The Myth of the "600% Zoom" Rule
Someone recently emailed after watching one of my videos and asked why I don't stick to 300% and 600% zoom level "rules."
I'm sure I'll ruffle a few feathers with this post, but please read it anyway so you understand the logic.
A Bit About Arbitrary Rules
Have you noticed the preponderance of rules in our life? I don't mean the "thou shalt not kill" kind of rules. I mean things like:
- You need to walk 10,000 steps a day
- You should drink 3 glasses of milk a day
- You should eat 7-11 servings of grains a day
I'm sure you can think of tons more. Where do those so-called rules come from?
Did you know the admonition to walk 10,000 steps a day originated from a Japanese pedometer company? Pretty clever, huh? Walking is actually good for you but there's no physiological magic to 10,000 steps a day.
The "milk does a body good" campaign is definitely from the dairy industry. Baby cows are really the only ones who truly benefit from cow's milk. Humans are the odd ones out about drinking the milk of other animals.
And if you want to get seriously fat and sick, then eating that much grain will give you a great jump start. After all, it is how they fatten up animals for slaughter and we're animals too.
So what about this "600% zoom rule" and where did it come from? Here's my theory.
A Trip in the Wayback Machine
Back in 1995 when I was searching for better digitizing software having outgrown two very basic programs for my P.O.E.M./Huskygram, I went to a huge show in Atlanta (The Bobbin Show). At that point embroidery digitizing was making a transition from board and puck to screen and mouse.
Don't be fooled by this image. This "digitizing tablet" is more like a large drafting table. If you leveled it out, it could comfortably fit four for dinner. (Photo from http://wiki.embroiderymachine.com/index.php/Digitizing)
Today when we think of tablets, we envision something closer to standard paper size that is controlled with a special pen or stylus.
Back then, the digitizer worked on these computer connected tablets by taping a large "cartoon" of the design and clicking all the various points to create the design.
The drawing I remember seeing looked like someone had predawn all the stitch types, angles, density, and needle points. I remember thinking two things:
- What a waste of time to do it twice
- How do you ever keep track of where you've been
Long time digtizers of that era probably thought it was huge advancement over punching paper tape. Just depends on your point of view, I guess!
By that time I'd been working on-screen with a computer for 14 years with at least a decade of on-screen graphics work. Fortunately a transition was underway and I didn't have to start over with a tablet and puck. Besides, all the beeping from every puck click would have driven me mad!
You can still see remnants of puck digitizing in some programs with the mouse crosshairs and mouse beeps. Fortunately you can usually turn them off if you find them distracting.
These cartoons were drawn at 6:1 or sometimes 3:1, which equates to 600% and 300%. A digitizer who came from this background would have an ingrained sense of stitch length and density when moving to a computer screen and using these same zoom values.
My background was different. I was used to drawing at high zoom levels and had a feel for what detail could be maintained given the finished size of the project.
If you're creating an eye on a face that is one inch tall, you aren't going to be able to have upper and lower eyelashes, an iris with a pupil and highlight and have it look like anything other than a blob.
If that eye is poster board size, then obviously you need more detail. Embroidery is no different.
Fast Forward to Now
We're now fully ensconced in the computer age and we can zoom in and out to ridiculous levels.
When digitizing was first moving from puck and paper to mouse and screen, digitizing software was still much more rudimentary. We often hand placed stitches for fine details.
Some home level software doesn't even provide a "single needle" tool for manually placing individual stitches these days.
For someone moving from paper-based digitizing to computer-based, working at 600% zoom levels matched what they were used to working with. They knew how long or short their stitch placements were.
If they used those same relative placements at say 1200%, their stitches would be half as long and twice as close together.
With today's software, we're often using predefined stitch settings so no matter what level we're zoomed into, the same density and stitch length is automatically applied.
What It Really Means
Ultimately, the real caution about zoom levels is that if you're not careful, it's possible to make elements that are really too tiny to sew well. And if you are manually placing stitches to, say, define a tiny eye, you may place too many really short stitches and just end up with a blobby knot if you try to stitch it.
When I started digitizing in 1994, the puck and board were still in use but I'd already been using a computer for 13 years. My first and second digitizing programs were hobby-level, on-screen only. I didn't even know any other method of digitizing.
To my mind, using a puck and board and pre-drawing everything first seemed like a backward step. I wanted vector objects like my graphics programs, not just groups of stitches that weren't easily manipulated.
I'd also been using graphics software for most of that time so I was used to zooming and understanding about managing details at different levels.
So today, even though I've been dgitizing almost a quarter century, I'm really a new-age, computer generation digitizer. Chances are you are too.
When I digitize, I'll zoom in as I need to in order to see what I'm working on. When I record a video, I often zoom in so that you can see what's going on.
When I zoom, I usually just drag a selection around what I want to focus on or use the plus and minus keys to zoom in or out by 15%. It's seldom that I choose a percentage other than when zooming to actual size.
I will say, though, that 600% is quite adequate for most detail work but if you're working on a small screen or laptop, you may not be able to see much depending on what palettes. dockers, toolbars, and what not you have open.
For example, when I was creating some additional motif stitches not long ago, I wanted my stitches placed very precisely.
For that I created a grid at 1mm intervals and zoomed in super tight. The grid keeps me aware of my stitch lengths and densities plus I'm using automated stitch lengths applied to runs rather than hand placing stitches.
There Really Is No "600% Rule"
So what I'm saying is that there's nothing magical with zooming 300% or 600% and it's not some sort of golden rule. There really aren't a lot of actual rules for digitizing but we do have guidelines.
These guidelines were established decades ago and if you understand their purpose—which, in this case, is to avoid cramming too many really short stitches into a tiny area—then you'll know if they apply to what you're doing.
So if sticking with 600% works for you, then keep doing it but don't let it unnecessarily restrict you.
The real key is managing details appropriately for stitching. So zoom on!
About the Author
Lindee 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.