What is Digitizing for Embroidery?
By Pete Apo
Digital files these days are everywhere and most things are in digital form. So what is digitizing for embroidery mean? If you have ever gone to an embroidery shop chances are that the shop has spoke about “getting your logo digitized”. This is a specialized term in the embroidery industry.
Some people may think that digitizing has to do with saving your file in a digital format. Others conclude that digitizing must mean having artwork vectorized. This is far from the reality. Digitizing is a highly specialized trade. Without proper experience an embroidery project can easily look and perform badly. If you have ever experienced embroidery that waves or curls, is hard to read, or the design elements don’t line up, this is likely a result of faulty digitizing.
The word digitize implies that artwork is somehow automatically turned into stitches. This is far from true. Most digitizing is time consuming and requires specialized software and experience. Most logos need several types of different stitches incorporated to produce one great looking and performing design. Any professional embroidery shop will likely have on staff a highly experienced digitizer to create a quality embroidery file needed to run an embroidery machine.
So what is digitizing for embroidery? Well simply put it is the manual placement of stitches and machine commands for a computerized embroidery machine to follow. You need a digitized embroidery file to have any embroidery done.
Why is digitizing experience important?
Most digitizers have spent a significant amount of time learning from embroidery production. They have come to know how embroidery and stitches affect different garments. What type of stitches work and don’t work. How to create layered and complex stitch effects. As well as creating embroidery patterns with the least amount of stitches or embroidery machine stops. The best digitizers are people who have spent time running a production team or an embroidery machine themselves. Since there is no official schools to learn embroidery digitizing, this is the most effective way to learn how an embroidery machine runs and what stitch layouts the machine likes best.
The mind of a digitizer
Digitizers are special because they must be artistic but also stick to a very regimented list of do’s and do not’s for embroidery. Embroidery machines are computerized sewing machines often running at 800 to 1,200 stitches per minute, and production managers are looking for anyway they can to speed up production time. Digitizers must be aware of this and make designs with minimum color changes, stitch counts, thread trims and stops. They do this all while making a quality embroidered piece that will perform well. To do this effectively a digitizer must make a map or list of what parts of the artwork will sew first, second and so on. They will also need to know how big the final design will be and what type of material it will be going on. For instance the process that a machine must take to successfully sew on the front of a baseball cap vs. a left chest polo shirt is quite different.
Below are the important things that are considered when digitizing artwork:
Underlay stitches are the stitch pattern that is sewn first under the design and will help keep the garment from bunching or curling when worn or washed. Though these stitches are not seen in the final design, this stage is critically important to production of a great performing sew-out. Some inexperienced digitizers or shops looking to save a few seconds in production, will leave out this step, but the effects will be noticeable over time.
Pull compensation describes the additional length that is added to the stitches to compensate for the natural push and pull of garments when they are embroidered. The natural flow and movement of fabrics responding to the tightening of thread is one of the major learning curves when becoming a digitizer and creating clean embroidered products.
Stitch types are the different ways the machine sews over a certain area and will determine the finished look of the embroidery. Knowing the area and using the correct stitch type to use is important and necessary. Using the wrong stitch type for an area and not knowing the embroidery machines limitations can result in entire areas missing stitches or results numerous thread breaks, slowing production time. These problems can result in unfinished, messy or frayed sew-outs that can unravel over time. The basic embroidery stitch types are Fill Stitches, Satin Stitches, Run Stitches and Manual Stitches. Each of these types of stitches are used for particular reasons and each of them are widely used in the industry.
Embroidery size is exactly what it says and is considered first before any stitch is ever digitized. Artwork that will be embroidered at a left chest size vs. for a full back size will have to be set up differently because the areas the stitches will have to cover and the overall allowed length for each stitch.
Different Fabric Types
The kind of fabric must also be considered when preparing an embroidery piece. For instance a piece of heavy vinyl cloth vs. a lightly knit cotton will respond to stitches much differently and can handle only a certain density of stitches correctly.
Number of Colors
The number of colors in the design are important as well because embroidery machines all have different capacity for the numbers of threads it can hold thus limiting the number of colors that a design can have. Typical commercial embroidery machines range from 6 – 15 needles on each head which determine how many separate spools or colors can be in any design.
Order of Embroidery
The order of the embroidery must be considered for digitizing. Like underlay, fill stitches, then a final satin stitch to make a finished embroidery sew-out look nice.
The Benefits of Quality Digitizing
Looks Great- The first indication that you have quality digitizing is that the finished embroidery looks great. Some credit will have to go to the production staff for choosing the correct backing and monitoring the embroidery process successfully. However, the majority of the results come from a quality digitized file.
Performs Great- When the correct stitch pattern, density and other factors are picked throughout the process of digitization. The results will be a finished embroidery product that will not curl, wave, twist or have pullout threads over time. It will lay flat and handle being washed repeatedly without negative effects.
Sized Perfectly- If your embroidery is sized correctly it will be easily readable but also not overwhelm the product space. The correct size will be adequate to perform the task the design is meant to and bring an elevated look to the finished product.
The Results of Poor Digitizing
Unreadable- If the text of any design is not easily readable, the digitization has failed. Embroidery has limits to what can and can not be done successfully. Making lettering too small or using the wrong technique for small lettering is a common mistake for an inexperienced digitizer. Also lazy digitizers will often use a pre-programmed font to auto generate stitches which can sometimes be a problem to readability, especially for small text.
Curled, Wavy or Twisted- If your design experiences these common effects, the chances are that the wrong stitch density or underlay was used in the digitizing process. These factors could also be a result of the production worker using the wrong material backing, however, the majority of the time it has to do with choices made during digitization.
Oversized or Undersized Design- As stated earlier an undersized design is a common mistake and can make text unreadable, but also over sizing a design is a sign of inexperience. With a lack of digitization skills a digitizer will sometimes oversize a design or text so it will be readable. This happens most for Left Chest and Cap Front embroidery. A quality production shop will inform a customer well before the digitization is performed that size or placement might be an issue. You should never be surprised upon the pick-up of your items that certain elements of your logo are oversized or are not sized up proportionately.
Open Fill or Satin Stitches- When the fill or satin stitches of a design are open you can see through the stitches to the fabric underneath. This happens when using a low density of stitches for a certain area.
Embroidery is a good print method when used appropriately and digitized correctly. Embroidery can increase the value of items and bring an upscale look to an item. It is also durable and long lasting. I hope this article has given you some basic understanding to this question: What is digitizing for embroidery. I hope that it will inform you better when making decisions about getting embroidery done. I also hope that it sheds some light on what it takes to produce quality embroidery items and prepare you on what questions should be asked when speaking to an embroidery shop.
Pete Apo is the owner of Impact Northwest located outside Eugene, Oregon in Creswell. He has over 17+ years experience in the garment and promotional item printing industry and is founder of the clothing and product line The Rusty Hawaiian. Impact Northwest is a provider of custom screen print, embroidery, dye sublimation and promotional items to Lane County and the surrounding communities.