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Digitizing Custom Embroidered Designs from Graphics

This paper discusses design issues related to converting graphic based artwork into a viable embroidery design. Unlike printing, the embroidery process has many limitations that must be carefully considered during a conversion from graphic artwork to stitching. It requires an experienced embroidery designer (sometimes referred to as a "digitizer") to account for these limitations when digitizing a logo.

Trouble Areas

When a digitizer analyzes artwork to be digitized, he/she is looking for several potential trouble spots:
  • Text smaller than 1/4 inch tall
  • Thin lines and fine detail
  • Areas that contain color gradients
  • Overall image size
  • Fabric

Text smaller than 1/4 inch tall

If you want an embroidered logo to stitch well on a variety of fabrics, you should never attempt to embroider text smaller than 1/4 inch. Following this rule, will ensure that your logo can be stitched on anything from pique to fleece. On the other hand, producing a logo with text so small it barely stitches on a nylon jacket will surely disappoint when stitched on fleece or pique.
It is possible to create smaller text if you limit your apparel choices to an easy to stitch nylon or similar fabric. Another trick that can sometimes help with small text is to stitch the text with a finer thread. The downside to this approach is that there will be more thread breaks during production and you have a very limited choice of colors. Additionally the use of finer thread can greatly increase the design stitch count resulting in expensive application charges. The best approach is to slightly enlarge the text so that it meets the 1/4 inch rule. Generally speaking small text is usually not a concern since the purpose of embroidery is to be seen at a distance and text smaller than 1/4 inch is not easily seen from far away.

Thin lines and fine detail

Thin lines and details can also be a problem due to the fact that you need to reproduce a thin solid line with a series of very thin stitches. A very common problem arises when the logo consists of very thin lines in a light color such as white or yellow. If you attempt to reproduce these sections in a light color thread with a walk stitch you will get a "dotted line effect" as each stitch enters and exits the fabric. For this reason fine details need to be reproduced using darker colored threads.

Areas that contain color gradients

Color gradients are easily produced in a print process, however embroidery uses distinct colors which makes it a challenge to reproduce shadows and gradients. In cases where the gradient is not a prominent part of the artwork, it may be omitted and the natural texture of the embroidery will be used as a replacement. In some cases two or more thread color can be used to roughly reproduce the gradient area.

Overall Image Size

Consider the following artwork for conversion into embroidery:
This raw image is approximately 1 inch wide by 1/2 inch tall. This logo needs to be enlarged to about 3 inches wide to produce an appropriate sized embroidered logo. You will notice that when enlarged to this size, much of the fine detail is lost. Notice that the letter C has two distinct styles near the head and tail areas. With this artwork, the digitizer will be left guessing and filling in the blanks in these areas. It is very important to provide the digitizer with the largest and best quality artwork you can find. Large graphics are easily shrunk with no loss of detail, however the opposite is not the case.

Fabric

Fabric also affects how an embroidered logo looks. Nylon fabrics are relatively easy to stitch on due to the uniform nature of a woven material. Pique is usually the most challenging having a loose non-uniform knit and texture . Generally speaking it is not practical to digitize different logo's for each fabric type. The digitizer will attempt to enhance (or change proportions) the artwork in a manner that allows the difficult areas to be reproduced reliabily.

Sample Logo Digitizing

This is an actual logo requiring digitizing, the version shown in this page has been reduced in size by about 50%:

The quality of the artwork is excellent and the digitizer will not have any trouble picking out the finer details. However you will notice that the text in then design is quite small and unsuitable for embroidery. Another issue is that the text uses a script font which is difficult to produce even at 1/4 inch tall. Another issue is that when the text is enlarged to its proper size the logo will be too wide for a left chest application. The gradients in the lighthouse beam are not reproducible in embroidery. Highlights in the waves are also not reproducible.
The final product has been modified in many areas so it can be reliably reproduced in embroidery.

Notice that the text has been enlarged to the point where the fine detail of the script font is legible. The lighthouse has been reduced in size so that the width of the logo is suitable for a left chest application. The gradient lines in the lighthouse beam have been removed from the design. The wave detail has been reproduced with two thread colors and the natural texture of the thread providing the highlights. The lighthouse bricks are reproduced using dark color threads for best contrast on all fabric colors.

Conclusion

Some graphic logo's can be a challenge to reproduce, however an experienced digitizer and embroidery shop will be able to guide you through the tradeoffs you need to make in order to get the best results. It is helpful to go into the digitizing process knowing the limitation of the embroidery process as this will speed the design process and guide your expectations.

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