How To Digitize a Design for Embroidery

Quality Digitizing Translates Into Superior Embroidery

Sewing with designs

Setting up, or digitizing, a design is as important as the embroidery itself. It may even be a bit more important because if you haven't solidly conceptualized the design, it will show up in a lack of quality when embroidered.

Since there are numerous brands, types, and levels of software available for digitizing and each program works slightly different from the next, it is up to you to become familiar with how your software works. This article will address how to set up a three-color design (no lettering) by giving you general set-up tips, suggestions for stitch selections, and ideas to help you create quality embroidery through superior digitizing.

Step 1

Study the Design – Take a few minutes to look at the design as given to you in either a hard copy of the artwork, or as e-mailed to you, or as taken off of a website (with permission).

You may find it necessary to simplify some of the detail, as you will see below.  But, beware -- do this only with the consent of the client.  It would be a bit disheartening if you simplify, show it to the client, and then be informed to go back and add detail. 

When looking at the design, note:

  • How many colors will be used.
  • What the final size will be (left chest logos usually run 2-4” wide and full back designs usually are 10-12” wide).
  • What kind of fabric this design will be used on.

Step 2

Decide on First Color and Stitch to be Used – Consider the foundation of the design.

  • Decide which of the three colors belongs under the other stitches. In the case of this three-color Gladiator head, the gold is seen throughout the entire design but does not need to be used as an outline.
  • Create an outline of the face and helmet and use a smooth “fill” stitch. A fill stitch is as it describes itself in that it will fill in all of the spaces.
  • Then using a “running” stitch, a single stitch in a line, over to the the brush of the helmet. This way you do not need to make a trim as the running stitch will be covered later.
  • To give some flow and shape to the brush of the helmet, use a “satin” stitch, which is defined as a single stroke of thread from side to side. The light will reflect off of the direction of the stitches to help create a 3D effect.
  • For the purpose of this design, turn the satin stitch into a fill stitch so the thread is more bedded into the fabric.
  • When setting up the fill stitch for a left chest design, the shorter the better for the stitch length is a good rule. This will help it look smoother and cover up the fabric more effectively.
  • Finish this color with a knot and a trim.

Step 3

Second Color and Stitch to be Used – Second fill stitch.

  • For this design, the purple is the second color.
  • Since there are no large areas to fill in, use a satin stitch for each area.
  • Turn these satin stitches into fill stitches, as described above.

Step 4

Third Color – When a design, such as this Gladiator head, has black outlining, it is best to save this for the last color to cover up any running stitches used previously.

  • Using the satin stitch, create the outline.
  • In this case, start at the neck, then work over to the helmet brush and helmet detail, finishing with the face detail and forehead and cheek shields. This will help to layer stitches upward, once again giving a 3D effect.
  • End with a knot and a trim.

Very Helpful Hints:

  • Pull Compensation – When threads are sewn on fabric, they will pull in and go upward if the stitches are being laid down horizontally. Consider this when laying down the base, by scrimping on the fill stitch at the top and bottom and stretching it out sideways to accommodate pulling in. It will look fat and squatty at first, but then it will work out when the outlining is sewn.
  • Stitch Length – For left chest designs, using a short stitch for any fill will prevent the design from puckering. When sewing full back designs, such as on jackets, a longer fill stitch can be used.
  • Underlay – Like any building, a strong foundation is the first rule of thumb. Underlay is a type of stitch that is sewn before the actual fill will be sewn. This can either be laid down perpendicular to the direction of the fill stitch or a lattice effect can be sewn, which will go diagonally in both directions to the fill stitch. In the satin stitch, two lines of underlay give a very good foundation, except in jacket backs and then four lines are suggested.
  • Increased Density – If you are sewing a light color of thread on dark material, increasing the density is suggested in order to have more stitches laid down.
  • Satin Stitch for Jacket Backs – When setting up a design for a jacket back, it is highly recommended to turn all satin stitches into fill stitches in order to secure the thread properly. A wide satin stitch will tend to snag and come undone easily, while a fill stitch is nearly indestructible.


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