There are TONS of different types of machine embroidery fonts out there… Truetype, ESA, BX, stitch file fonts… The list goes on.
This article will break down what each one of these fonts actually are, the advantages & disadvantages of using them, and give you some recommendations on how to get clean, crisp embroidery lettering every time.
Why Embroidery Fonts Matter:
It’s hard for me to believe that I started my digitizing (punching) journey 35 years ago. When my first mentor taught me the rules of manually creating embroidery designs, his goal was always two-fold:
Achieve the best visual results possible.
The design must be machine friendly to optimize production.
With respect to visual quality, he told me repeatedly during my training that the lettering within any design is just as, or even more important than the actual logo. That statement is so true, you can have the most beautiful logo in the world but if the text/font within the design looks sloppy the entire design is ruined.
Back in those days, we had to manually punch every stitch within a design. I have to admit, doing lettering all day every day was tedious & boring. After you’ve digitized the letter 100,000 times the excitement is gone.
Given my experience, let me be clear that all fonts available for embroidery these days are NOT created equal. Understanding why some fonts look good and why others lack in both quality and appearance can be attributed to a few factors, which we’ll now dive into and explain.
Stitch File Fonts:
The first type of fonts we’ll cover is what I like to call Stitch File Fonts. These are basically single letter embroidery designs. These fonts/letters have been digitized and converted to embroidery machine formats (such as PES, JEF, XXX, etc.) and are not what we could consider to be “keyboard fonts” (that you can type out using your keyboard).
Stitch file fonts are digitized at a specific size, which means that they’ll run best at the size which they were originally created. The more the files/letters are resized (increased or decreased) the more they lose quality. This often leaves the embroiderer unsatisfied with the finished stitch results when sizing adjustments are required. Unless you’re an experienced digitizer, other edits are usually not recommended for these files either as they are finished embroidery designs.
Although some of these fonts can be beautiful, the real downside of using stitch file fonts is that they are not keyboard based. To utilize them to layout the text, the letters need to be inputted individually into a software program & arranged manually. This is a very tedious process and a big factor as to why embroidery lettering is rarely done this way anymore.
Fonts within Embroidery Software Programs and Machines:
A far better option is to use the fonts that are included within various software programs or built within the machines themselves. They usually stitch out nicely but work best within the suggested sizes provided by the software and machine developers. These fonts are usually keyboard based & generally resize better than stitch files. Plus, being able to create layouts that include designs and text make it much more effective and a less time-consuming process.
Often times, the fonts that come included within your software are proprietary towards that software brand. For example, the built in fonts that come with Floriani will perform & stitch out well but are solely tied to the specific Floriani software brand. It’s kind of like the native file formats I mentioned in theUnderstanding Machine Embroidery File Formats article(click here to access that article): meaning they can’t be read by any embroidery machine. They are specific to and created within an embroidery software program, & they must later be exported into a machine file format (such as PES, ART, VP3, etc) to be read on a machine.
Adding New Fonts to Your Embroidery Software:
Now although the proprietary fonts that come with your software usually work well, adding new fonts to your software can often lead to issues. This is because most software brands don’t allow you to add in additional proprietary fonts (or there is very small selection of proprietary font add-ons that are relatively expensive).
Instead, to add new fonts to your software, you usually need to purchase TrueType, BX or ESA fonts (these are the main 3). Let me note that none of these fonts are proprietary, however some do work much better than others. Depending on which brand you own, here is the type of font you could add to your software (alongside possible proprietary fonts the brand itself may sell):
Hatch Embroidery Software
ESA & TrueType Fonts
Wilcom E3 & E4 Embroidery Software
ESA & TrueType Fonts
Janome V.5 Embroidery Software
ESA & TrueType Fonts
Brother PE Design Embroidery Software
Floriani Embroidery Software
Bernina Embroidery Software
Masterworks III Embroidery Software
DIME Embroidery Software
Premier Plus Embroidery Software
Embird Embroidery Software
Embrilliance Embroidery Software
BX Fonts & TrueType Fonts
Please note: If your software brand is missing from this list or you have more up to date information, please comment it below & we’ll adjust our chart. Thanks in advance!
What are Converted TrueType Embroidery Fonts (TTF)?
TrueType fonts (or TTF for short) are fonts that are installed in your embroidery software and automatically converted to embroidery designs when used. It’s kind of like your software auto-digitizing lettering files you select.
Many programs including Hatch & Floriani will automatically convert a TrueType font to stitches. The benefit of using these fonts is the sheer number of them available, but the issue with these is that the quality is a real hit and miss scenario. The first problem that arises it that letters may not path logically for embroidery. An example would be the letter t. Usually when manually Digitizing the letter t you would path it the same way you would write it: the vertical stroke first and then the horizontal. Many times when software programs convert TTFs automatically they don’t take that into account and it ends up looking like a telephone pole. The more complex the letter, the more margin for error. Generally speaking with TTFs the quality of the lettering depends on the shapes used. Often times more narrow serif type fonts will give you better results than block fonts.
In most cases, TTFs were not created with the intent that they would be used for embroidery. Many fonts are unfriendly in their original form as widths/keystrokes don’t take into account the rules of stitches.
In a crunch they can be a good option, but realize that editing is usually required to get embroidery friendly results. I’d venture to say that I can usually manually digitize the letters quicker than going in after the fact and cleaning up the “auto-digitized” mess.
What are BX Embroidery Fonts?
BX fonts have essentially allowed digitizers to take their created stitch file fonts (or finished embroidery designs) and assign a keystroke (key on the keyboard) to each letter so they can be easily typed out within a proprietary software program.
To give credit where credit is due, the innovation of BX fonts was a good idea. The main benefit is that it has allowed digitizers who’ve created fonts to have a user-friendly way of having their customers utilize them. There are a ton of digitizers who have used this service and to be honest, I think that’s the primary problem with this type of embroidery font. Anyone regardless of their experience can generate and sell a BX Font which has flooded the market with poorly digitized & auto-digitized BX Fonts. To be fair, there are many digitizers who do great work who have converted their fonts to BX, but at the same time, the number of mediocre digitizers who have created BX fonts far outnumbers the good ones. The reality is, regardless of who digitized them, BX fonts are all just stitch files (or finished embroidery designs) that have been assigned a keystroke.
I’ve been asked numerous times if we at the Embroidery Legacy provide the BX format for our fonts? Years ago I had a developer even ask me to convert my work to the BX format. The answer was and still is no. I don’t provide the BX format; the reason is quite simple:
Any font is only as good as the digitizer who created it, putting my work into a pool of both good and bad digitizers no longer differentiates me and the quality we’ve worked very hard to build our reputation on.
I know the developers of the BX format recently released a “simulation” of Wilcom’s world-leading object-based ESA font technology within the highest level of their software’s digitizing module… But like I said before, any font is only as good as the digitizer who created them.
What are ESA Embroidery Fonts?
ESA fonts are the most advanced & customizable type of embroidery fonts. Being 100% object based, they can be resized, re-shaped and have their digitized properties altered (stitch count, underlay, stitch type, etc) at the click of a button based off the fabric type you’ll be stitching on.
Now for the irony, ESA Fonts have been around for a very long time and is one of the reasons why Wilcom has been the world leader in the commercial embroidery industry for decades.
I remember creating ESA fonts 25 years ago when I ran our 2 multi-head factories where we outputted over 10,000,000 pieces of embroidered goods per year. There were two reasons why I created these fonts back in the commercial days.
I really didn’t want to digitize the same letters repeatedly (as I mentioned earlier, it gets very boring) and I also wanted to make sure the fonts I was using would meet the customers and my own expectations; if they didn’t work I could only blame myself.
ESA Fonts have all the same features as Wilcom’s EMB format. This not only means that all the letters are engineered to join closest point, but they also include Wilcom’s incredible Fabric Assist features & more.
Here’s a quick video explaining ESA font technology:
Here are some features of ESA fonts that make them stand out:
ESA Fonts Join Closest Point:
Fonts that “join closest point” mean that the files will not generate trims between each letter when running on the machine. This is very important from a production standpoint because it saves you a ton of time. Every unnecessary trim command within a text layout is lost production time, to the extent of 120 stitches for every trim generated on a machine to be exact. I know that may sound excessive… but if you consider that for every trim a machine is going full speed, then has to slow down, tie-out, and activate the trimmer… Then the needle moves to the next position, ties-in and has to ramp back up to full speed. Make sense?
That’s why the stitch counts we see within a design are not always accurate with regards to the actual time it takes to run on the machine. For example: If a few lines of text consisting of 50 letters and 10 words has a stitch count of 5000 and the machine is running at 500 stitches per minute, you’d assume the designs would take 10 minutes to run. BUT if that design has a trim at every letter, you need to add an additional 6000 stitches (50 x 120 stitches) of run time! That 5000-stitch design really has a run time of 11000 stitches which is a whopping 22 minutes of run time compared to the original 10!
When you’re running your embroidery as a business, every unnecessary trim has a significant impact on production and the output of units embroidered.
ESA Fonts Can Be Used with Fabric Assist:
Now aside from joining closest point, the fact that ESA Fonts include Wilcom’s Fabric Assist capabilities is what really differentiates them from all the competition. In the same way that EMB files work (Wilcom’s native file format), ESA fonts allow you to choose the specific fabric type that the design is being run on and will automatically alter the underlay, density and pull compensation for best results. This is literally every embroiderer’s dream come true… Better quality at the click of a button!
ESA Fonts are Easy to Resize:
ESA fonts are truly object-based. Because of this, they’re very friendly when it comes to resizing, especially with increasing size. Although the fonts can be decreased marginally, they can be increased in size almost without limitation.
One of the innovative (but simple) features I implemented when creating my own ESA fonts is that I always put the minimum suggested size of the specific font beside its name, for example, Bones25mm. The number in mm simply highlights the size that I originally digitized the font in: meaning it is the minimum size at which it would best run. Keep in mind fonts differ depending on the style, complexity and stroke weights. By including the minimum size in the font name, the user automatically knows how to get the best possible results when embroidering.
Increasing the font size is the fun part! Because they are objects, you can make changes at the click of a button that will change effects as the size of the fonts increase.
You can automatically split stitches when widths go past 7mm.
You can change the stitch types from satins to other stitch types.
ESA Fonts are Easy to Edit: 100% Node Based:
ESA Fonts are completely object based in regards to editing. All the original node inputs used when creating the font can be adjusted within the Hatch software.
You can move, add, & change nodes. Plus, change and add stitch angles.
Want to try ESA fonts Free?
Now I know I’ve built up ESA fonts a lot… But that’s because they really are a game changer in the home embroidery industry! In the commercial embroidery industry, ESA fonts are the gold standard. I could go on about ESA fonts all day, but I think it’s best that you try them for yourself.
These files can be found almost anywhere online. However, once again keep in mind that the fonts are later converted to stitch files & because of this, the results greatly depend on the specific font you’re trying to convert.
These fonts can also be found on many websites. The key to remember with these fonts is that the quality of font will vary vastly depending on who digitized them. Now here’s a tip for you: Just because you bought a BX font from one website & it stitched out well doesn’t mean that others from that site always will too… A lot of online companies I’ve seen use multiple digitizers, or source through various companies when listing fonts or designs on their site. For this reason the quality may not be consistent. Look for the name of the person who digitized a specific BX font that worked well for you, & try to stick with them or other digitizers who you know are reputable.
With both of the options above, it’s often kind of like playing embroidery roulette… You might get a winner, or well… a lemon.
These fonts are harder to come by than the other 2 font types listed above but are a lot more consistent in quality… Why? Because given how advanced they are, creating true object based ESA fonts takes a very experienced digitizer to be accomplish correctly. They can’t simply be auto digitized or thrown together and assigned a key stroke like some other fonts.
For this reason the old proverb, necessity is the mother of invention rings true once again!
A couple of years ago when I was invited to become an official Hatch Reseller, I was so excited to share a true Wilcom platform with the home embroidery market. Then I remembered how in the old days I used to create ESA files and realized the opportunity of sharing ESA technology within the home market.
There are many different types of embroidery fonts out there. Generally speaking, unless you’re using a software brand that can run ESA fonts, the fonts that come pre-loaded in your embroidery software or machine will give you better results over buying additional fonts to add to your software (especially if these additional fonts are TrueType or BX fonts).
Now if you’re a “fonty” person, do a lot of monogramming or just want cleaner crisper lettering, ESA font technology is a real game changer. ESA fonts are extremely customizable and go far beyond the limitations of other font types available.
The best part is if you’ve never tried ESA fonts YOU GET A CHANCE TO PLAY! Not only can you try afree full featured 30-Day Hatch trial (click here), but you can also play with the 101 ESA fonts that’ll come built into the software with your free trial!
With regards to anything embroidery related the proof is always in the stitching 🙂
Winning 30 commercial digitizing awards, John Deer has been the most awarded embroidery digitizer in the world for over two decades now. As a 4th generation embroiderer, John has an incredibly unique history in the embroidery digitizing industry as he is the last remaining Schiffli Master Digitizer still alive and teaching in North America. John learned and apprenticed under Swiss Schiffli Master Digitizers (then known as “punchers”) over 30 years ago in his grandparents’ factory, before computers even entered the digitizing world. John has run 2 commercial embroidery factories, owned one of the world’s largest production digitizing houses, wrote the book “Digitizing Made Easy” (which has sold over 44,300 copies), and coached 100,000+ home and commercial embroiderers globally.