What's Your Addiction?
I have a confession… yes, it's true, I am a junkie. A font junkie to be specific. As a long time Mac user (got my first one in March of 1984, the first one in the town of Chillcothe, Ohio where I lived at the time) I've had a head start on collecting fonts.
Fortunately my "ransom note phase" was brief. Since then, I've amassed a HUGE collection of fonts—one that requires multiple DVDs to back up!
On top of that, the professional digitizing software I use lets me digitize my own keyboard fonts—even closest point fonts. Talk about a temptation!
One thing I've noticed about letters… although we've craved larger and larger sewing fields (which have led to some pretty creative solutions on the part of manufacturers) at the same time we've wanted smaller and smaller letters.
I think a major reason companies with long names like "international Technical Communications Systems" have rebranded themselves with just the letters ITCS is because their name simply wouldn't fit on one line and it took too long to read or pronounce.
Over the 19 years I've been digitizing, I've been asked to embroider long segments of text that were barely legible on a business card on the left chest of a shirt, which, realistically is not much wider than a business card.
My response is to hand them a fat Sharpie pen and ask them to write what they want embroidered at the size they want. It's immediately visible that it simply isn't legible.
In the past, I have released a few fonts with my former company, Cactus Punch. These were fonts I manually digitized as keyboard fonts for my professional program and fonts we used quite a bit internally. The problem was that for any other format, I had to save each character out as an individual file.
Have you ever tried to make a line of text or even a short word by combining individual letter files? It's a royal pain in the you-know-where! Over the years, I've continued to digitize fonts for my own use but until now, there has never been a really user friendly way for others to take advantage of these alphabets.
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The developers of Embrilliance Essentials (and Baby Lock's Embroidery Works) have created a new utility called AlphaTricks that takes the tedium out of using letter designs.
When added to Embrilliance Essentials, a new option appears on the Utility menu called Import Font, which opens a dialog window to quickly import a folder full of letters, numbers, and/or punctuation.
Simply assign the appropriate keyboard character to the letters (a button click for all the letters and numbers) and tweak the alignment and spacing a bit and you have yourself a keyboard font. If you have Embroidery Works, Import Font is already built in.
AlphaTricks is also available as a stand-alone program if you don't need the extra features in Essentials or Embroidery Works.
You can import large letters intended as single design monograms or whole font sets. In fact, you could import some non-letter designs that you use all the time just to have them readily accessible. Assign a character to it and it's only a click or two away. AlphaTricks doesn't care if it's a "real" letter. How would it know anyway?
Tip: Wait to do the aligning once all the designs are imported otherwise if you add any more designs, the alignments of all the other designs will be reset to the setting you have chosen (default is bottom aligned).
Since the trickiest part is the aligning—especially when you don't have a reference for the full character set, there is a tool for designers that lets us do that part for you and create a special .BX file.
Then instead of downloading a bunch of embroidery design files, you just download one .BX file for each font set. To install the alphabet, simply drag and drop the file onto Essentials, Embroidery Works, or AlphaTricks. And bingo! You've installed a keyboard stitch file font!
It Gets Even Better!
What? You don't have any of these programs? You use XYZ?
You can download the FREE version called AlphaTricks Express! Of course, it doesn't have all the goodies that the other programs do but it does let you use .BX files.
Create your lettering using whatever .BX fonts you've installed, export to your desired format and then you can use that file with your machine or other embroidery software. You won't be able to import any of your own designs with with this program and it doesn't come with any fonts to start with. But, hey—it's free!
Note: AlphaTricks Express has been renamed Embrilliance Express since the time of original posting. It still works the same.
Why Get the Full Version?
Most home digitizing programs don't let you create your own keyboard fonts. Some programs—like Generations—don't even have any built in keyboard fonts and no option to create them (and no, Building Block letters do not count as a keyboard fonts!).
They expect you to auto-digitize TrueType fonts for that. Having worked with TrueType font generators, I can tell you I have never produced a font that didn't need quite a bit of reworking (what can I say, I'm picky).
And if you aren't a digitizer, how would you even know what or how to do it? AlphaTricks gives you a way to use fonts as keyboard fonts that you or someone else digitizes in other programs.
You don't even have to create a full alphabet! I have lots of "font libraries" that aren't full sets because I only digitized the letters I needed, say, the letters of my name and company in a particular font. Later on, if you digitize more characters, simply add them in at that point.
With Essentials + AlphaTricks or Embroidery Works, you can use whatever files you want for your font set. With AlphaTricks Express, you can only use a .BX file that the digitizer/designer provides.
With Essentials plus the AlphaTricks add-on, you can import any design you have and add lettering from the built in fonts or an imported font file. How does it get any better than that?
A Word about True Type Font Generators
I'll plead guilty to having given amazing demos on True Type font generators. What you don't know is how many hours I spent finding a font that worked nearly perfectly, which turned out to be something like Helvetica at one inch tall and even then testing which letters in that font worked correctly.
When I'm adding lettering for a left chest size design, it would have to be for a size 10XL for that size to work! A good digitizer can digitize letters faster and better than fixing a font that has been generated this way.
And if you want small fonts, manually digitizing is the only way to go. The smaller the font, the harder it is to digitize to keep it clean and crisp and all lined up on the same base line during stitching.
If TrueType font generators worked that well, I'd have a whole lot more fonts. But I don't want huge fonts. I want letters that sew well at smaller sizes.
AlphaTricks Express - the FREE Version!
AlphaTricks Express is not a time-limited trial. It is a stand-alone subset of its more richly featured siblings.
It comes with no fonts and it only works with .BX fonts. So where do you get .BX files? Do you think I'd be writing this post if I didn't have an answer to that question?
Where to Get .BX Fonts
I've taken some of my favorite fonts I've digitized (the ones with most of the full keyboard range available in that particular font), saved out each character as an individual file, colored them where required, added beginning and ending tie stitches, exported to a stitch file, imported them with AlphaTricks, properly aligned each character and set up the spacing to make it easy for you to use.
One thing you'll notice that's different about these fonts from most other sites is that the letters are smaller. What can you really do with 1", 2", or 3" letters—especially if you only have a 4x4" hoop? My fonts range in size from 7.5mm to 26mm. To put that into perspective, an inch is equal to 25.4mm and a half inch is 12.7mm.
Another thing you'll notice is that punctuation is included on most of these and many of those have most every standard keyboard character. AlphaTricks does not permit entering of characters that require a modifier key like option, command, control, or alt. However, these could be created with a separate font set.
At this time, I only have the sizes listed. Because in my native software, I can resize and adjust stitch attributes, it generally isn't necessary to digitize a bunch of different sizes; I can do that on an as needed basis. Essentials and Embroidery Works also allow you to easily resize these imported letters.
Here's a List of What's Available Now:
You'll notice that when you view these fonts in your font list, the names show up as listed above with their sizes making it easy to tell at a glance how large the letters are.
All of these fonts except for one are single color and will show up in black. Igloo is a "snow-capped" font and each letter is two colors, which I've colored in icy blues. Of course, you have total freedom to change the colors to any you desire—even color each letter differently.
With Essentials or Embroidery Works, color sorting can reduce the number of color changes so you aren't changing the thread twice on every letter. Also with these programs, you can size, mirror, rotate, and do all kinds of fun things with your letters—almost as many options as with a true built-in font!
.BX Features in Essentials
I have AlphaTricks installed with Essentials so features may vary with the stand-alone AlphaTricks versions. The imported .BX fonts show up in the the regular font list and you can distinguish them with the needle iron preceding their name as seen above. This indicates the font is a stitch file.
As with the built in fonts, you can view the info to see the characters included in the font and see what the program thinks is a reasonable size range. The size the font appears on screen initially is the size at which it was digitized—and at least for my fonts, the size it was tested.
Just like the built-in fonts, you can adjust slant, letter spacing, word spacing and line spacing. You can do single lines, multiple lines, monograms, and circular or spiral text. You can move individual letters and color individual letters for multi-colored text.
About the only thing you can't do with imported fonts that you can with native fonts is to adjust the stitch attributes (stitch type, density, underlay, and compensation).
As with any design, you should do a test sew before tackling your project.
What Other Formats are Available for Lindee G Embroidery Alphabets?
None! Standard machine format stitch files are only available on large decorative monogram style designs and will not be available for these fonts—not because I'm too lazy to make them, they are simply too hard to use!
Update: Due to frequent demands for stitch files I've added DST versions but there are no plans for other formats. If you're not willing to use the BX version and prefer the hard way of doing things, you can download the DST versions and convert to a format you desire. Many machines can read DST and all current embroidery software can.
When I digitized these originally, most were done for "closest point connections."
This simply means that the software looks at the connections between each letter and finds the shortest distance between the two to join, which reduces the number of trims between letters. To do this the program must be able to adjust where each letter starts and ends, which most often means that the letter must be digitized as one piece instead of segments.
Once the letters are exported to a stitch file, this on-the-fly modification can no longer occur; the in/out points for each character are fixed. And since the closest point connection between any two letters depends on which two letters are adjacent, some connections on fixed connection letters are likely to be quite long.
What About Trimming Between Letters?
In general, trimming between letters is discouraged, especially on small letter because when you have a trim you need tie or lock stitches.
Those lock stitches are much more noticeable on small letters and on really tiny 5-6 mm letters, a tie-in and a tie-off can easily double the stitch count of simpler letters. Normally we try to have a tie-in at the beginning of a word and a tie-out at the end of the word on these smaller letters.
Since it is impossible to make a letter for any possible position—beginning, middle, end, or stand-alone—letter designs, and therefore each character in a .BX file, requires a tie-in and a tie-out.
Also, because the letters in a .BX file are not editable with Essentials or AlphaTricks (these programs aren't stitch editors and even if they were, you'd have to manually edit in each lock stitch), you wouldn't be able to add tie stitches only where you needed them. (Embroidery Works Advanced can edit stitch files.)
Obviously since each letter does have lock stitches at each end, it is possible to trim between each letter in a word but I only recommend trimming the longer, more noticeable stitches.
Even so, don't trim the bobbin thread! I know some of you are neat freaks but if you trim both sides flush to the fabric and don't use a seam sealant or some other method for securing the stitches, you are headed for trouble. Over time, stitches will start to pull out—lock stitches or not!
Tip: This is also good advice for redwork type designs!
If you have a machine with automatic trimmers, check the back. You'll see short thread tails of both the bobbin and needle thread because the top thread is pulled to the back before trimming.
This is stitch security! Chances are when you manually trim between letters, you are not pulling the thread to the back—and in most cases the thread would be too short to do that anyway.
As additional security, you can also apply a fusible interfacing to the back of lettering.
Embroidery and Font Size
What's small? Well, that's relative to the font. Stitches should never be shorter than 1mm, preferably 1.4mm. That's just part of the physics of embroidery. For more on that, read Anatomy of a Design.
Generally speaking the smallest letters can be made is 5mm and at that height they must be all caps and something basic like Arial or Helvetica.
You'll notice I have a 5mm Times listed above and that required using running stitches for the serifs and thinner letter strokes. At these tiny sizes you can't sew them on just any fabric.
With embroidered letters, we usually reference size as the height of an upper case letter that doesn't extend below the baseline. This is different from print, which measures size as the distance from the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender.
Print letters are measured in points (72 points to an inch). That means that 4 point text on the business card is really less than 1.4mm the way we embroiderers measure.
While embroidered letters are measured in inches or millimeters. I prefer millimeters because some systems don't like file names like "Helvetica 5/16." Most professional embroiderers are accustomed to working with millimeters.
More Tips for Embroidering Small Letters
The smallest letters stitch best on smoother, thinner fabrics. A thick sweatshirt or towel is not the place for tiny text. Also the shorter the stitches, the more attention you need to pay to thread tensions to avoid bird nesting or bobbin showing on the top.
Pay attention to your hooping and stabilizing too, Finally, you'll get the best results using the smallest needle that will work with your thread and fabric.
More About the Apps
Embrilliance is constantly working on new features for creative machine embroiderers either through updates to modules or entirely new modules.
What's great about these modules is that they're all in one program. As you purchase modules, you just turn on those features via a serial number.
- 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.
- Check our ever expanding selection of BX-ready fonts!
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.