Digitizing your own Embroidery Designs Part 1

Digitizing your own Embroidery Designs Part 1: How to get a usable graphic image ready to digitize.

(Updated: June 13th, 2015)

Happy Fall Everyone! I thought I would give all my lovely readers something great to start Fall, the 1st of October (my favorite month) and the weekend with, so without further ado, here it is!

Before I start talking about the software used to digitize your own designs, and how to go about digitizing on your own, I need to talk about the first step in the process.

And that step is to first get the artwork you want to use, and then making it usable to be digitized.

This is the most important step in the process, and if you do it correctly it will usually take the most time.

The hardest part of the whole process is getting good artwork and tweaking it so that you will have no problems digitizing it using your choice of software later on.

If you don’t do this step first your end results will most often end in frustration and disaster.

I can not stress this point enough, if you don’t spend the time now getting your artwork in good shape before digitizing, you will spend hours and hours later trying to fix it.

Please don’t try to use badly photographed or the lowest resolution clip art that you have downloaded off of some website somewhere on the internet that is no larger than a postage stamp, you won’t like your finished results.

Try to make sure your artwork is clean and in a medium to high-resolution format. I usually like to start with something at least in the 300×300 pixel size range. Of course if you have some camera ready artwork of 1200+ pixels in size you should be in great shape and you should get some excellent results without too much tweaking.

ALWAYS REMEMBER! The lower the resolution of the item you are trying to digitize is, the more work you will have to do up front in a graphic editor getting it ready to digitize.

Of course you don’t need to have great camera ready artwork to start with. If you have a simple idea of what you want, you can just sit down with a piece of blank white paper and sketch out a simple design of what you are trying to create. I’m no artist, so I usually try to use something that has already been drawn by someone else and go from there. But if you cannot do that, just sketch something simple onto a piece of plain white paper and either scan it in or take a photograph of your sketch to get it into your computer to get started on the process of cleaning up the bitmapped graphic before you begin the digitizing part.

Here are a few photos to show you what I am talking about in the good art department.


To the left is an original photo I found on the internet somewhere. I really wanted to use the Indy Mickey graphic for an embroidery design but I didn’t want to use the background since it is very complicated and it wouldn’t embroider well.

The first thing I did was extract Mickey from the background graphic. I won’t be describing the exact process or software I used to do this since almost any graphics editing software can do this process of snapping out an object from the background of a photo. Do a search on the internet for ‘remove a background from a photo’ and you will find several great articles and tools on how to do this.

Of course the most common graphics editors used to do this type of work are Adobe’s Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. They are great tools to use for this. But there are many others that are very usable and are available for very little money or for free in shareware and freeware tools.


Now once you have the graphic that you want extracted from the background you should have something that looks like Image 1 below.image-1-2-3This is a good start, but it still needs to be edited by hand a little more to remove more detail before going any further.

This next step is a very important one too.

On most designs you will want to have a heavy black edge around the entire design to help with digitizing later on.

So if you look closely at Image 2 you can see how I traced around all of the lighter lines around the border and the light grey colored areas to make them thick dark black lines and curves.

This little bit of editing here will give you a nice dark satin stitch around the border of your design once we the design digitized.

Here is my edited image a little further on in the process.

image-4In Images 3 and 4 I am getting really close to the final bitmapped image that I will put into my digitizing software.

You will notice that I have continued to edit the graphic until I have changed the hair and teeth on the golden idol to more solid colors rather than the individual fine lines that the original graphic had. I’ve also simplified the shoe strings and shadows on the shoes since at smaller sizes these would end up being unrecognizable blobs of knotted up thread on your embroidery machine once it was stitched out.

And you don’t want that.

It’s a mess!

In Image 4 you can see that I changed some of the colors in the graphic to other colors that already exist in the graphics design to reduce the number of thread colors I would need to use when digitizing the graphic.

The fewer colors you have  in your bitmapped graphic once it has been tweaked, the easier it will be to get a good digitized embroidery design in the end.

When embroidering something on a machine that needs to punch thousands and thousands of holes using a needle into a very small area, fewer colors means fewer punches.

The fewer the punches that are needed, the happier you will be with your end results.

Luckily for you, most graphic editing software tools have a great feature that will reduce the amount of available colors in a graphic image easily or automatically for you by using color averaging.

It’s best to reduce the image you are working with to 256 colors or less before trying to digitize it.

I usually prefer to stick with under 16 colors in my embroidery designs. 8 is better still.

Sometimes you do need more colors than that to make your design work though, and that is ok too.

It just won’t be as sharp and precise of a design in the end.

Well I hope that gives you a pretty good idea on how to get your original ideas, concepts and designs into your computer and get them into a condition that will work well for digitizing.

The next step will be to get that graphic into your embroidery software and finishing the touching up and final digitizing of the design.

I will cover that in my next how to: Digitizing your own Embroidery Designs Part 2.

Part 2 of this series is HERE, Part 3 of this series is HERE.

23 thoughts on “Digitizing your own Embroidery Designs Part 1

  1. Wow! Thanks for the comment. I didn’t think anyone cared to read the first part. At least according to my site statistics, and the lack of comments so I was in no hurry to get the second one posted. Hopefully after the holidays I will have a good 6 or 8 hours with nothing pressing to do and I can get the second part written up and posted.

  2. Great to hear you’ll write more soon! I thought it was a great post and I’ve been hoping you’d do more. I’ll be watching for part 2 🙂 Thanks! By the way, what software are you using for digitizing? Embird? If I know beforehand I can get to know the program a bit before your next post on digitizing.

    • I use Bernina Artista as my main embroidery software and to do my digitizing. I will go over why I use it versus any other software in the future articles. I do have Embird for viewing but I generally use Buzz Tools BuzzXplore for viewing and simple converting between formats.

  3. I am very interested in getting this program but I have found it very hard to find and it seems very expensive. Can you suggest a much cheaper program that I can use on my mac that gives me some of the capabilities Bernina Artista does?

    • You can use Brother’s PE-Design software which is much less expensive or even Embird which is less than the Brother software.

  4. Wonderful information….all makes sense. I work in PSE. I also have a Mac…which is great and of course, not so great, as you described in finding a user friendly program to digitize.

  5. I have found this really interesting. I have PE design 6 and have recently been looking for alternative software that will move me on a little – I am not yet attempting digitising! I have been looking at Embrilliance Essentials (together with their AlphaTricks and Thumbnailer). I am really struggling to see if Essentials actually does anymore than my PE design software – or if it does it better, faster and in a more user friendly way. With Essentials, would I just be buying what I already have? Can you advise please? I live in the UK and most of these software programmes are not available to try, in the shops.
    By the way, thank you – I have bookmarked this and your other articles.

    • No, I do not think you would be any more happier with Embrilliance than you are with PE-Design. You might want to look at the update to PE-Design NEXT 9.xx though as it added some great improvements from PE-Design 5-8 and some added functionality in each newer version. You can download a 30 day demo from Brother’s website so why not give it a try and let me know what you think.

      As I mentioned several times in my series of embroidering articles, there is professional grade software and home sewer grade software. They are very different beast’s and if you need the professional software (i.e. you are *NOT* a home sewer and instead are looking for something more for commercial applications) then that is probably what you should move up to. Keeping in mind of course that you are looking at around $5000.00 USD and a huge learning curve to get started in that world.

      If you don’t need the professional grade stuff though I have found the less expensive home sewer embroidery software packages work well enough and usually just need some extra coaxing to get them to do what you want them to do. You just need to learn their limitations and learn to work around them.

    • Hello and thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I would say I am more of an home sewer than professional. Also, I am 65 so it is a little late for learning ‘new tricks’! As I said, I live in the UK and trying the various software isn’t really an option. I think I will look again at PE design 7 or design plus – I have been told I can probably get this as an upgrade.

      Once again, thank you for your time and trouble – keep up the good work. Regards Angela

    • Yes I agree with you.

      It is nice that some of the software providers have a 30 day downloadable demo for their embroidery software like Brother does, but most do not so unless you can find a shop that has what you are looking for and so it makes it difficult to shop and compare.

      Early on in my sewing days I had a couple of great shops that I visited weekly for awhile to try out all of the different options to see what worked best for me. I no longer have that option either though, as I have moved away from where they were at and I cannot seem to find anything like them near where I currently live.

    • Well, you have prompted me to give the demo’s a try before I buy anything else. I usually avoid doing so because I don’t want pestering to buy the full version. However, this will be balanced out if I manage to get the right thing, first time. One thing that really does bug me about a lot of the software is that, it can only be installed/used on one PC. Or, like Brother’s software, you have to use a dongle. I work on three pc’s – one of them in my sewing room, at the end of the garden. It is too far away from my router to connect to the internet and it is a real pain if I get back in the house, only to find I haven’t brought the dongle in with me! I just think, I have purchased this very expensive software but I can’t use it the way I want to. Why, I have purchased it quite legitimately – it belongs to me. I must say, this does influence what I purchase, quite considerably. Sorry but that is my pet hate! Thanks again. Angela

  6. Sure gave me a lot to think about. I am right now looking for an embroidery sewing machine. Right now it’s between Brother and Pfaff and i’m leaning more towards Brother V5 . I live in the Netherlands so this is been a very hard choice. And I’m very confused about the graphics. I did want to make my own. Now I’m told I have to get a program. It’s all a little overwhelming. On top of that trying to do it in another country.

  7. Think I’m going for the Brother V5. It’s like the coin is in the air and came out V5 lol. I want to do my own logo being we have a restaurant. So looking into the one you use. It’s hard because I live in the Netherlands. Not much help here for me so your blog is great. Do you know and one that has supplies in Europe? Shipping from the US would be high. Hope I’m making the right choice with the Brother V5. They are not much help here. It’s like they don’t want the sale. Being that no classes it would be great to have a class on YouTube. Or even Skype. Thanks again.

    • The Brother V5 looks like a good choice. I might have gone a little less expensive for my starter machine, but I think it will serve you well. You might want to try Amazon for some of your supplies as they offer several different localized european sites and warehouses including in the UK.

      As for classes I have found and watched many, many youtube videos for free on many types of techniques I was trying to learn and they have worked out well. I sometimes have to watch more than one video telling me how to do the same thing before I catch on, but for free I am ok with that.

  8. Pingback: A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… | Sew Forth and Sew On

  9. Hi there! I’m happy to have found your site today. I read that you use Bernina’s artista software on your brother machine. Will this work on any brother machine. I just bought a brother Innov-IS 6000D and would love to create my own designs. Can you recommend the best and least expensive “Create your own” design software I can get for my machine. I would really appreciate it.

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