Why Do Designs Cost So Much?

Why Do Designs Cost So Much?

I've been asked this question rather frequently lately. This question is generally followed by, "it's just a digital file. It can't take that long to digitize and besides, digital files don't cost anything." Huh?

My question is just the opposite, "Why are designs so cheap?"

Do people selling these cheap designs not value their time? Have they ever figured out the true cost of producing a design? Are they professional or experienced digitizers who produce embroidery designs as a business?

Are these old designs that have been around forever and are now amortized? Are they auto-digitized/magic wand designs? How good are these designs really? And what about all those designs where the only image is a "3D" or rendered version from software not an actual sewn sample? Have they ever been test sewn?

What Goes into Producing a Design?

A "real" digitizer is going to have appropriate software (home machine software or pro)—which typically costs anywhere from $2000 to $16,000 or even higher (especially if you factor in years of costly upgrades!), a computer to run it on, and at least one embroidery machine to test sew—plus all the supplies that go along with it.

Also, you just don't run out and buy these things and bingo! you're in business as a professional embroidery designer. In reality, you truly need more software than just the digitizing program and more than just a bare bones computer. You'll need graphics software, a printer, and a scanner and most likely more software for packaging and web design.

Learning to use all this stuff properly takes a considerable investment in time and money. You need to know how to use your computer and although this sounds like a no-brainer, I have had students in my digitizing classes who didn't know how to copy files from or CD or use a mouse properly—and they're taking a digitizing class!?!?! Yikes!

You need to be knowledgeable enough about embroidery or you'll never know if a bad result is an embroidery technique problem or a digitizing problem.

And of course learning to digitize is not something you can do in an afternoon.You'll need to learn how your software works and beyond that, proper digitizing theory, a topic that is not likely to be included in either your software's help system or the manual. (By the way, Anatomy of a Design can get you started with that!)

So how long does this take? That depends on a variety of factors some of which include previous experience, available training, and the time and effort you devote to becoming skilled.

For example, do you really push yourself to try new techniques are are you content to just take the easy way out? It also depends to a degree on the types of designs you produce. In any case, it is not overnight!

Imagine that you want to become a piano player and that you've never played and you don't have a piano. You'll need to buy a piano to start.

Chances are you won't buy one of those little kiddie toy pianos. On the other hand, you probably aren't going to start with a top of the line concert grand piano.

Then you'll need to learn to read music and how that relates to the keys on the piano. If your piano has other controls like foot pedals or knobs, buttons, and sliders on electric models, you'll need to learn how and when to use those.

You may hire a private teacher or learn from some self-paced course (or watch YouTube videos of various quality). How fast you learn depends on what previous music experience you've had, how much and how you practice, plus some innate aptitude or talent. You'll probably spend a lot of time on scales and exercises before you get to complicated pieces. Once again, it takes dedication, effort, time, and money.

What Else is Involved?

A design just doesn't start and end with digitizing. You need artwork to start the process. Do you purchase that artwork? Hire someone? Do you draw/paint/create it yourself?

How do you decide on what you want in the collection? Whatever, that is an added factor in both time and money into the process. Creating the artwork can easily take longer than digitizing. Also, just because you have some artwork—even if it was created by a site that sells clipart for digitizers—doesn't mean that it's ready for instant digitizing.

The actual digitizing takes planning. What colors? How many colors? What size? Multiple sizes? What stitch types? What stitch attributes (length, density, underlay)? Where to start? Where to go next?

Digitizing is a series of trade-offs and balances to maximize efficiency, registration, attractive appearance, and quality. One example of a trade-off and balance is color repeats.

Is it better to optimize for the minimum number of color changes for a single needle machine or is it better to optimize for maximum registration and alignment by completely working one are before progressing to the next?

Once the design is digitized, it must be test sewn and evaluated. During the sewing process, it's important to actually watch the design sew, not only to make sure that it is efficient but also to check that the stitch processor didn't have any glitches that aren't visible on-screen.

Once the design is sewn, it needs to be evaluated for any lumps, bumps, tumors, gaps or other problems—and then determine if any of those are digitizing problems or embroidery problems. On designs with complex color blends, a design may be resewn just to get a better color balance even though no actual edits were required on the design itself. If any edits were made, the design needs to be sewn again.

The bigger the design and the more colors that are involved, the longer it takes to sew. If the design takes 30 minutes to sew and you make two separate edits, you've got one and a half hours of sewing time added to the digitizing time.

The bigger the design and the more colors that are involved, the longer it takes to sew. If the design takes 30 minutes to sew and you make two separate edits, you've got one and a half hours of sewing time added to the digitizing time.

Bigger and more complex designs can really extend the process. Suppose your design takes 2 hours to sew and you make two 5-minute edits. You can easily spend an entire day just test sewing!

Sewing itself doesn't just include the time the needle is going up and down, there is setup time. The design must be formatted for the machine and written to the right type of media such as a diskette, stick, or possibly a card.

Then that media is taken to the machine and loaded into the memory for sewing. Threads must be selected and loaded. Fabric and stabilizer must be hooped. You may need to change needles, bobbins, or set up other options on your machine. If the design is an applique or free standing lace, special extra steps must be taken either before or after the sewing process and those add to the time.

So Now It's Done, Right?

Not exactly… If the design is a custom design for a particular client, then the process is just about wrapped. If the design is a stock design to be sold in a package or even individually online, there are still more steps.

Consumers these days demand that the file be available in the format for their machine and they expect colors to look similar to the actual embroidery. They also expect a printed color list of the "right" colors along with the actual thread numbers used instead of a list of "light blue-green, medium blue-green, dark blue-green." You may have software that can generate this color list or you may have to type them up yourself.

Some consumers even expect colors to be listed in the particular brand of thread they use no matter how limited the color range may be!

Converting and coloring can require three or more programs depending on what formats are supported. Are you going to offer the ART format for Bernina?

Then you have to buy Bernina's program. (I find it interesting that many Bernina owners expect me to buy their program when they themselves won't—and I don't even have a Bernina.)

Are you going to support Mac Pfaff or Viking's SHV formats? You might need extra programs for those formats. These programs aren't free.

Many savvy consumers also expect to see an image of an actual sewn sample, which requires scanning and some graphics processing of the sew out. Once the designs are scanned, you will need to do a little work to straighten and crop them.

You'll also likely need several sizes to cover thumbnail sizes and actual size versions. If you are creating images for both print and the web, you'll need to understand those requirements and make the appropriate adjustments and versions.

"3D" or rendered versions of the design are obviously much less work. However, these cannot show how the design will sew on fabric. Thread typically looks thicker on screen and the screen does not distort the way fabric does when stitches are applied.

More basic software will not factor in compensation whereas more sophisticated programs will allow you to offset compensation by specific values.

Either way, these are simply concepts of how the design will sew. In reality, sewing brings in different distortions. About the only situation where a rendered version nearly matches a sewn version is on running stitch designs like most redwork designs.

If the design is part of collection, many consumers prefer a physical package. They want the security of knowing there are designs on a CD that they can see than to rely on being able to find them on their computer. Some consumers aren't comfortable with downloading from the internet or don't know how to unzip. Some want a backup in case of disaster. If you sell designs through a brick-and-mortar location or at events, you will need physical packages.

Physical packages require packaging. A professional digitizer is not going to just copy stock designs onto a CD and label it with a Sharpie pen. A CD label and a package cover must be created in a suitable program.

A CD label printer is required to print on a printable CD and a case cover must be printed, trimmed, and inserted into the case. (Or, you can send them out for bulk production.) Expect a packaged version to add to the cost due to the extra materials involved and the time for handling and processing.

Another extra that many consumers want is a project using the designs. Not only that, they want illustrated step-by-step instructions.

If you choose to do this, it too is a cost of producing the collection. I can also tell you that creating a project with step-by-step instructions takes way longer than just making a project for a cover photo.

All those photos must be staged and of course processed. Instructions have to be written, proofed and then combined with the images in a page layout program (yet another thing to buy and learn…). These days many consumers want to watch a video before reading the instructions.

Now Is It Done?

Nope, not yet. You have the designs digitized, tested, and scanned. The scans are cleaned up, formatted, and sized. You've colored and converted the designs. You have the color sequences typed up.

You've created a CD label, a package cover, and a design reference sheet displaying all the designs in the collection. Additionally you may have designed a project, made the sample, written up the instructions, laid it all out with the graphics, and produced a PDF.

Now you have to provide for a way to purchase your creation. Are customers going to call you and have you ship them or email them to you? Will you set up a web site where they email their order and you email or ship the designs?

Or do you have a more sophisticated process with a website and shopping cart system set up so that people can purchase anytime and download the designs once the transaction is processed with no interaction from you? Either way, if you are selling them via a website you have more work and more costs involved.

If you have a website and a shopping cart, you already know these are neither free nor instant. If you don't have either, know that there are monthly hosting fees and payment transaction fees.

There may also be additional fees for bandwidth for the downloads or the shopping cart system or to a web person to upload and configure the designs for sale.

Someone needs to create and add the product information to the cart and connect the images and download files to that information. Supporting a wide range of stitch formats can easily become overwhelming and cost prohibitive from the standpoint of the number of files that must be hosted on the web server.

Other Cost Factors

If the designs are going to be sold through other vendors, whether online or brick and mortar stores/dealers, then there must be sufficient mark up to allow both you and the vendor to make enough money to warrant going through all this work and selling the product.

And, if you are selling through vendors, those vendors will expect that you won't be undercutting them by selling those designs at the same price they are purchasing them from you!

Typically the split here is 50/50. Selling a 10-design collection for $7.99 means you make $3.98 per collection or 39 cents per design. /p>

You better be selling a lot of designs to make all this effort worth it! When that's the going price for a design you must definitely expect to get what you pay for.

To put this into perspective, not long ago I priced getting a 7500 stitch design sewn on a single item at a franchised embroidery shop.

The "set up fee"—the cost to get the machine ready to sew the design, not including any design prep—was $26 (!!!) and the cost to sew the item was $15. The cost of the garment was not included. Yet the going price for a similar design file on the web is $3. This just does not seem right.

Other costs should also be considered like overhead and advertising but we'll not cover these here.

"Learn to Digitize and Earn $100,000 a Year!"

Yeah, right! If only!!!

I recently saw this on a website that was a sales page for training. There was a time when this was possible.

However, If you are starting out today it is highly unlikely. The market has been sabotaged by thousands of low/no cost designs most of which are of equivalent quality. I'm not saying this to discourage you from learning to digitize or to "slam" other embroidery sites.

I love the process and find it personally rewarding. I enjoy the creative process of digitizing as well as the technical aspects of it. I also enjoy many other creative activities that I do well that I treat as hobbies or pastimes that I neither sell nor give away—unlike embroidery, which has been my only business most of the last 17 years.

I think there are way too many hobbiests who are contributing to the decline of this industry.

As far as my site is concerned, if all the people who have downloaded the free designs had actually paid full price for them, I would be on target to make that $100,00 just on those downloads.

Alas, the number of purchased products is not in that range! The good news here is that Uncle Sam can't tax me on that but the bad news is that it doesn't contribute to my house payment!

The Future of Embroidery Designs?

My concern with the embroidery industry is that the flood of these cheap designs is cheapening the entire industry.

When there is no value given to a process that is both an art and a science, then there is no reason for those who have contributed their talents to it and have made it not only their passion but their livelihood to continue to invest in it.

There is a lot more to creating a design that is both visually appealing and sews well and is instantly available and ready for your machine via a simple download than just the process of digitizing. The time, skill, equipment, software, and supplies required to produce that design from start to finish are often overlooked.

I have not created very many "20 minute designs" in my 17 years of digitizing. Even those designs that only had 20 minutes of digitizing time required several times that to make them into a finished, consumer-friendly product.

I could cut off a lot of time and tedium if all I did was digitize, export a dst, and post that along with the PDF of the work sheet. Fortunately for those of you who download my designs, my quality standards are higher than that.

Don't Take This the Wrong Way!

I'm not writing this as a rant. I'm writing this because I believe many embroiderers are completely clueless how much goes in to producing a finished embroidery design and therefore have no appreciation for it. When ten-cent designs proliferate the web, why would you think they should cost more?

Also, when software promotes tools such as instant auto-digitizing or magic wands and there are programs labeled "embroidery conversion," there are still many people who think that it only takes seconds to transform a piece of artwork—any piece of artwork from photograph to low-res web image—into a richly detailed, high quality embroidery design. This is simply not the case.

I recently overheard someone (a father) complaining about the cost of a Barbie doll outfit at $8. I looked at the item in question and thought about how long it would take me to find the fabrics, layout the pattern, cut it out, and sew the dress and thought there's no way I would do that for $8—or more realistically, for a mere fraction of that once you factored in markup and packaging, not to mention the skill and equipment you'd need just to get started.

If you've ever sewn a tiny doll dress with skinny little pouffy sleeves, you know that although there are fewer stitches to sew, the time is not significantly less than a full size adult garment. Sure, it might look like about fifty cents worth of fabric and notions but does a few scraps of fabric make a fairy princess outfit?

Another question or comment that is often combined with the cost question is that designs shouldn't cost so much for home embroiderers because they aren't professionals. Does gas cost less per gallon depending on the cost, age or model of your car or how you drive it? If I only drive my car once a week for errands should I get a discount because I'm not driving it daily to work?

How many times or on what quality of machine the design is sewn or your level of expertise should not affect the cost of the design because they are not factors in the production of the design.

In fact, most designs are already significantly discounted and if you want to sew them in a production environment you need to contact the designer for special licensing. Now that you know what's involved in up front costs and training I think you'll realize that good designs, just like the Barbie doll princess dress, are a bargain.

Today most designs cost less than 1 or 2 spools of embroidery thread—and unlike embroidery thread that is consumed, you only pay once and can use it over and over. Furthermore, a design won't dry out or go bad overtime. Also, if you are savvy with stitch editing program, you can take that design apart and make more from it.

So if you're wondering why new embroidery designs these days are becoming simpler, less detailed, less unique, or lower quality, the answer is that the market is simply not supporting more. And sadly, it will be a loss for all of us as embroiderers, digitizers, and consumers of embroidery products.

Learn More About Designs

  • 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


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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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