Ask an Expert: Digitize Cleaner Designs

My designs aren’t efficient. When I digitize, I bounce back and forth between areas in my design, and even between reworking art and digitizing. By the time I’m done, my sequence is sloppy and I’ve used colors too many times. How do you get organized for a design and do less fixing when you finish? How can I make my designs run cleaner?

I applaud your desire to be production-friendly. Some digitizers’ designs look great, but contain excess movements, color changes and trims that slow down the embroidery process and make every run less profitable. Luckily, a little preparation and clean-up can help set you up for success to make your process, and your operators’ stitching process, more efficient.

  1. Preparation. To avoid bouncing back and forth, first assemble your art assets. If your art is poorly created or elements are missing or indistinguishable, you may think about drawing before you digitize. It’s useful for digitizers to be able to draw simple vector graphics. It enables us to take bad art and create a clean, sharp-edged and "zoomable" piece that can be approved by the customer before digitizing starts. Not only can we clean up poor quality art, but we can make alterations to layout, line thickness and detail before we set stitches.

    This is also the time to do research and gather resources. Before digitizing, track down typefaces and reference photos. When working on animals or nature scenes, I tend not only to have my main image on the ground layer of my work file, but reference photos that help me see details that might not be in my main art, but may help me in clarifying my approach to digitizing an element.

    An effective low-tech method of preparation for art alterations and good sequencing is to print out your reference art and sketch the outlines of your embroidered elements directly on the page, paying attention to how you travel through the design. Think of your pen or pencil like the needle and color the design, trying not to pick up your needle while you execute each color. Attempting to make each element connect in a contiguous line will help you avoid unnecessary color changes and trims as well as define unavoidable breaks. Sketching is also helpful in areas where source material doesn’t give you cues for textural elements.


    Good preparation is equal parts activity and reflection; assemble the art assets you need, making sure they’re clear enough to show necessary detail. With fonts, art and reference materials assembled in your work file, you won’t be diverted by searching for what you need, and you’ll focus and maintain flow in your process. Throughout the process, keep the idea of the needle’s progress in your mind. Envision the stitching process entirely before you place a stitch. As you start digitizing, think two elements ahead. How will you move into the next area, and how will you exit that area? Try to move logically from place to place with as little wasted traveling as possible. If you don’t run machines much, try to do it regularly to stay in practice. Nothing teaches you to avoid unnecessary movement like waiting through them at the machine, having to watch a misplaced jump-stitch get stitched into a design or trimming out your poorly planned piece.

  2. Clean-up. The last step of the digitizing process should always include watching the design run virtually. Most software has a slow replay function, so learn to use it. Speed through filled areas and long runs of satin stitches, but pay careful attention to the beginnings and endings of elements and color changes. You’ll occasionally have to do some clean-up, especially if you’re doing more than the average logotype. The trick to any alteration in sequence or collapsing of color changes is to remember to think sequentially. Watch the preview run, and when you see wasted movement, watch it again, isolate the inefficient portion and think about ways to improve your movement through the design.

    If you’re truly stuck, follow the areas on-screen with your finger like you were doing the pencil-as-needle exercise from your prep phase. If you have wasted color changes, save a copy of your design and group elements in the same color. Look to areas where you can change which element runs first without ruining the dimensional look of your piece. Each time you re-group, try to place elements in a single tour of the design, with an eye toward hiding travel run stitches under elements later in the sequence. You won’t always get each color down to a single change, but if you’ve explored your options, you’re far more likely to use color changes, and any movement, in a reasoned and efficient way.

ERICH CAMPBELL, an industry veteran, is an award-winning embroidery digitizer with experience in designing, implementing and maintaining e-commerce websites. A longtime technology fan, ad-hoc IT staffer and constantly-connected Internet dweller, Campbell is in the process of adding social media to the marketing arsenal of Albuquerque, NM-based Black Duck Inc. (asi/700415). Contact: