What Every Embroiderer Should Know about Contract Digitizers

A properly digitized design is the foundation of the embroidery process; whether a company is digitizing in-house or is out sourcing this service it is the single most important step in promoting both quality and profits. Most newcomers to the industry purchase embroidery equipment and digitizing software at the same time. In my opinion, many end up purchasing levels of software that they wont be ready for, for some time. What’s not realized is that although both ends of the industry are closely are intertwined, they are in fact completely separate learning curve is involved with both.

leopard digitized

The learning curve with mastering the embroidery process is the first hurtle to be crossed.
As most soon find out it can take many months if not years before one feels completely comfortable with all the variables that go along with it. It’s not as simple as one first perceives; you’ve got to learn about threads, needles, backings, toppings, hooping techniques, fabrics types, different applications and so on. That in itself, is enough to make your head spin for a couple months. Adding full scale digitizing and expecting to use it right off the bat is only a recipe for disaster. Most who do, get very frustrated and end up putting their digitizing software on the shelf, so to speak.

That’s where finding a good digitizer is a must, right off the bat your finished product should look as if you’ve been in the industry for years. And you’ll also end up reducing the amount of damaged and poor quality products produced, which when you’re starting out can quickly affect your bottom line. The single biggest attribute with using a quality digitizer is the theory that can be learned by simply watching how the designs run. The digitizing process in reality is actually quite simple if you have the right foundation. It basically consists of utilizing the proper mapping, density and underlay techniques for the given design and application. Even though it is very repetitive in nature, with the amount of variables involved, it is a skill that simply takes time and patience to master. It has long been said that some of the best digitizers had their beginnings as machine operators; with years of watching a machine they learn how designs and garments react, and when they do take that step into digitizing they have the benefit of thinking in stitches and not just in graphics and software.

What you should be looking for in a contract digitizer is quite simple; someone who gives you consistent quality, convenience and who meets your delivery requirement at a price point you’re comfortable with. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it! But finding an individual or firm that meets all these criteria is usually a hit and miss game. So the best advice I can give is shop around and ask a lot of questions before making a decision.

The first question I would ask is the credentials of the person or firm. How long have they been digitizing for and their background in the industry? If they have more than one digitizer on staff ask about their training methods and the level of experience their employees have. Countless times people asked me, “ok, if I start using you guys, can I make sure you personally are the one digitizing all my designs?” The answer is always no, however a digitizing firm that operates properly will train their apprentices to use the same methods that built its reputation in the first place. The work should be consistent no matter who digitized it. Asking for test files is a good practice, keep in mind that these files you receive will more than likely be flawless. Consistency, once you’ve started using them, is the real determining factor.

Convenience is obviously very important and falls into many different levels. First, is there a good administrative department in place with quick response times, toll free numbers and on-line order and quote forms to assist you? And for the most part, are potential issues regarding the producing of the design addressed at the time of placing your order. There is nothing worse than getting “that call” the day the order’s due, with problems or revisions that should have been taken care of in the first place! Second, is there an in-house art department that gives practical solutions in assessing your designs? We all know that most printed graphics need to be changed and revised to some extent when being transformed into embroidery. Asking policies for acceptable art formats and when reproduction costs may apply will eliminate any surprises down the road. The company should have its art department or digitizers assess potential problems regarding the artwork at the quotation level, not after the orders have been placed! And thirdly, are the digitizers accessible to answer questions regarding digitizing, production and editing issues. A well-trained digitizer will have a wealth of experience relating to design and production issues. One of our in-house policies has always been; we not only try to better educate our customers in regards to our digitizing services but also assist with other production related issues; if they are more proficient and profitable then so are we.

As time goes on, I’ve notice more emphasis on delivery over years past. When I first started out my standard delivery was 5-7 business days and customers accepted that as the industry standard. Now standard delivery for most firms I’m familiar with is around 3-4 business days. And many firms offer same day and 1 days services as well. It’s quite obvious our business has changed, but it really doesn’t differ from any other aspect of today’s society; our customers want it yesterday and it’s our job to comply. My grandmother who started in the Schiffli industry in the 50’s frequently reminds me that in her day 6-8 weeks was the expected norm in the industry and that she’s glad to be long retired. Point is, now more than ever, reliability with your digitizers’ ability to meet your delivery requirements is a must. Production schedules are usually prepared on the basis of when you are expecting your completed designs and deliveries and more importantly, your reputation depends on it!

The next one is what we call in-house the “Oops” factor; let’s face it, nobody’s perfect. Even if you’re using the best digitizer in the world there will still be certain circumstances and situations when editing will be required after the finished design has been sent. A good digitizer will drop everything to make sure that the problem is rectified quickly. Most times when these types of problems occur it is when you are at the production stage and your machine is left standing. Your digitizers’ job is to fix your problem within minutes so as to not lose much production time. At this point,you should feel as if your digitizer is as accessible as your own staff.

As far as pricing goes this is you up to you to determine what you perceive as a good value. The reason I say this is that you can have one person where price point is everything. It doesn’t matter if the quality is poor or if the designs aren’t production friendly, as long as it’s cheap they’re happy. I feel there is a misconception in the industry that if you are considered good, then you must be really expensive. Most of those in the industry whom I would consider to be the best in their field have adjusted their pricing along the way and are in fact very competitive as a whole. Always remember; a well-digitized design will always increase your production and profits.