It’s amazing how frequently machine embroiderers search for the term “free embroidery designs.” Initially, you may think that this is the perfect way to grow a vast design library and offset the price you paid for that high-priced embroidery machine. Free designs from the right sources are indeed a nice bonus.
Unfortunately, the bulk of gratis designs are poor quality and when you’re just starting out with machine embroidery, you need to be using high quality designs to get the best results with the least effort. Lower quality designs are far less forgiving of inadequate embroidery techniques.
Some free designs may actually cost you dearly in legal fees. Find out what you need to know before you download or accept any free design!
HOW FREE ARE THOSE DESIGNS REALLY?
Free designs take time to find and time to download. You also need to test them.
Technically, you should test any design before sewing it but free embroidery designs are often created by inexperienced embroiderers so happy to have finally “mastered” their software that they want to share their first master piece with the world before it’s ever seen a sewing machine.
When there is no experienced or knowledgeable digitizer standing behind a design, you will be the one to verify and (usually) fix them. You stand a much better chance of a successful result when using a design from a reliable source—whether paid or unpaid.
When people bring problem sew-outs to me for help, most of the time they are these “freebie” designs. Often they have three, four, or even more sew-outs with different fabrics and backings.
Good embroidery starts with a good design and a poor one will not be fixed by altering external factors. You may not be using your wallet to pay for these designs but they still cost you in time, frustration, and supplies.
TYPES OF FREE DESIGNS
I’ve classified four types of free designs you’re most likely to encounter on the internet:
- Sample embroideries by professional digitizers to allow you to sample their skills
- Designs provided in exchange for some action on your part (newsletter signup, sharing a post to social media, liking a Facebook page
- Sample embroideries from machine companies to add value to their product and teach a specific technique or project
- Free embroideries shared by home embroiderers who may or may not have any skills and may not understand copyrights
- Pirated copies of copyrighted designs
ARE ALL FREE DESIGNS POOR QUALITY?
Absolutely not! Many digitizers will provide a few free samples of their work. And like free samples at the grocery store, they are a tasty little bite to give you a flavor of their quality; they are not designed to be a full course meal.
As such, they tend to be smaller and simpler designs but still full quality. A professional digitizer will apply the same high level of skills to a free design as they do to any design they create. They do not want a poor quality design to represent them. Don’t expect the design to represent their most intricate complex work though!
In addition to letting you sample their work, embroidery designers often rotate their freebies to draw traffic to their web site. Of course, their objective is to get you to look at their entire line and not just swoop in for the new freebie.
After all, this is how they make a living. Do recognize that there is a skill and quality range in professional digitizers and that just because they charge for their work doesn’t necessarily indicate they are great digitizers.
Embroidery designs provided by machine companies may be digitized by a professional digitizer, a knowledgeable educator, or someone of lesser skills. These are often associated with a project so at least you know someone has sewn them!
Designs on sites that allow anyone to contribute and share their embroidery design work often have hundreds of designs from which to choose. Unfortunately, you may have to sift through a lot of crap to find a few gems. These sites demonstrate the full gamut of digitizing quality from “what were they thinking” to “hey, that’s pretty cool.”
Some of these designs may not even have been test sewn before they were uploaded! Another caution with these designs is that they are often not created from original artwork and may violate copyrights.
No matter the source of your design, you should always, always, always test sew to verify it will work for your purposes. If it is truly a bad design–not just a bad sew-out—get rid of it. Bad designs aren’t like fine wines and won’t improve with age.
COPYRIGHTS AND FREE DESIGNS
Just because you didn’t pay for the design doesn’t mean you have complete freedom to use it however you like.
Free designs do have intellectual copyrights and usage limitations so make sure you know what they are or that free design could suddenly become very expensive.
Some designs may be restricted for personal use only while others may be sewn for sellable items. Do not otherwise distribute these designs, they still belong to the designer. If you interfere, then you can be depriving the original distributor from income.
PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM BOOTLEG DESIGNS
Make sure that the provider of the designs is the original copyright owner or has authorization to free distribution rights before you accept designs from them. Some companies have been known to offer “free collections” via a another party in order to take legal action against those who accept the designs.
Yes, this is entrapment but designers get angry when their livelihood is being stolen from them and may take retaliatory measures. This ploy has also been used on eBay.
Be careful, too, about the design itself. I’ve seen sites offering free designs for Tweety Bird, Roadrunner, Pooh, and Dr. Seuss and Disney characters to name just a few.
These are licensed characters and are heavily protected!
Do not download these! If you sew them and a company representative should spot it, you will need to prove where you got it. If it didn’t come from an approved licensed company, you will be facing expensive legal action.
SHOULD YOU COMPLETELY AVOID FREE DESIGNS?
No, but use caution when accepting them and using them. A little paranoia can be a good thing! Free designs can be a nice bonus to your design library when they come from a reputable source and they sew well.
Why litter your hard drive with hundreds or possibly thousands, of free but poor designs simply because you didn’t have to buy them? You can purchase high quality, individual designs for less than a cup of coffee. Wouldn’t you rather start with quality?
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY DESIGNS FROM YOUR FAVORITE DESIGNERS
Running a website, providing blog posts, creating YouTube videos—not to mention creating the designs, testing them, scanning them, cleaning up the images, making all the formats, writing up the design details, photographing and writing up step-by-steps if included, uploading them and hooking them up for downloading—all take time, skills, energy, supplies, and expensive hardware.
In other words, it costs money.
Some sites rely on hobbyists donating stuff and advertisers to cover the costs. For some of us, this is our business and only income and the only way we can cover those costs and earn a living is if you buy something.
The exchange of money for services is a way to show appreciation. Don’t you tip your waitress or hairdresser when they provide service?
Most days I have plenty of visitors and downloads but the vast bulk of those downloads are freebies so that most days bring in no money whatsoever.
Obviously no business can run in the red for long and we’re now seeing some designers drop their websites altogether.
So say thank you with your pocket! Most individual designs are less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks and are a way better value since they can be used and enjoyed over and over.
HOW TO GET A FREE COLLECTION & NOTIFIED OF NEW FREEBIES
Simply subscribe to the newsletter! Once you confirm your subscription, you’ll get a second email with a coupon code for the collection.
Future newsletters announce new blog posts, projects, tips, specials, and freebies. Don’t want to receive them anymore? You can unsubscribe at any point with a convenient in each newsletter email.
- Troubleshooting Embroidery Quality Issues
- Why Do Designs Cost So Much?
- About Those Dreaded Jump Stitches!