First, a bit of vocabulary – creating embroidery designs is a process generally called digitizing. The software you need is called digitizing software. The first thing to figure out is if this really is something you want to do. Many people get a machine and assume that they should make the designs that go on it. That is certainly an option and it might be the right option for you.

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Hang on! Are you comfortable with your embroidery machine?

I strongly encourage you to get to know your machine and how to work it well before you jump into digitizing. Embroidery and digitizing are two related but entirely different skill sets. When you stitch out your design and something goes wrong (it will, it happens to everyone, it is all part of the learning process), you want as few variables as possible. When your fill and your outline don’t line up, is it an error in the design or are you using the wrong stabilizer or is your tension off or is it just not really a design suited to the fabric you are using? Once you are confident with your machine and stitching on different fabrics, you will be able to test your designs and know if it is something that you need to change in the design or if it should be corrected at the machine. There are enough things to learn when starting out in embroidery. Using designs from reliable digitizers will help you through the learning curve.

Is that pucker from using the wrong stabilizer or because the design needed a tweak? My tester was experienced and had run into this before, so we knew that the design needed a tweak and I was able to fix it quickly.

OK, I’m getting pretty good at this embroidery thing – now I should start digitizing, right!?!

If you want to – sure! Why do you want to create your own designs? I’ll start with the only one that makes any sense to me. Do you enjoy working on the computer and learning new software, you have time to dedicate to reading manuals, watching tutorials and a lot of experimenting – and you have ideas just begging to be made? If so, digitizing might be right for you!

This design was at least 2 years in the making. I knew I wanted to made a design that changed from one thing to another and it took years to figure out how to do it.

Are you trying to save money on buying designs? Considering the cost of designs these days, it would take you a very long time to create enough designs to offset the cost of buying them vs the cost of software and the other costs involved in digitizing and testing. Even if you are paying someone to custom digitize logos, etc, carefully consider how long it would take you to learn to design and whether that time would be more profitable spent stitching for your customers. That is a cost/benefit only you can know.

You want to make designs to sell and get rich? It could happen. Reality is, as a field, digitizing is flooded. The cost (and with that profit) of designs is at an all time low and the competition is fierce. Back to my first point – if you love doing it and have brilliant and unique ideas, and you are pretty good at marketing – you might be able to break through. It is most definitely not a get rich quick stream of income for most people and requires many skills beyond digitizing. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, there are many successful digitizers selling their designs. It is just not as quick or easy as making a few designs and putting them on Etsy.

I wish!

With modern software, creating a design is actually quite simple. Consistently creating designs that stitch out well and achieve the look you are going for takes a lot of study, practice and testing.

You tried to talk me out of it, but I still want to do it!

Great! After all that, you really want to make cool stuff and understand what you are getting into – lets do it! I love digitizing and what it lets me do. There are quite a few very good digitizing programs on the market and each has its benefits and drawbacks. It is important to understand some basics first. On one end of the spectrum, you have auto-digitizing. This is when you import a picture and click Convert (or something like it) and voila! you have a design. Some autoditizers will give you a small amount of control in choosing what kind of fill you want or outline style, but it is generally a very automated, quick process with very little input. This sounds fantastic! I’ll have my entire clipart folder converted and ready to stitch by dinner tonight! If only it were that easy… This requires very “clean” artwork, meaning just a few colors, high resolution and little to no shading or shadows. Even given that, the results are quite unpredictable. Check out my post about autodigitizing here.

cheap digitizing software
Auto-digitizing creates designs that range from awful to kind of ok

On the other end of the spectrum is manual digitizing. You can either work from scratch or import an image to use as your background. With manual digitizing, you create objects by setting “nodes”. Once you have those shapes, you choose what kind of object it will be – a run or a fill and what properties it will have. Do you want it a very thin line? A thicker line, a satin column? The control is all yours. On the one hand it is more challenging because you have to make those decisions for every part of your design, but on the other hand, you can get the outcome you were imagining because you have the control. It definitely takes longer, but in the end you have a design worth stitching.

All those options can be overwhelming, but they are the building blocks of a quality design.

Some digitizing programs include an autodigitizing function. Go ahead and play with it – for some extremely simple things, it might be a shortcut worth taking. I would never spend the money for a program that is only auto-digitizing. It just isn’t worth it.

Stay tuned for my Digitizing software roundup, but I’ll give you a sneak preview – My favorite software for beginners is Embrilliance. I love that you can purchase only the modules that you need and expand as you need it. Stitch Artist is the digitizing module that I am using these days.


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