What Embroidery Software Do You Need?

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I’m constantly asked the following questions about embroidery software:

  • What software do you use?
  • What software do I need?
  • Do I even have to have software?

WHAT I USE

As a Mac user, I’m easily frustrated by software that I have to use on a PC

Yes, I have Parallels installed on my Mac and there are quite a few embroidery programs installed there but it’s still just too inconvenient—not to mention I have to use Windows. I have played with a lot of cool embroidery software on Windows but I always come back to what I can use in native Mac OS.

For digitizing, I use SofTeam Punto. This program is a no-brainer for someone with Adobe Illustrator experience but if you aren’t comfortable drawing with bezier tools, then this definitely isn’t for you. Plus, it has fewer “fun” features than most home programs, doesn’t export ANY home formats, costs way too much, nor has it maintained any competitive edge with other major players like Wilcom or Pulse (neither of which run on Mac).

But… I’ve used it for over 20 years, I know it, and I like it. I can think about the design I’m digitizing, not how to use the software itself.

When you no longer have to focus on the tools and instead just think about the creation, your work is easier, faster, and more fun. It’s great for resizing and editing the designs I digitize in it and I can create closest point keyboard lettering with it.

However, Punto is strictly a digitizing program. It’s not good at working with any files not created in it nor particularly good for normal customizing tasks. It can’t convert to any home formats. It doesn’t even resize non-Punto files well.

MY AFFILIATE LINKS DISCLOSURE

Hi everyone. Just to let you know that some of the links on this site are affiliate links. What that means is that if you click one of them and buy something… I get a commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and I only recommend things that I’ve tried and tested, so please, please, please… use my links.

Fine Print: Lindee G Embroidery is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Lindee G Embroidery is also an affiliate for Embroidery.comNancy’s NotionsEmbrilliance, and Craftsy. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, which helps to offset the cost of running this site. 🙂

For those tasks, I use the Embrilliance suite of programs. Why these? They work on Mac and they work on Windows. And they work as identically as possible across the two platforms.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT EMBRILLIANCE

If you read many of my blog posts, you know I talk about Embrilliance a lot and that’s because it’s a great tool. “Embrilliance” is a platform composed of many modules.

Think of Microsoft Office, where you have Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. except that Embrilliance modules are even more tightly integrated because they are all in one program. Saying “I use Office” doesn’t indicate which module you’re using. It’s like saying, “I did it in Adobe.” Adobe what? Illustrator? Photoshop? Acrobat?

Since all the Embrilliance modules are in one app, it can be sometimes by difficult once they’re all installed to tell which features fall under which module in some cases.

One thing I love about Embrilliance is it’s modularity. You can buy the pieces you need or want when you need them and in the order you need them and they all hook together seamlessly under one interface.

It’s also very affordable, easy to learn and use, and has a huge user base with active groups on Facebook. I also like that it’s not tied to a machine company.

When I say affordable, I mean even if you were to buy every tool in the suite, you’re still at about half of what you’d pay for a full featured program from Viking or Florianni. And, if you’re a Mac user, it’s real Mac software not some weird, sub-featured subset of the Windows version. (Gee, whose might that be?)

I have the entire suite. Yes, they gave it to me and yes, I am an affiliate. I have other software that was given to me too but I don’t use it. I do use Embrilliance, some modules more than others.

You can download a demo version that lets you try out every module in the platform and you can also download the free Embrilliance Express, which lets you install and use BX fonts.

Do you need the full suite? Like the answer to many embroidery questions, the answer is “it depends.”

WHAT ABOUT OTHER PROGRAMS?

There are many choices for embroidery programs these days. You may have gotten something bundled with your machine.

Most programs today can work with any machine because even if they can’t create a stitch file format for your machine, there are conversion utilities that can.

As a rule, few embroidery programs connect directly to your embroidery machine. That means you can use the Bernina software with your Pfaff—in other words, any program with any machine. That wasn’t always the case.

Should you think about new or different software? If your software is old, too hard to use, or not doing what you need, then yes.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER QUESTIONS?

Don’t let “sunk cost syndrome” prevent you from getting something that you could actually use. In other words, don’t feel that because you haven’t learned to use that program you paid $2500 that you have to learn it before spending $150 to buy something you can. Why waste more time being frustrated?

I don’t get paid to learn new software so it’s not in my best interest to waste time learning all sorts of different programs. You can really only be proficient in the ones you use on a regular basis anyway.

So as I work through different categories of software below, my frame of view is from the ones I do use. In my opinion, there’s no one perfect program that does everything I want in the way I want it. Just pick something and learn to use it to the best of your abilities and to the extent of its feature set.The answer to the other two is yet another question: What is it you want to do with your embroidery designs? Is it one of the following?

JUST DOWNLOAD AND SEW ON MY MACHINE

If you’re just getting started, you may just want to download designs from internet and then get them to your machine to sew. If that’s the case, and you have a modern machine that reads from a stick, you may not need any additional software as long as you can get the designs in a format your machine can read.

All the machines I use (Baby Lock, Brother, Viking, SWF) can read a DST file format. Yes, it’s ugly because it doesn’t hold any “real” colors but that’s what color sequence files are for.

Your machine likely has a “preferred format”—for Baby Lock and Brother that’s PES—and it may also be able to read other ones like DST. How can you find out? Check the manual.

Of course, you can’t see what the design actually looks like on your computer and for that you need software.

DESIGN VIEWER UTILITY

Until you have some embroidery software, you can’t see what a design looks like. Your computer’s OS doesn’t know how to render an image so you can preview it like a JPG or PNG image. For one thing, embroidery files aren’t graphic files.

To see previews, you’ll need an OS enhancement utility and the one I use is Thumbnailer, by Embrilliance. There’s a Mac version and a Windows one. Just run the installer and it adds the extra “brains” to your OS so that you can preview embroidery designs just like other files.

This is very handy. I’m not really sure how I got along for over 15 years without this feature. Before then, the only way I could view stitch files was to take them to a PC and open them in some program I had there.

Now I don’t even need to open the design; just select it in Finder (that’s Explorer for you Windows folks) and I can see a “3D” image of the embroidery design.

Many embroidery designs have cryptic file names that aren’t at all descriptive of the design. The primary reason for those short “8 dot 3” file names is because most machines can’t read a file name that’s longer.

Thumbnailer lets you see what you’re copying to your stick without having to wait until you get to the machine to see if you loaded the correct one. That is a big deal if you have a very basic machine that doesn’t have a color screen and one blob looks like any other.

CUSTOMIZE A DESIGN

Sooner or later, you’ll want to do more than just sew out the design as it comes or view it on your computer.

Yes, you can do some customizing at your machine such as mirror, rotate, combine with other designs or lettering, and possibly some limited resizing. I almost never do that; I’d rather do all customizing on my computer where I have more control and can save the design for future use.

Because your computer is more powerful than what’s built into your embroidery machine, customizing software can offer more features. It’s often better at resizing while maintaining stitch lengths, densities and patterns plus you can resize more precisely either proportionately or disproportionately.

Additionally, some customizing programs may let you do some or all of the following:

  • add lettering
  • shape, arc, and distort lettering
  • skew designs
  • add basting boxes
  • “carousel” or perform other automated repetitions of design elements
  • split designs for “compound” (multi-position) hoops

Feature sets vary and some programs may break out lettering into a lettering-only module. More advanced “customizing” features may be moved into an editing program to keep the customizer simple for entry level embroiderers and keep the cost lower. Review the program’s features to see if it meets your needs.

The name of the Embrilliance customizer is Essentials, which is a completely appropriate name. When you’re first getting started with embroidery software, the tools can be overwhelming. Essentials strips out all the frills and gives you just what you need to get going.

An advanced feature found in Essentials that I love is that when you combine designs and there’s an overlap, the program can automatically remove the stitches that are hidden. This is great feature that significantly enhances your sew-outs.

Customizing software is for working with whole designs or by color blocks. With Essentials, there is a way to extract out just a group of stitches within a color, but for more control you’ll need to move up to the next level.

EDIT A DESIGN

At some point, you’ll want to take a piece of this design and combine with a piece of that design. Or maybe there are a few stitches in a purchased design that need to be moved around and tweaked.

To perform stitch level changes, you need a stitch editor. In the Embrilliance line, that’s Enthusiast. This module gives you expanded design capabilities and more customizing options,

I primarily use Enthusiast to extract each character from a font set I’ve digitized. It’s faster than doing it in my digitizing program. I’m all about efficiency and even if this is all I did with it, it’s saved me days already.

CREATE A DESIGN FROM SCRATCH

If this is where you want to go, you need digitizing software. Digitizing is not easy or instant.

Oh sure, there are “auto digitizing” programs that will turn an image into an embroidery design. I actually have one and I was never able to create a design I would bother stitching after just “5 mouse clicks.”

Nor do I use a magic wand tool to pour stitches into an area or use “TrueType to Embroidery Font” tools. I’m a control freak and I want the highest quality design I can produce and these automated tools aren’t the way to go.

There are 3 levels of digitizing under the Embrilliance banner and they’re called Stitch Artist. I recommend starting with level one if you’re not sure and no higher than level 2 even if you are sure. You can always upgrade with no penalty to get additional features.

Many embroiderers think they want to digitize until they start doing it and realize it’s just so much easier (and cost/time effective) to pay $2-10 for a design. Designs are ridiculously cheap these days. Why make yourself crazy trying to learn to digitize if what you’d rather be doing is stitching.

Level 1 gives you basic tools to quickly and easily create a basic design. Level 2 brings in more features.

Level 3 has vector and bezier options but they are quite different from Adobe Illustrator and take some time to become proficient. I can tell you I’m not there yet with their tools because I can do AI in my sleep and those habits conflict in Embrilliance.

From my point of view, Stitch Artist has a lot of really cool fun things that I just can’t easily or quickly reproduce in Punto; some I can’t do at all. I do find it much harder to draw with than Punto.

So have I switched? Not for everyday digitizing but I do enjoy playing with it when I’m not under a deadline.

OTHER EMBROIDERY SOFTWARE TO CONSIDER

LETTERING SOFTWARE

Some customizing programs include lettering (Essentials does), while other may not include any or may need additional help from a separate program. Typical things font modules/programs offer are:

  • Choice of built in fonts
  • Ability to add more fonts
  • Options for creating single line, multi-line or arced text
  • Shaping/warping features
  • Monogram templates
  • Controls for spacing (kerning and leading)
  • Ability to edit previously created text rather than start over

Where Embrilliance Essentials excels (along with Embroidery Works from Baby Lock) is the ability to add more fonts.

Since this company opened up the ability to any designer to create a BX installer file, any embroiderer with either of these programs—or even the free Embrilliance Express—can add more fonts by simply dragging and dropping the BX installer file onto the program.

If you already have embroidery software but want more fonts, then just download Express, get some BX fonts and you can create text using any of the normal text features of Essentials.

Of course, that’s about all you can do without upgrading to the paid version of Essentials. Until then, save out your text file and import it into your other embroidery software or send to your machine.

CONVERSION SOFTWARE

If you routinely convert batches of designs as opposed to a design here and there, then you can benefit from a batch conversion program.

My two favorites are Buzz Edit for Windows and Convert It Mac for Mac. The latter also comes with Thumbnailer so you don’t have to buy that if you own CIM.

CIM is not installed into Embrilliance platfrom; it’s a separate program from the same folks and there’s no equivalent Windows version. All other Embrilliance modules are installed into one platform making your embroidery life much less complicated.

If you have just about any embroidery software that can open and save designs AND you only need to convert a single design here and there (or a handful), then conversion software may be overkill. I use it for every collection I create to produce the multiple formats for downloading in my web shop.

FONT MAPPING SOFTWARE

Because Embrilliance Essentials offers the ability to use BX fonts—non-native font sets that can be installed on the font menu and used as keyboard fonts—we need a way to map all those individual letter files to their keyboard equivalents and get them properly aligned. AlphaTricks is the module that does this.

If you have boatloads of fonts that are individual letters, this utility add-on app will turn those into a keyboard version that’s much more accessible and easy to use. It automatically installs that set onto the font menu where you can treat it like built in fonts that came with your program.

With all the BX fonts I have available in my shop, I’ve logged a lot of hours in this program. It’s easy to use and painlessly inserts a new font onto your menu. The hardest part is knowing where to align your letters; the “how” is actually very easy.

Note: BX fonts only work with Essentials and Embroidery Works; not other non-Embrilliance embroidery programs.

DENSITY FIXER

Ever sewn a design that just pounded stitches into your fabric and created a bulletproof patch?

That can be fixed and there’s an app for that. It’s called Density Repair Kit.

It’s easy to use and works kind of like a weather radar map to show you where your design is thickest. Click some buttons and it lightens those areas of excess bulk.

If I was at the mercy of other digitizers’ designs, I would probably use this. Since it’s very rare for me to use a design I didn’t personally digitize, I’ve really only used this in demos. Even so, it’s quite impressive.

OTHER SOFTWARE

If you’re downloading designs from the web, you’ll likely need to unzip them.

Some browsers can do this during the download step while others will require you to unzip it yourself. Most newer computers/OS’s have this capability.

If you don’t know how to extract a zipped file on Windows, watch out this short YouTube video: How to Unzip Embroidery Designs using Windows Explorer


NEED MORE INFORMATION?

This post is not intended to be any in depth review or tutorial, mainly to quickly answer questions I’m asked quite a bit.

Check out my YouTube channel to learn more about Embrilliance. Visit various software sites to compare software features. Download trials and play with them. See what features you need and what software feels “easy” to you. See if you can download the manuals and get an idea of how things work.

Watching over someone’s shoulder via YouTube is also a good way to see how different people use the various programs.

ONE FINAL RECOMMENDATION:

Don’t jump into a big expensive program when you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re not a “computer person” it will only make you upset!

Start little and then move up. Not only is it easier on your pocket, it’s easier on your brain!

WHERE TO GET EMBRILLIANCE

I often demo this software at consumer shows and it may be stocked in our online shop in the software aisle, where you’ll also find detailed feature lists.

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