Part 2 of Digitizing Exclusive

Part 2: Your Path to Proficient Embroidery Digitizing

Erich has more than 18 years experience as an award-winning digitizer, e-commerce manager, and industry educator. He empowers decorators to do their best work and achieve a greater success. A current educator and long-time columnist, Erich takes every opportunity to provide value to the industry. Find more information on Erich and his publications here.

Learning embroidery digitizing feels overwhelming to prospective punchers because its complex nature. Like any complicated skill, however, digitizing becomes simpler with knowledge and practice. The first time you drove a car, it likely felt like a flurry of frantic activities as you checked mirrors, shifted gears, braked, watched for signs, and used signals. But with practice, your mind condensed these tasks into one concerted activity: driving. Like driving, digitizing requires awareness of many variables, and you must keep them all in check simultaneously, but with repetition and experience comes that same compression. Eventually, you will simply digitize. 

Let's start with the three types of knowledge you need to begin digitizing.

  1. Understanding your materials and equipment: You should know the basics of how embroidery machines work; how thread behaves during embroidering; how thread, needle, and fabrics interact; what kinds of distortion designs undergo during embroidery; and how production methods can affect the look of your finished piece.
  2. Technical knowledge about embroidery and digitizing: You must know how close to place stitches for full coverage without overly disrupting your garment or making your decoration too stiff. Additionally, know how to express the measurements needed when discussing digitizing and understand stitch type terminology, how each looks, and which design situation uses each stitch type. Recognize the role of underlay and how it combats garment show-through and poor edge quality. Also, know distortion types, such as push and pull, and how to counteract them to maintain good registration and avoid rippling or puckering. Learn the order that elements should run to make a design that logically progresses from one area to the next without wasting motion. You must know about stitch angles, types of overlaps and joints, and how and when to tie in and tie off stitches to avoid unraveling. 
  3. Software-specific skills: In order to apply your knowledge, understand the tools present in your particular brand of software. Know how to use them to create elements and specify all of their variables. You should also learn to import various forms of digital art, set up your software's work area and base stitch settings, and export properly formatted files for your specific machine. Understand the various semi-automated settings and tools that speed up digitizing and how to use the layout and editing tools available in your package.

The next step is figuring out how and where to find this information. Within the six major resource types below, you'll find plenty of help.

  1. Embroidery experience: Embroidering garments, especially in a production environment, teaches much of the necessary basic knowledge, particularly pertaining to materials and equipment. Watching well-crafted, efficient designs run gives you a feel for element sequencing, compensation for distortion, and design construction while directly demonstrating how the interaction between materials, machinery, and digitizing makes the resulting embroidery look a certain way. For embroiderers who want to digitize, this is a natural process, but many designers and artists may not consider this hands-on learning necessary. There's nothing on this list that will make you a better digitizer than diligent time spent embroidering, provided it's approached with curiosity and thoughtfulness. 
  2. Direct design analysis: Though it might seem an offshoot of embroidery experience, this analysis is done by examining the digitized file in software, allowing us to make more detailed observations. By watching it virtually play back and physically stitch and measue the variables within against measurements taken from finished samples of the same file, a fledgling digitizer can learn how much elements distort when stitched and the way stitch settings influence embroidery outcomes.
  3. Documentation: This is vendor-specific documentation that's attached to software as well as third-party educational books, videos, and the like. Documentation teaches the digitizing suite's tools and settings and a great deal of technical information. Once confined to instructional manuals, the current generation of digitizers can look forward to a host of content from the classic manual to webinars, blog posts, podcasts, and videos. There's also a host of freely available industry magazines and websites, such as Printwear.
  4. Experimentation: Once experience sinks in, analysis offers its secrets, and documentation allows you to use your tools, experimentation is the logical next step. Using your tools, you can replicate the settings and elements seen in your analyses and use your general experience to create test designs. By subjecting your embroidery to analysis and measurement, you can refine your designs, retest, and find settings that work for any situation.
  5. Community: The Internet provides a host of tools for building communities, allowing all sorts of conversations to flourish—from social media groups to vendor- and user-supported forums and even e-mailing lists. These communities house a large number of people who share their embroidery and digitizing experience, including many industry influencers. Though not always as germane as documentation may be to your setup, there's an abundence of torture-tested, real-life information.
  6. Direct education: If you prefer a hands-on, responsive educational experience, look for direct classes and consultation. Whether through industry trade shows, such as THE NBM SHOW; software vendor-organized events; or one-on-one educational sessions, the sizable benefit of direct education is immediacy. This is the most costly option, but fast feedback and expert analysis of your work is certainly valuable.

There's never been a more extensive set of resources available to the erstwhile digitizer than there is today. With diligent study and practice,someone who wants to learn the technical underpinnings of the art can do so. In the final installment of this series, we'll discuss the more subjective side of digitizing, covering art interpretation and qualities found in the excellent designs that are the hallmark of artistic and technically proficient digitizing.

Looking for more on digitizing? Don't miss part one of this three-part series from Erich Campbell: Part 1: Your Path to Proficient Embroidery Digitizing.