Over the last few years, corporate logos seem to have become more and more graphically intense. Corporate logos are being created with the expressed purpose of promoting the visual appearance of printed matter and signage. Our problem begins with the fact that when you’re dealing with needle and thread in comparison with all other graphics-related industries, we need to deal with limitations that don’t apply to anybody else. Logos have especially become more graphically intense with the use of color blending and variegation. When dealing with large oversized designs the success of interpreting these applications is much easier to deal with; the tricky part starts when we are called upon to interpret these applications on designs that need to be placed on the front of a baseball cap. Over the last couple years in-house, we have seen an enormous increase in our daily orders that are requesting these techniques.

Blending and variegation can be broken down into many different levels depending not only on the artwork but also on the applications and the software functions you may or may not have.

The first of these would be the technique of manual blending. (fig.1) This is basically the use of placing manual stitches in a random fashion to replicate your artwork. This is notably more time consuming and it helps if you have a bit of an artistic flair.

Embroidery Color Blending Example 1

Fig. 1

Blending is typically used in conjunction with regular fill stitches of different colors; using first a regular fill density for your base color and then a looser density running on top of the first in the same direction. Making sure that all your stitches run in the same direction is the main thing to look for; the fills will sink into each other giving a softer blending of both colors. This technique can be used very quickly to give the illusion of depth and the reflection of light while using the regular fill tools available on all systems. (fig.2) You can also take it a step further by increasing and decreasing the density values while using the same colors in your design. This was the case while digitizing this flower design. (fig.3)

Embroidery Color Blending Example 2 Fig. 2

Embroidery Color Blending Example 3

Fig. 3

Achieving a realistic variegated effect can be as easy as clicking a button if these functions are available on your software. Within some systems you can purchase these functions independently or upgrade to a level that does provide this utility. If I were to choose to purchase any of the “bells and whistles” that are available within some of the higher levels of today’s software, this one would probably be one of the most practical. Here are some examples of some standard variegated effects that are created at the click of a button. (fig.4)

Embroidery Color Blending Example 4

Fig. 4

There are always ways to cheat the system though, so if you don’t have the variegated effects tools within your software, don’t despair. It is very easy to replicate this function by using your drawing tools and running stitches. First thing you need to do is digitize your base color with a standard value fill. Then digitize your second color using the same values to the point that the two colors meet. This is where your drawing tools come in; if your fill density value is at, say, .35mm, you’ll need to start your variegation at about .45mm and span to about 2.00 mm. At this point, depending on the area that needs to be variegated you will draw your lines fanning out between the two density values. (fig.5) After your lines have been drawn, use your running stitch tool and set your stitch length to the same length as your fill stitch. Then simply follow the path of your drawn lines. (fig.6)

Embroidery Color Blending Example 5

Fig. 5

Embroidery Color Blending Example 6

Fig. 6

As always with embroidery color selection is everything; when blending groups of colors as in the “Fit to Stitch” design, (fig.7) they are all spectrally friendly. Especially when doing variegation on lettering, choosing color groups that flow together will be what sells the design. If you use colors that clash with each other the blending effect can be totally lost.   

Embroidery Color Blending Example 7

Fig. 7

The biggest problem we’ve encountered with trying to achieve variegation and blending on smaller left chest and hat designs, is trying to make these areas look as clean as possible. If you’ve already digitized small areas with these effects you might have noticed that no matter how hard you try, it always ends up having an unfinished and jagged look to it. (fig.8) If you’re blending multiple colors on top of each other, the change of densities as they are applied can easily make what is suppose to be a straight or curved line lose its shape and appear jagged. Our solution to this problem has proven itself successful in rectifying both these situations. We will simply add a column stitch around the outside of the object that will be run in the same color as the fabric its being applied to. This gives you a place to hide those rough looking stitches as well as keeps the desired shape intact no matter how busy things get. That perfect circle the customer was expecting won’t end up looking like an egg! (fig.9)

Embroidery Color Blending Example 8

Fig. 8

Embroidery Color Blending Example 9

Fig. 9

As a good policy whenever a noticeable change is made to your customers’ artwork, I wouldn’t just spring this little solution on your customer without first giving them a call and properly explaining the end results.

Finally, as always, I stand behind the statement that, what sets one digitizer apart from the rest is their ability to map a design to its completion while always keeping in mind its run ability in production. Someone can digitize the most beautiful design in the world but if it doesn’t run well then, it’s worthless. This “Empire Theatres” logo is an example that encases both variegation and blending. But also, encompasses a lot of elements that would appear difficult when trying to path a design properly, keeping registration of the colors intact and not distorting the shape of the oval. Here is a point-by-point run down of the sequence of colors digitized. (fig.10&11)

Embroidery Color Blending Example 10

Fig. 10

Embroidery Color Blending Example 11

Fig. 11

  1. Gold fill for film digitized vertically.
  2. White and Blue variegation digitized traveling without any jumps.
  3. Purple film tracks digitized, walking into fill direction to avoid jumps.
  4. Royal Blue oval digitized horizontally.
  5. Purple blending to show reflection of light and column around oval.
  6. White highlight and thin columns around film.


The sample is the result of the first sew-off and no further editing was required. With proper mapping and thinking of creative ways to hide those messy stitches, the proper use of blending and variegation will set you apart from your competition.

P.S. Want to learn how to blend thread colors like paint and have John Deer walk you through digitizing an artistic merit embroidery design? If so, our first-ever advanced digitizing lesson is for you! It will go into more depth than this article and help you take your embroidery digitizing to the next level. Click here to learn more now.