As the world’s most awarded embroidery digitizer, I’ve had literally tens of thousands of people ask me: what is embroidery digitizing? Although the answer to this can be rather complex, in the very simplest of forms:

Embroidery digitizing is tracing artwork with stitches using embroidery software to turn it into embroidery design files to run on your embroidery machine.

what is embroidery digitizing

In terms of machine embroidery, digitizing is transforming pre-existing artwork into an embroidery design file that can run on your embroidery machine, by applying stitches to that artwork in your embroidery software. In other words, embroidery digitizing is using embroidery software to create a machine embroidery design file with a series of commands that tell your embroidery machine how to stitch out that design.

Although the explanation above is rather simple, I assure you that there is a lot more to embroidery digitizing than meets the eye. Embroidery digitizing is like painting with stitches, and just like painting, certain rules apply. Digitizing is all about the physical attributes of machine embroidery and learning how to use digitizing software to get the results you want. Choosing the appropriate stitch type & stitch directions is where the real learning curve is involved.

If you own an embroidery machine or want to learn more about embroidery digitizing, I highly suggest you check out our fan-favorite Free Embroidery Digitizing 101: Video Course & Cheat Sheet. Not only will this course teach you the basics of how to create & edit your own designs, it will also  give you a foundation of embroidery digitizing theory that EVERY embroidery should know because it’ll help you understand designs & what’s really happening underneath your needle.

What All Can I Digitize?

This is where the real fun is involved.

You can digitize just about any piece of artwork or image imaginable to turn it into your own custom embroidery design!

Whether it be your children’s drawings, a company’s logo, or an image you found on the internet, chances are you can digitize it.

In fact, when I owned and ran one of the world’s largest production digitizing houses, I started seeing everyday objects in stitches and thinking about how I would digitize them. For example, I would look at a matchbox and map out how I would digitize the logo on it.

Now keep in mind, there are some limitations in place. Unlike printing something, machine embroidery has more limitations in place given we are dealing with physical mediums like thread and fabric. That said, you couldn’t digitize the Mona Lisa onto a 2-inch patch and expect the same level of detail.

Do I Need To Be Artistic To Digitize?

you don't have to be an artist to digitize embroidery

Another question I often get, is, “do I have to be artistic to digitize my own embroidery designs?”. The answer to this is:

No, you don’t have to be artistic to become a digitizer.

Remember that as long as you know the basic rules surrounding it, digitizing is like tracing but with stitches. I can barely draw a stick figure myself, yet I’ve won over 30 awards for digitizing in the commercial industry and have done work for thousands of large corporations. Although I’m not an artist, I would certainly consider myself ‘creative’. You can be a very creative person and still not be an artist. Every machine embroidery hobbyist I’ve met I would consider to be creative. This means that you’re just as qualified to become a digitizer as anyone else!

How Long Does It Take To Learn Embroidery Digitizing?

This is another question I get quite often. In my opinion, this is a bit of a loaded question. If I were to tell you it took a few weeks, but you only practiced 5 minutes every week, I would most certainly be lying to you as you wouldn’t have invested a significant amount of time. Like almost anything in life, the answer to this really depends on the question:

How much time are you willing to invest?

Like any other hobby, the amount of proper instruction & the positive results you experience will directly reflect the amount of interest you have in learning. Things like underlay stitches, understanding the three basic stitch types (running, satin & fill), push & pull compensation, and density are all key aspects that must be considered when learning how to transform artwork into an embroidery design.

I understand that some of these words (or all of them) might be new to you and seem foreign. The main thing to remember is that much like painting, digitizing is an art form that simply requires patience and, of course, a guiding hand from the right instructor. If creating or editing your own custom embroidery designs is something you’re interested in, this is where my online interactive digitizing education will prove an invaluable resource for you. Having over 10,000 students take my online interactive lessons with proven results, I’m happy to say that we guarantee that we can get you past the learning curve quickly & easily or your money back.

Which Embroidery Digitizing Software Should I Use?

Ok, so we’ve established that you can digitize almost any image, you don’t have to be artistic to digitize, and that like anything worth pursuing, it takes time and determination to learn.

The next piece of the puzzle is which software you should use to digitize? To properly answer this question, I highly suggest you check out my other blog article, “what is the best embroidery digitizing software”?

It breaks down some of the key factors you should consider while looking into digitizing software.

Hatch Embroidery Digitizing Software

However, for now, I would suggest you download a free 30-day trial of Hatch embroidery software through us (we’ll even throw in some bonuses) to make sure digitizing is something you’d like to pursue before you financially invest in it.

Embroidery Digitizing Is Not New (Sort of)

Although embroidery software is new and constantly evolving, the age-old rules of how thread interacts with fabric are not. In fact, they’re thousands of years old!

Now keep in mind that machine embroidery (compared to hand embroidery) is still somewhat new, starting in the nineteenth century. But still, contrary to popular belief, embroidery digitizing didn’t start with computers.

No, machine embroidery used to be done on Schiffli looms that were 10-15 yards long and produced hundreds of pieces at a time. These machines were operated by Schiffli master digitizers who manually commanded and traced each stitch in live time (each master apprenticed for 10 years to learn their trade)!

Schiffli Embroidery Machine & Digitizer

I’m proud to say that as far I know, I am the last Schiffli master digitizer still alive and teaching in North America. I apprenticed at the age of 17 under Swiss Schfilli master digitizer in my grandparent’s embroidery factory and actually did learn how to digitize the old-school way on the 1920’s Schiffli loom machine shown in the picture above (I know most of you know my story, so I’ll stop it there).

The point I’m trying to make is that although these days software makes things A LOT easier by putting most of the digitizing process on “autopilot” for you, embroidery is an artform dealing with the physical mediums of thread and fabric which are governed by rules. Because of this, there is some basic embroidery theory that every embroiderer should learn to really understand how embroidery designs are created and how to get the best results, even if you don’t want to learn how to fully digitize (more on this below)!

I Want To Try Digitizing. Where Do I Start?

Embroidery Digitizing 101

Hopefully, now you can see that digitizing is comprised of 2 parts. Theory and software. Owning only software is kind of like using a calculator, if you don’t know how to add or subtract (theory), the calculator won’t do you much good.

Because of this, I would highly suggest you check out our free Embroidery Digitizing 101: Cheat Sheet video course by clicking here. Whether you’re new or a more experienced digitizer, this course covers some essential theories that EVERY embroidered should know, including:

  • What goes into creating designs with some basic digitizing theory
  • The layout of any design with the 3 main stitch types
  • How to hold your designs securely in place with underlay
  • Avoiding stiff bullet proof designs with density
  • Making sure designs line up properly with registration
  • How to avoid jumps & trims with mapping
  • Sew much more

Another great place to start if you don’t yet own embroidery digitizing software is with a free trial. I would highly suggest you try it first see if it’s something you’re interested in before moving forward & purchasing.

For that reason, as I mentioned above, I highly suggest you download a free 30-day trial of Hatch through us today by clicking here. By doing so, you’ll also receive access to our Embroidery Digitizing Made Easy Challenge. In this free Challenge, you’ll follow alongside me in 7 bite-sized video lessons and create 6 designs yourself from start to finish! This Challenge is a free way to challenge yourself and try embroidery digitizing if you never have before.

Conclusion: Is Embroidery Digitizing For You?

Embroidery digitizing example
Embroidery digitizing finished results

The thing about embroidery digitizing is that it’s like olives… some people really like it, some people really don’t. Either way is fine! I realize that digitizing is not for everyone; it’s either you love it or hate it.

So is embroidery digitizing for you? Well, there’s only one way to find out…

Before you invest any money in digitizing software, I highly suggest you download the 30-day free trial of Hatch embroidery software through us here at Embroidery Legacy by clicking here to see if digitizing is something you’d like to move forward with. I’m even sweetening the pot & throwing in some free digitizing lessons (with artwork you can load in) so you get the full digitizing experience.

Or, at the very least, enroll in our free Embroidery Digitizing 101: Cheat Sheet video course. Whether you want to digitize or not, the theory you’ll learn will help improve every aspect of your embroidery…

… Plus, both options are 100% free! What do you have to lose? We’re honored to be a part of your Embroidery Legacy. Happy stitching!

If you enjoyed this article or have a question, please feel free to comment below now.