From the Mailbag: Questions About Digitizing

From the Mailbag: Questions About Digitizing

I have a question about digitizing. Should I do it myself? What's the best software at a low budget price? Is it intuitive and easy? Is there a software that I can used to simply import my logo (.tiff) push a button and have it digitized? Yes, I'm a guy and I need it to be automatic and basically work all by itself.

Since I'm frequently asked questions like yours, I decided answering your email would make a great post. A lot of my topics come from questions I see on forums or the ones people are asking me.

As for being a guy, your gender may be outnumbered these days but it certainly wasn't in the not-so-distant past.

Digitizing was definitely considered a "manly occupation" most likely because it took a fair amount of upper body strength to run the equipment. Today, anyone physically capable of using a mouse or stylus can digitize, at least theoretically.

Another thing that's not limited to guys is having embroidery digitizing be as effortless as punching buttons on a remote control. Let's look at your questions one at a time.

Should I digitize my logo myself?

Maybe, maybe not. Proper digitizing takes a while to master. Not only are you learning a new program that may seem totally foreign to you, you also need to understand how to create a design in thread.

What stitches do you use? How long should the stitches be? How closely spaced? What stitches should go first? How do you keep the design from distorting? If you're only going to create one design, than my answer is no.

By the way, the answers to these questions, and most of the questions in your email can be found in my ebook, Anatomy of a Design. I personally think every embroiderer should take a basic course in digitizing theory because you'll learn so much about selecting a design which will enable you to become a much more savvy embroiderer.

This book captures the essence of what every embroiderer needs to know about how designs are constructed, which is a perfect forerunner to learning to digitize.

If you are just getting started with machine embroidery and don't yet know how to digitize, send that logo out. You'll get a professional result quickly and far more inexpensively than buying software just to do a logo.

What's the best machine embroidery digitizing software at a low budget price?

I haven't a clue what the best software is for the lowest price. That's kind of like asking what's the best car for the lowest price. Depends on what you want it to do, how much comfort you require, and how much time you will spend using it.

Although I'm somewhat of a software junkie having had a home computer since 1981, I am most definitely a Mac kinda girl. Most embroidery software is Windows based so if you're a PC kinda guy, you'll have plenty of choices.

And while I do have XP running on my Mac and have a range of embroidery programs, I find that although many of them do more things faster than my professional digitizing program, I still use the latter most. I know it and it works the way I like to work.

Fortunately most software today will write to most any common machine format so gone are the days where you had do use only what your machine company offered. My recommendation is to always buy as much as you can afford. Otherwise, you may soon outgrow the program and have to buy another.

Is embroidery digitizing intuitive and easy?

Truthfully? No.

Properly digitizing a moderately complex design (even just lettering can be moderately complex) requires a lot of thinking and planning. And since digitizing is very unlike other activities, the software and skills needed to perform it are different.

It is possible that some software is intuitive and easy—I find my professional digitizing software intuitive and easy because prior to using it, I had quite a few years experience with high-end graphics programs like Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand. Unlike most other digitizing programs, its interface and working is very similar to such programs.

When I started digitizing with the first two programs I had (the only choices for my machine at the time), I didn't know what I didn't know.

I applied my experience as a programmer (efficient pathing), graphics background (color, texture, shading, drawing with a mouse), and free motion embroidery (stitch effects) along with a lot of trial and error until I sussed out the basics.

Eight or so months later when I bought Punto, I found it fairly easy and intuitive because it had tools similar to Illustrator and I already knew how to digitize.

In using other digitizing programs, I have come to the conclusion that I got really lucky choosing what I did because I find most other programs cumbersome, non-intuitive, and way too "clicky."

Part of that is the Windows thing and part of it is how most other programs work. Punto just happened to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from how most digitizing programs evolved.

However, most people don't use bezier based graphics programs and find Punto hard to use. (There is a Windows version of Punto now.)

Whether you find Windows digitizing programs intuitive and easy depends on the type of software you've used in the past and how well the digitizing program conforms to general user interface standards. In general, the more powerful the software, the more time it will take to learn all its functions.

However, the opposite is not necessarily true. There are some really complicated programs that aren't nearly as powerful as their complexity would lead you to believe.

I have found some programs feel very DOS-like—you have to use the editor program to do some things, the digitizing program to do others.

While I think having different "levels" of software is a good thing, I think the digitizing part should be able to do it all, and do it in one window—especially if the editor doesn't support the same embroidery format as the digitizing. (Yes, there are some programs that work that way.)

Is there an embroidery digitizing program that I can use to simply import my logo (.tiff) push a button and have it digitized?

Yes. However, the results will depend on:

  • how crisp the original artwork is
  • how "sewable" it would be in stitches as is
  • and what your level of expectation is

With auto-digitizing programs, you will get a fairly flat looking design. All larger areas will get a fill at the default settings and narrower areas will get satins. Very thin lines will get a running stitch.

It's often better to replace any lettering in artwork with TrueType letters in the embroidery software if the software offers font conversion. While the program may vary the stitch direction, the uniformity of the stitch types and the heavy black outline will make for a an uninteresting design.

To put this in perspective, although there are only 3 main stitch types (fills, satins, and runs), an interesting design might have a dozen or more unique stitch patterns made up by varying length, density, underlay, and needle penetrations.

Even a stitch as basic as a run might be a single pass, double pass, or triple stitch. And each variation on those by stitch length adds another stitch attribute type.

I've been personally impressed with how well some of these programs do convert artwork to stitches in that the stitch angles on satins are often very good and the pathing is quite good. But never have I seen a 3 step digitizing process—import art, generate stitches, export to sewing machine—produce a design I would personally sign my name to.

That said, you can still let the program do the hard work and then you can spend a bit of time changing stitch parameters and tweaking details and have a perfectly reasonable result without spending a lot of time learning how to use the program, learning how to digitize, and the actual time it takes to digitize (which in my experience, is always longer than I think!).

Quite a few programs have auto-digitizing features. The two I have worked with most are Creative DRAWings and Generations. They both have features I like but for power, Generations has way more features and at least on my computers (even my "real" PC), locks up less.

I like the fact that DRAWings will work with vector files but there is a drawback to this for novices. Whereas Generations recognizes areas by color, DRAWings recognizes by shape.

This means Generations will not stack layers on layers of stitches but DRAWings will depending on how the vector is drawn (which means almost always). You will spend more time adjusting a DRAWings auto-digitized design than Generations.

For digitizing letters, you are better off with a TrueType font-to-stitches program. This is built right in to Generations and it is amazingly good.

The good thing is you can get a trial version of each of these programs.

DRAWings is a dongle-less trial, so some critical features (like saving) aren't available. If you can't save a file, you can't test sew it either.

Various full-dongle trials are available for Generations through embroidery.com. Some of these programs include additional lessons with me so you can really get a good feel for the program before committing to a purchase.

Another program I have played with just a little and like (because it is based on a leading professional digitizing program) is Masterworks. This program works with vectors and has auto features. (I'm a big fan of vectors.) It too has a 30-day trial.

Trials are a great way to tryout software. When I was looking for professional software, there were two options for me on the Mac and many for Windows.

Punto was the only one that offered a free trial to really test out the program (everything but save, sew, or print). It also came with animated digital media training—pretty big back in 1994. By the time my dongle arrived, I knew how to use the software and knew I would love it.

Just make sure if you get a trial to commit time to working with the software before the trial runs out. Scheduled lessons with an expert are the absolute best way to take full advantage of your trial.

Where to find more information and trial versions of these programs

  • Generations trial software--The 60 day trial, while not free, includes training. There is a 30 day free trial with no training.
  • Creative DRAWings
  • Masterworks
  • Note: This post is now quite old and newer products are always coming on the market. One such group of programs is the range of modules from Embrilliance, which allows you to purchase just the functions you need when you need them.

    Should I buy embroidery digitizing software?

    If you are comfortable with a computer and you want to maximize your creativity, then yes. A good digitizing program is a necessary tool in my opinion and will let you modify, personalize, customize, and combine other designs.

    A program that has good font generating capabilities will let you turn a host of TrueType fonts into keyboard lettering or designs (it works just as well with dingbat fonts as letters). Just because you have digitizing software doesn't mean you have to digitize with it but I bet that sooner or later you will!

    Where to Get Stuff

    • Embrilliance software is often available in our shop as a physical product that will be shipped (U.S. only) or as digital download from Embrilliance
      • Not sure? Download a demo version to try out any ot the apps or get the free version, previously known as Alpha Tricks Express, now known as Embrilliance Express to open access to the thousands of keyboard fonts available as BX installer files
    • Anatomy of Design is an e-book designed for embroiderers who want to understand what's going with designs and therefore make better choices when selecting designs, fabric, stabilizers, and threads
    • Other general supplies can be found on the Resources page

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    About the Author

    Lindee Goodall

    lindee crafsy ovalLindee Goodall is a veteran master digitizer who's won awards for her beautiful designs, been a guest on numerous PBS sewing shows, written articles for a variety of home and industry related magazines, and is a Craftsy instructor.

    Lindee G Embroidery is her second company, following Cactus Punch, which was founded in 1994.

    About Me

    lindee crafsy ovalHi, I’m Lindee Goodall, a machine embroidery designer, digitizer, and educator  in Tucson, AZ.

    It’s pretty accurate to say that I’m addicted to digitizing and I have a major fondness for cats, all things Mac, and Filemaker Pro. It’s my passion to help keep you in stitches—embroidery stitches, that is!

    Mission

    To inspire and nurture personal creativity and productivity by connecting embroiderers and digitizers with innovative, high-quality products and information that significantly elevate their enjoyment and experience while maximizing the use of technology. In other words, more toys and more fun!

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