Anyone aspiring to be a digitizer quickly learns there are a host of digitizing software packages on the market. Further complicating this, professional-grade digitizing packages are sold in tiers, with each tier unlocking different functions. It’s safe to say that the more expensive the software is, the more tiers will be unlocked. However, not all tiers are required for most digitizing projects, so the savvy buyer needs to understand the digitizing software market and be prepared to ask the right questions. But even more important, that same buyer needs to understand what their own needs are.
All the major embroidery software brands provide excellent software. Modern programming software has come a long way in the last 20 years, and anyone with the desire and patience to learn the craft can use any of the major software titles to create beautiful embroidery. The goal is to understand how digitizing software is sold, so you avoid getting stuck with an expensive package you’ll never use.
While we all have different pain points for what we consider expensive, professional-grade digitizing software is fairly expensive. You can’t expect to spend less than about $4,500 for a good package, and some cost a lot more. You can find digitizing packages for less, but be careful. Software falls very much in to the world of “you get what you pay for.” Also, depending on what you will be doing, you might not need full-blown digitizing software. This is where you need to start asking yourself (and ultimately your software vendor) some very important questions.
Do I want full-blown embroidery digitizing capabilities? The most comprehensive software packages will allow you to program for specialty designs like chenille, sequins, cording and other applications. Unless you’re offering those kinds of products, you don’t need these features. As you’re looking at software titles and getting your package priced out, make sure you aren’t paying for things you don’t want. These tiers can always be added later should you want to branch out.
Do I want professional-grade embroidery digitizing? All major titles will have one tier that has all the tools required to program a design from source art to sew-out. This will usually be the second tier from the top and will almost always have everything you need to start programming 90% of what you see on the streets today. This tier is for a professional digitizer though, and if you don’t have experience, the feature set will be overwhelming.
Do I want an editing package? A good editing package lets the user open native outline files and allows for complete manipulation of the design. It also usually enables you to digitize, start to finish, but many of the advanced features for faster programming, short-cut type tools and fancier effects are turned off. For many programmers, this tier is enough. However, you must ask the person selling the software to explain the difference between an editing package and a true digitizing package. Also, ask about the upgrade path to understand what you are and are not buying.
Do I want a lettering package? Lettering packages allow a user to add stock lettering to a design. The better lettering packages come with dozens of preprogrammed alphabets. While you won’t be able to modify the design, the program lets you to create standalone letter-based designs like monograms or add namedrops to logos, allowing you to create effects like arched text.
Can I get by with a free viewer package? You might find you don’t want to program at all. However, anyone who sells or works with embroidery should, at least, be able to view embroidery files. All the major software authors have a free version, generally available for download on their websites. The free version lets you open and view their native formats, as well as DST and/or PES formats. Many will also enable basic resizing the ability to manipulate design colors.
If you’re buying new equipment, many suppliers will bundle a digitizing package with a machine sale. Sometimes this is free, but the tiering mentioned above will apply. Just because XYZ machine company is bundled with ABC software, it might be a very limited version, with expensive upgrades. Be careful, and ask the right questions.
When researching and purchasing embroidery digitizing software, remember the old saying: caveat emptor. There are many players in this market, and all are eager to sell you a product. Go in with your eyes wide open, and know for sure what you’re buying before you plunk down your hard-earned money. Make sure you’re very clear on training policies, where the training is held and what options are available for follow-up support. If you’re new to this world, you’ll need it. Make sure it’s available.
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. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (877) 733-4390.