The Digitizer's Success Guide

Beyond technical skills, there’s a range of mental traits that will help elevate your craft.

As with any discipline, digitizing for embroidery requires a basic skill set to ensure a digitizer can create beautiful, production-friendly stitch files. Paramount to the fundamentals are an understanding of how your software operates, how embroidering stitches in fabric will impact the material and last, but not least, an artistic appreciation for what makes a design visually appealing. Each of these topics is a conversation on to itself and a detailed discussion requires a deep dive in to the technical details.

However, along with the technical side of programming there’s a more esoteric set of required skills programmers must learn if they ever intend to become a true master of the craft. While these aren’t technical, they’re vital.

Patience: There’s no way to rush quality programming. A good programmer can be fast, but fast and rushed aren’t the same thing. It’s critical you take the time to place your stitches carefully and review your settings. Failure to do this, even once, can have expensive consequences. This can be tedious, but that’s where patience comes in to play. Just because you present an acceptable sew-out to a customer (or supervisor), it doesn’t mean you’ve done a good job. Make sure you review the full design.

A sense of humor: Just when you think you’re getting good at what you do, you’ll be presented with a design you think is easy. Then, 12 hours later, when you’re still trying to get the design to register properly you’ll take a close look at your sample machine and see you have a bent needle on the thread color forming the border of the design. Try not to get frustrated, inventing colorful euphemisms for the last 10 hours of wasted time. Rather, learn from the experience and pass forward your new knowledge to the machine operators on your team so they know that sometimes it’s not about the digitizing, and remember to check your full thread path when things are going sideways. 

Attention to detail: Good programmers are finicky. They tend to be critical of their own work.  So long as this does not hamper a programmer’s ability to be productive it’s a vital trait. Unlike word processing software, there’s no such thing as spell check for digitizers, and it’s the programmer’s responsibility to ensure all text is spelled properly. Speaking from experience and 1,200 shirts ruined, millennium is spelled with two Ns, not one. And, even though it may not be your responsibility to proof the final sample, that’s a lame argument and it’s going to come back to you.

Humility: Accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There’s an age-old argument between machine operators and digitizers when embroidery doesn’t look as good as it should. The operators tend to blame the digitizers, and the digitizers tend to blame the operators. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, but there are times when the programmer has done a bad job. When you’re presented with a substandard design and the finger pointing at you, simply examine the physical flaws in the design and go back to the editing board. You’ll learn quickly that even small changes can have a dramatic impact on a design.

Open mind: You’re the expert when it comes to punching designs. However, you don’t live in a bubble and you’ll improve your programming skills by listening to input from co-workers, supervisors and clients. Keep an open mind when non-digitizers offer suggestions. Good machine operators (those who pay attention to what is happening on the machine) can be an invaluable source of input, especially in the area of pathing a design or how a programming is impacting a specific material. Listen to their suggestions.

Though none of these traits directly help your machine form a single stitch, they’re as vital to successful embroidery as knowing the difference between a satin and fill stitch or a hook and a bobbin. Not everything about embroidery is technical or artistic. As digitizers, we live in a world of production deadlines where our basic skill set is assumed. Because of this, the other professionals we work with aren’t interested in a laundry list of excuses when designs don’t go the way everyone hopes. Mastering the full scope of programming requires a grasp of the technical as well as the mental aspects of your game.

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Steve Freeman is the managing partner of Qdigitizing.com. He has been a professional digitizer since 1989 and is trained on Melco, Wilcom and Pulse software systems. Prior to Qdigitizing, he was an embroidery manager at Zazzle.com, and before that, he owned and operated a 60-head embroidery company for 15 years. Reach him at steve.freeman@qdigitizing.com or (877) 733-4390.