in for a design (or worse, many garments, all with different designs). Every garment sews differently and consistent placement can be a struggle on multiple garments. Production suffers and profit goes down.

Smaller embroider companies seem to be more willing to deal with these issues and will charge more on the embroidery side to make up for it. It’s up to you whether you want to accept customer supplied garments in your business but if you do, here are a few things (in addition to the ones above) that you want to consider making a few rules about in your shop:

·         Only accept clean, new garments….yes, customers will try to bring you old (smelly) sweatshirts that haven’t been laundered or team shirts that have already been worn (stained) for a few games. This makes your equipment dirty, can pound dirt into your needle plates and leave residue for your next orders making it difficult to keep other garments clean.

·         Make the customer sign a waiver acknowledging that they understand that you cannot be held responsible for garment damages and will not replace items.  Some embroiderers state a 2% or 3% waste policy on larger quantities. Make sure your customer understands your policy.  Believe me, it will not be profitable in any way to spend time and money driving around town (away from your business) to replace a customer’s garment at retail prices just so they can save a few bucks by providing them to you.

·         Most embroiderers will refuse items that are irreplaceable such as grandma’s quilt or heirloom handkerchiefs or baby christening gowns. Also, items that are extremely expensive or leather items. Not many embroiderers will sew a leather jacket back and punch hundreds of thousands of holes into a good leather jacket that costs way more than the embroidery. All it takes is one to tear a hole and all the profit from the job goes down the drain.

·         Make sure you’re charging for your time to go over multiple garment jobs with the customer about where the design location will fall on the different garments and thread color differences between the garment colors. Multiple garments usually means the design will need alternate colorways on certain ones to insure the design shows well. Also go over the garments with your customer and point out any flaws/stains so you aren’t blamed for them.

If you want to allow customer supplied garments, try it for a while and see how it goes for you. You may decide to re-evaluate your stance at a later time. At any rate, make sure it’s profitable the way you’ve set it up. We’ve all been there in one way or another, which is usually what formulates the policy in your shop.

NeedleUp Digitizing LLC is owned and operated by Donna Lehmann, a 20yr veteran of the embroidery/digitizing industry. She can be reached at NeedleUp, or  303-287-6633 for digitizing, consultation and private classes M-F.