- 1 Introduction
- 2 Consumer embroidery machines
- 3 Software and formats for embroidery
- 3.1 Introduction
- 3.2 Features of home user embroidery software
- 3.3 Free digitizer and design tools
- 3.4 Commercial digitizing and design tools
- 3.5 High-end home user and entry-level industrial suites
- 3.6 Free converter tools and other utilities
- 3.7 Commercial converters, resizers, etc.
- 3.8 Thread colors
- 3.9 File formats
- 4 Links
- 5 Bibliography and journals
Computer-controlled embroidery also called machine embroidery is a kind of Computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM). We shall introduce some (1) basic principles, (2) existing hardware and (3) existing software and also include some information about computer-controlled sewing. More technical information about computerized embroidery is available in other articles available indexed in the computerized embroidery category.
- Fab lab, an introduction to end user-created design and fabrication (including a description of many other types of computer-controlled machinery)
- Computerized embroidery in education
- Stitch Era embroidery software, a partial "how to" guide to this free embroidery software suite, split over several articles, e.g.
- Concepts of computerized embroidery (rough draft as of May 22, planned as a short lexicon)
- Elna 8300, the embroidery-only model we bought in may 2011.
Professional Computerized embroidery machines are specialized machines that can create embroidery from computerized designs. Such machines exist for the home market, for the small independent professional and for mass production. Many home sewing machines can be turned into an embroidery machine by adding a hardware module. Many modern sewing machines (including the ones for the home market) can be computer-controlled and are also known as computerized sewing machines. Good sewing machines can sew, embroider and quilt. I.e. you get three machines in one.
Design software exists in various form, either as special-purpose tools for various design stages or as complete design suites. Embroidery designs can be stored in a multitude of proprietary file formats and are now often sold over the Internet. Free designs files are difficult to find, i.e. few are available under an open "source" licence. Converter software between various file formats exists, however depending on your sewing machine you will have to make an effort for finding the right tool.
Let's now have a look at hardware-software interaction. We probably can distinguish between the following kinds of models with respect to computer control of the embroidery machine:
- computer-controlled (directly from a computer). These exist in industry.
- computer-controlled (via file upload, i.e. specific firmware in the machine will read a proprietary CNC file and execute it). That's the solution existing in mid and high-end home machines (in the $500 to $10000 range). A good model (like a Swiss Bernina that can both sew and stitch will cost around CHF 3000.-). Entry-level computerized embroidery-only machines are not as frequent and a bit cheaper.
- Computer-powered, i.e. the machine will have more than a single motor and stuff is synchronized with a computer instead of complex mechanics. Typically, low and mid-end home sewing machines. These machines cannot execute sewing or embroidery design files.
In computer-powered or computer-controlled home sewing machines, “the computer directly controls several different motors, which precisely move the needle bar, the tensioning discs, the feed dog and other elements in the machine. [...] The computer drives the motors at just the right speed to move the needle bar up and down and from side to side in a particular stitch pattern. Typically, the computer programs for different stitches are stored in removable memory disks or cartridges. The sewing-machine computer may also hook up to a PC in order to download patterns directly from the Internet. Some electronic sewing machines also have the ability to create complex embroidery patterns. These machines have a motorized work area that holds the fabric in place underneath the needle assembly. They also have a series of sensors that tell the computer how all of the machine components are positioned. [...] The sewer simply loads a pattern from memory or creates an original one, and the computer does almost everything else.” Computerized Sewing Machines, retrieved 13:07, 15 April 2011 (CEST). With that kind of machines, a user can focus on design and the needs to learn how to interpret orders from machine like replacing the threads.
It can be argued that computer-controlled embroidery machines are older than computers, i.e. models made between the two WWs used punched paper ribbons for control. Machines that were controlled in real-time by a "puncher" through a pantographs have been invented at the end of the 19th century.
According to Wikipedia and other sources, the first modern day computer controlled sewing machine was built by Orisol in 1987 for making shoes, i.e. much later than embroidery machines.
More or less according to Wikipedia, the basic steps for creating an embroidery are as follows:
- Get or create a digitized embroidery design file preferably in some kind of editable format. Typical formats are .emb, .exe, .dst, .cnd and .fdr.
- Edit the design and/or combine with other designs (optional)
- Translate to machine executable code, i.e. a stitch file (this is optional if the original format is already machine-readable). Typical formats are .art, .pes, .jef, .sew and .hus (see below)
- Load the final design file into the embroidery machine
- Stabilize the fabric and place it in the machine
- Start and monitor the embroidery machine
Creating a digitized embroidery file itself includes at least two steps:
- Create a drawing in a format that will remain editable. Some software also allows to import bitmap and vector formats which then can be translated (with some manual intervention).
- Then digitize (translate, punch) to a (preferably) editable stitching format. A stitchable design includes embroidery-specific information like stitches and thread color. However good formats define stitching lines and fills (columns and areas) that are parameterized with stitching information such as the filling patterns, density, stitch density etc. Professional digitizing is difficult. Non-professional lower quality digitizing is fairly easy with good software (I learned in a few days...).
- If needed, translate an editable stitch file to a machine-specific format.
Specialized low-end software does this in two steps. Get a drawing or picture. It first will be vectorized (you may have to assist with that as in any other bitmap tracer). You then can have it auto-digitized. Either in the middle of this process (after vectorizing, better) or after that (limited resizing), you then also can resize, combine, rotate, etc.
2 Consumer embroidery machines
- Criteria for selecting an embroidery machine
- Overall mechanical quality, in particular reliability and precision.
- Hoop-size (frames for the embroidery area) is critical. 14x20 cm is expected for mid-level machine and many folks consider this as a must-have minimum. So-called Jumbo hoops (e.g. 40x26cm) exist on high end sewing/embroidery machines and multi-needle models. There also exist a third-party market for hoops. However, on some machines, jumbo hoops are difficult to use since designs must be split so that the hoop can be turned around. Finally, one also needs a tiny hoop (free arm hoop) for embroidering on tight places
- Stitches / minute (SPM). Should be at least 500. Typical range is between 400 and 1000, e.g. a Elna 8300 can do 750/minute.
- Built-in fonts, patterns and designs may make a difference to people who prefer designing on the machine (as opposed to using a software on PC).
- Needle threader (helps putting the thread into the needle or does it without assistance)
- Thread cutter
- Support for standard USB flash drives (keys) and direct PC link
- User interface quality and functionalities. It should allow for simple editing like translation, rotation, resizing, time/stitch counting, design tracing of a design.
- Free (or cheap) software
- Slide speed control
- Automatic detection of fabric and thread tension regulation
- Sensors that will tell you if something went wrong, in particular broken threads.
- Dealer support and pricing
2.1 Kinds of machines
As of April 2011. Information below can change rapidly and we may not update !
With respect to sewing and embroidery functionality we could distinguish four kinds of machines:
- Sewing machines only (not discussed here)
- Sewing machines with an embroidery module or combined sewing/embroidery machines
- Single-needle embroidery (only) machines
- Multi-needle embroidery machines
- Entry and mid-level pure embroidery machines
Mid-level machines work fine, but you have to change threads a lot and finishing (e.g. removing jump stitches) requires more work. Also, precision will not be the same. Entry-level machines usually have smaller stitching areas, smaller and simpler interfaces, and probably not as good mechanics.
A typical example (as of spring 2011) of a lower mid-level embroidery-only machine is the Brother Innov-is NV 750E. It costs about CHF 1500 or € 1100 (only about $800 in the US) and has a 18x13cm embroidery area (hoop). At the time of writing this model may probably offer the best feature for money ratio. I have no idea if stitching quality is good enough.
Another popular example is the Elna 8300 and it comes with a standard 12.6x11cm hoop and a larger hoop of 20x14 cm. The Janome MC 350 E is almost identical. Both cost between € 1400 and 1600, i.e. about US $2000. We paid our Elna, CHF 2300 in a Geneva shop and we didn't get any educational rebate...
There are also cheaper models, however you may not find these in some countries. Low-end machines are often not sold in sewing shops, but in supermarkets and other mass let-outs. Good models seem to be the Brother Innov-is 90E (about € 600), the Brother PE-770 (at $670 on sale) or the Janome MC200E ($900). Even cheaper would be a Brother SE400 sewing/embroidery machine ($400). If you are low on budget, look out for special deals for end of series models.
Most higher mid-level embroidery machines are also sewing machine (see next item). It seems that they don't offer better precision, but are more expensive because of the sewing functionality.
- Lower and higher Mid-level sewing/embroidery machines
The choice for mid-level combi machines is enormous. There are differences in features and large differences in prices. I wonder, whether the difference in price doesn't reflect better mechanics but rather the better built-in LCD panel and software. Someone like me would not necessarily need that kind of on-board control, since we feel comfortable doing everything with a computer.
For example, a Brother sewing/embroidery Innov-is 1500 with a 26x16cm hoop and a large LCD costs about 2.499,00 €. The Bernina Aurora 450 sewing machine plus embroidery module costs about CHF 3500. The (oval) hoop size is 25.5x14.5cm and the model has a smaller LCD, but probably better mechanics. A Husquarna Topaz 20 includes a large hoop of 36x20cm and costs about € 1800 and the Topaz 30 is about € 2200.
A higher mid-level machine would have a larger color screen, more stitches, more built-in software (both functionalities and designs). E.g. a Brother Innov-is 4000 or a Bernina Artista 640 with embroidery module would cost about CHF 6000.
- High end sewing / embroidery machines
A high end-end sewing/embroidery machine like the Bernina 830 or the Brother Quattro (same as Innovis I in Europe?) are in the CHF 8-10000 price range, e.g. similar as entry-level multi-needle embroidery machines. Some brand's high-end machines are a bit cheaper. e.g. the Elna 9600 "Haute Couture" and the practically identical Janome 11000 are about € 5000. According to one sales person we interviewed, high end machines are not necessarily better in terms of precision than mid-end machines. They just add extra functionality.
These machines feature a very large screen and advanced on-screen editing. Mechanics might be better, but we don't know. The problem that one has to change threads remains. These are probably dream machines for combined sewing/embroidery, but not necessarily for just embroidery. Read on if you plan to get a dream machine.
- Entry level multi-needle embroidery machines
A true entry-level embroidery machine (i.e. a device that has four to six needles) costs around 9-12 K CHF. Street prices seem differ in different countries. E.g. the Brother PR-650 costs Euros 7700 on amazon.de / CHF 11'000 in a Swiss shop / $7500 in the US. A Babylock professional Plus is about $ 10000 in the USA. A Korean SWF/MA-6 is also about $11000.
An 4-needle Elna 9900 is about € 6500.- and the almost identical 4-needle Janome MB-4 about € 5500 to 6000 or US$ 7000.
A ten needle Brother PR-1000 costs about € 9500.- (Amazon germany). In that price range, that's probably the machine to buy as of Jan. 2012.
- Industrial multi-needle embroidery machines
You then could look at simple industrial machines. These are faster, may have more needles and are of course more expensive. An entry level Tajima Neo II is about 14000$. A faster and (probably) more precise Swiss-owned and US-made Melco Amaya Lite is around CHF 12000 (?). The Amaya XTS is around CHF 17000 and the older Melco Bravo costs CHF 11000 / US$ 9000. Prices for that type of machine seem to differ a lot from shop to shop and from country to country.
Machines like the Melco Amaya can do 1500 Stitches/minute, stitch on most materials and don't have any built-in editing screen. Design is entirely done with a computer.
2.2 Listing of embroidery consumer brands
I have no idea which types/brands are best, except that it is always better to buy from a shop nearby that also can repair a device. E.g. in Geneva I would not buy a Brother, since there is no authorized dealer. Please visit sewing / embroidery forums if you need advice from people who got experience. The following list includes most major brands (I believe) and some additional pointers. This section was probably last updated in 2012!
- independant Swiss company Bernina, swiss made
- Also owns the lower-end and cheaper not swiss-made Bernette brand
- Bernina Sewing Machine (Wikipedia)
- Bernina.com (official website)
- mybernette.com (official website of the Bernette line)
- Japanese company
- has two lines, consumer and industrial
- brother.com (official global website) - brother USA - Brothersewing CH ...
- Bother also develops for Baby Lock
- Swiss company (owned by Janome or strong partnership ?)
- Official website
- Husquarna Viking
- owned by SVP Worldwide
- Husquarnaviking.com (official website)
- Japanese company, also seems to create models for various other brands
- Janome (Wikipedia)
- Janome.com (official website)
- owned by Janome
- home-sewing.com (official website)
Some brands are owned by the same company. For example SVP owns Singer, Husquarna and PFAFF and is the world's largest sewing machine company. Sometimes companies share development (for either the mechanical or electronic parts or both) or have an entire model made by another company. Difficult to know who exactly produces what...
2.3 Open source embroidery machines
Opensource embroidery machines do (as of 2015) not exist.
However, some people did build hardware, that you could reproduce. For example, look at this embroidery machine with XY belt and pinion drive built by someone in 2014.
3 Software and formats for embroidery
Disclaimer: So far I didn't see any advanced software and only had a few hours of playtime with a simple digitizer and a few days with an advanced home user software. I may have to go over this again. The reason why I write down technical details about software is that I want be informed before I spend money on software that I won't use a lot anyhow, so it's got to be perfect - Daniel K. Schneider 22:38, 14 May 2011 (CEST).
Roughly speaking, we can distinguish between several types of software, although sometimes the frontiers are blurred.
- Software to create designs for "manual" embroidery
- Vectorizers can translate a bitmap image to vector formats. Vectorizers can be found in typical general purpose drawing software like Illustrator or Inkscape, but also in embroidery software.
- Digitizers can translate a vector format to CNC code or intermediary stitch section representations. It usually also includes a vectorizer. This is mandatory to produce stitch files from images. Some digitizers work automatically (or almost), others give a lot of control to the "puncher". Most offer both possibilities.
- Viewers allow to view files, useful for script generated formats for example)
- Transformers can resize, rotate, (sometimes) change colors, i.e. do some lightweight global editing
- Converters can convert from one format to another. They usually include a viewer and can do transformations.
- Editors can draw designs and sometimes also vectorize. Design parts are usually in some kind of higher-level vector format and can be resized, rotated, moved, etc. Sometimes intermediary stitching areas are used, since they can be annotated with size independent stitching parameters. Finally, editors also should allow to produce stitches in various ways for both fills and strokes. In that respect, they share functionality with digitizers.
- Lettering programs can create fonts that are stitchable. If you just use a digitizer to translate letters from a vector file you likely will get bad results, since the filling algorithm is not optimized for lettering.
- Organizers help to organize designs on your hard disk.
- Complete embroidery CAD Suites, can create sophisticated drawings (vector based embroidery, VBE) and support all the design stages. Often, the drawing module is based on existing high-end vector graphics software. E.g. Pulse's embroideryi2 is an add-on for either Illustrator or Corel Draw. Bernina's Embroidery software is based on Corel.
High-end embroidery software suites should include all of the software types listed above. However, if we understand right, there is quite a fundamental difference between programs that are "stitch-based" and others that are based on vector graphic objects (annotated directly or indirectly with stitches). Most modern programs are vector-based in one way or another.
Now, let me give some personal opinions about the embroidery software market.
It is very difficult to find out what software costs and - this is funny - where and how to buy. Some companies (like Bernina) seem to sell only through authorized resellers. Other companies have snotty sales people. E.g. email support from Wilcom wouldn't give me the name of a Swiss dealer and even were implying that I wasn't smart enough learning their entry-level professional tool and showing our students how it works. Probably these guys never met any 3D modeller or they might have a different idea of what "difficult" could mean. I regret to say so, but learning basic use of advanced embroidery software is easy for a technical person and takes no more than two weeks full time. Producing professional embroidery designs is more difficult and may take at least 7 years (but so does professional cooking, car racing or web page design ...)
Anyhow, we found out that most high-end consumer software is in the $1500 to $2000 range. Entry-level professional software also starts around $2000. I can understand that professional software costs 10'000 $ or more, but I have trouble understanding why what I consider mid-level prosumer software costs over $2000 since selling it cheaper probably would entice many more people to buy it. That being said, I do have the money to purchase, but I won't buy anything for which technical documentation can't be found (more about that a few lines down...)
Most software includes machine-specific features. On older machines, one has to pay attention to connectivity. Some machine types use specially formatted memory cards or USB sticks (or some other weird specifics) and do require special software to write CNC files. Usually this type of software is offered for free (either when you buy the machine or for download). The same software then also can convert, resize, rotate and preview. See converting software below. A more "exotic" feature concerns support for jumbo-hoops, i.e. hoops for large designs that don't really fit onto the machine and that must be turned in the middle of the process. The software should allow splitting a design in a correct way and also insert a message to user so that he/she can rotate the hoop.
Important: If you plan buying any sort of design software, you should check if your type/brand is directly supported, i.e. if the software can export a design to model-specific file formats (like *.art, *.jef, *.pes, etc.). If it cannot, you then could use a converter, but this may be a lossy process and you will loose time. I couldn't find any serious information on how well various converters work. Therefore, I suggest finding out what other embroidery software is produced by the company providing the converter. E.g. Wilcom creates software for both Bernina and Janome. Therefore we might hypothesize that their free Truesizer converter program ought to be able to translate an .ART file (output of Bernina V6) to *.JEF (Elna/Janome machine format) without any mistakes.
We couldn't find any up-to-date (Spring 2011) list that includes any sort of serious comparison of embroidery software. The best one we found was Understanding Digitizing Software, made by Floriani (2008) and was just a feature comparison, not a serious evaluation. Add the various numerous obscure file formats and you find yourself in a software jungle that is hard to beat in terms of inaccessibility, obscurity and overblown prices.
Some might argue that there isn't any non-financial reason to buy anything else than brand-specific software since almost every brand does have a more or less high-end consumer design suite. Unfortunately, some brand-specific software can do more that others. E.g. from looking at the sales flyers, Bernina's V6 is much more powerful than Elna's V3 or Janome Pro. The latter do not integrate typical object-oriented vector drawing features if we understood right. For techies, vector graphics is simply a must have feature since we already are used to vector drawing. Of course, importing vector graphics from another program would be an option for experts in embroidery, but it is not for beginners since one has to round trip a lot between various stages of a part design.
In conclusion, in the absence of any serious information on embroidery software, we decided to invest our efforts in the free Stitch Era Universal. We then later bought the Pro "liberty" version. Since July 2013, there is no more free version. However, the formerly free version is now available under a 6-month inexpensive rent program. Retrospectively (fall 2011/fall 2013), we do believe that the Stich Era route is the way to go if you plan to learn with an ambitious state-of-the-art program. The Pro version only has few extra features, and it will load faster. The cheap for rent versions are limited to 12K or 40K stitches (the latter is quite a lot).
Currently (fall 2013), no decent free software seems to exist.
3.2 Features of home user embroidery software
Below is a provisional list. Certain items are missing, others will need explanation. Also, wording should be changed for some items once we get a better picture.
- Range and target population
- Type of program: Specific standalone program, modular software, or complete design suite
- E.g. Computer novices, graphics or CAD savvy end-users, professional punchers
- Format and machine support
- Reading many embroidery design formats
- Writing (some) embroidery design formats
- Writing machine specific cards
- Hoop support
- Tracing and digitizing
- Tracing of bitmap files
- Color reduction / color thresholds
- Despeckling and smoothing
- Pixel thresholds
- (Semi) Automatic digitizing of images directly into stitch sections
- Import of vector file formats (conversion)
- Format support, e.g. AI and SVG not just (simple-minded) WMF, EMF and EPS
- Color merge and substitution (in the vectorized picture) See also: editing
- Manual digitizing of vector elements. See also: editing
- Tracing of bitmap files
- Vector graphics (see also fills and stitches)
- 2D primitives
- Bezier drawing
- Simple transforms (resize, move, rotate, flip, skew, etc.)
- Good association of vector objects with stitch objects (called sections underneath)
- Smoothing, filling holes, etc.
- Stitch sections (embroidery objects)
- Quality of the stitch processor, e.g. how well can the program translate drawing objects to stitch sections
- Recalculation the number of (associated) stitches when a design is resized or otherwise changed
- Stitch section fill options (density, direction, stitch type, patterns, etc.)
- Simple transforms (resize, move, rotate, flip, skew, etc.)
- Change of stitch density, stitch length, stitch rotation, etc.
- Adding/removing underlays
- Multiple underlays
- Joining and splitting of designs (including text from lettering modules)
- Change stitch order of various parts
- Edit single stitches
- Insert, delete, change, reduce (merge) colors
- Fancy stitches (stitch types)
- Pull compensation
- Can you create appliqués, pailletes etc.?
- Built-in stitch-optimized fonts
- Can true type fonts be digitized?
- Envelope changes like curving
- Interface and utilities
- How many steps can the undo option go back to?
- Compensation for various textiles
- Built-in reusable patterns of various sorts
- Support for all major thread color palettes (different manufacturers)
- Including information that then is save to stitch files !
- Statistics (like print time, number of stitches, etc.)
- Shortcuts for various processes
- Batch converters
- Stitch simulator
- 3-d view showing stitches in relief
- Pattern management
- Does the software require a dongle. (I really hate these, since I don't use some software for month dongles have tendency to become lost and they can fall out of my backpack ...)
3.3 Free digitizer and design tools
There exist virtually no totally free design + digitizing tools that are fully functional. Thredworks seems to be a fine and quite powerful editing tool for folks who would like to work fairly close to the stitch level. Stitch Era (the most modern and advanced system) and Madpuch (and Embird-like system) have some strings attached and/or limitations and/or problems with crashing. SophieSew gets nice reviews but seems to crash a lot. See also the conversion software below, some also can edit a bit.
- Thredworks is a digitizing and drawing program for embroidery machines. Recommended (if you can't finance a commercial product). One reason why I recommend this program is that this software somehow entices learning how embroidery and stitching works, i.e. although the program works with forms and auto-adapted stitches (as opposed to simple stitches), display and operations are fairly close to stitching level.
- I installed this software on Win 7 64-bit. The program comes as a small zip archive and only needs to be dezipped in a directory and only includes 4 files, i.e. no installation is needed. Click on thre3.exe to run.
- Design of the interface looks fairly "old-style", but the program is fully functional and includes many features. It's by no means just a stitch editor with some simple transformations. For example, it can do sophisticated fills of shapes and strokes (borders)! The program also includes a simple bitmap tracer for bmp files.
- Download the Thred lessons from the download page and go at least through the first 7 lessons in order to create a simple design. Read them all ...
- As of 2015, last version was released in 2006.
- A linux version seems to be available, read Embroidery design on Linux now possible with Thred Source code might be here (it has been translated to Pascal).
- (aArtline is a free drawing program with good thred integration, the last version of which dates back to 2006. Its homepage aartline.com is now a webpage design demo)
- Madpunch is a free program rumored to have similar features as some (earlier?) versions of an Embird suite, i.e. it includes editing, digitizing and lettering. Users have to change a key about every two weeks, probably to bring them to their web site. The site includes video (captivate) tutorials. It installed fine on Win 7 64-bit. Not tested for real. (2011). Website seems to be dead on March 2015.
- SophieSew digitizing and editing of machine embroidery. Written and developed by Carlos Mandel, see his twitter updates. Also include some free designs. Installed and shortly tested on Win 7 (2011) and Win 8 (2015). According to various forum posts, this program is nice and usable, but it's in alpha stage and may crash or freeze - 5/2011). We suggest waiting for version 2.0 (September 2015: v2 was to be released in “the next few weeks” since at least June 2015. Last news is from 2013). The current version 1.3 hasn't been updated since 2007.
- Embroidermodder. Free software tool originally allowed the user to add custom modifications to embroidery designs (read/write 5-6 formats). Started in 2004 by Mark Pontius, the project is currently led by Jonathan Greig and Josh Varga (as of March 2015) and it is more ambitious despite a failed Kickstarter campaign in 2014. The current 1.7 version allows (as before) to edit various types of design files and to create simple designs from scratch. A promised version 2.0 version includes many more features and might make it into a really usable program.
- Rudolf's Sewing / Embroidery related Programs (last updated 2005, not tested). Includes a free conversion program and a simple drawing program creating *.pcs.
- KXStitch aims to produce software to allow the creation and editing of cross stitch patterns for hand stitching. Runs under Linux/KDE. See kxstitch wiki
3.4 Commercial digitizing and design tools
- Stitch Era by Sierra is advanced embroidery design software for which a free version existed, but no longer.
- Stitch Era Express and Universal are either distributed by Authorized Distributors (either via CD or online) or online. Both are fairly cheap and can be rented for 6 month or more. Installation and use requires a permanent Internet connection. Software contains advertising. Finally Stitch count is limited to 12'000 and 40'000 stitches. Download can take a long time and you should consider a download site for your country (e.g. for France use Annika's site). You first have to install a downloader, then a download the > 400 MB installation files with the downloader program.
- After going through the complicated finding-a-place-to-download, double download and authentication it runs fine on Win 7 64 bit. Indeed, after playing a bit, I believe that this is probably the program to own if you do not want to spend a lot of money. Recommended to technical people despite its ads and its complicated installation/permanent renewal procedure. The program may have a learning curve that is too steep for people not familiar with complex design software like Illustrator, Flash or a CAD/CAM program.
- Read Stitch Era embroidery software and associated tutorials (started on May 16 2011 and sometimes updated). Also do read the manual or go through the training videos. There is no way learning this software just by playing around.
- The full commercial version is available from www.d-era.com or an authorized dealer.
- Embird Embroidery Software sells several programs, A base program (Basic Embird) plus several plugins e.g. Embird Studio (required for digitizing). Can read/write many formats and supports many machine types. It comes in several components, e.g.:
- Basic Embird Embroidery Software (basic editing, sizing, stitch editing, etc.). This $164 program must be acquired for other modules to run.
- Studio (digitizing, lettering, auto-tracing, freehand, conversion of vector files into embroidery) is $150 (to digitaze drawings with a low number of colors, the most common use case) + $90 (optional, to digitize photos) = $240. Demo version cannot save your work.
- Font engine, $145
- I.e. for less than $550 one gets a good package and it can be tried out before buying. In addition, the web site has real information (as opposed to fancy PDF files). This program seems to be fairly popular and seems to offer the best price/performance ratio. It's probably as powerful as many high-end consumer design suites.
- There are many forums with support (google yourself). One example that includes a beginner's tutorial is Clipartopolis
- SewArt Embroidery Auto-Digitizer by S&S Computing, is “ for converting clipart or other forms of raster and vector images into an embroidery file. Image processing tools and a step-by-step wizard are provided to produce an image suitable for yielding a high-quality embroidery stitch-out.” Free 30 day demo, only $75. (Needs the Microsoft C++ 2005 library, also available as download). Tested under Win 7 64bit. I found it very easy to learn the basics (about 30 minutes). Recommended. I managed to digitize and create a stitch file for a complex photo (including color reduction, pixel reduction, color merging, despeckling, etc.). Of course I can imagine other features it should have, but I like the price/performance ratio. - Daniel K. Schneider May 2011.
- BuzzTools sells a series of design tools, e.g. design management software, Buzz-2-Stitches (digitizer, $300), BuzzEdit (editor, $190), Words to stitches, etc. These tools seem to be fairly popular and are reasonable priced. Trial versions are available.
- Brother, also a maker of sewing machines sells PE_Design Basic (formerly 'PED Basic Embroidery Software', for simple downloading/editing) and PE-Design light (digitizing, letters, combining, etc. about 300 €). A higher-end product also exists (see below). Brother products enjoy a good reputation in forum messages and offer a good price/performance ratio as far as we can tell.
- Stitch & Sew made by Compucon has several product levels: Designer (Standard Digitizing & Editing package), Editor (Lettering & Editing package), Embroidery Studio (digitizing & editing). The full package is called Embroidery Studio Plus. No idea how much it would cost. Demo versions are available, e.g. from central european distributor (teamhoko). Files are dated 2008. Several vendor links on the stitch & sew site are dead. Some point to local Brother dealers where no information can be found, i.e. Internet presence is messy. In addition to Stitch&Sew, Compucon sells EOS (Embroidery operating system), a high-end software.
- Stitches in Motion has Sew Art (software for converting clip-art or other forms of raster and vector images into an embroidery file). It can output in PES or JEF. For other formats, you will have to use a conversion program.
- Embroidery Software from Amazing Designs. Several software, e.g. Edit 'N Stitch (editor), Digitize 'N Stitch (digitizer), Personalize 'N Stitch (lettering and monograms). All around $200, the whole combo around $450 street price. Trial versions available. Also available from online shops like Amazon.
- ApS-Ethos has several programs. The top-end Virtuoso Plus can edit, letter, digitize, import vector files, etc.
- Stitch Era (from Sierra) is a modern looking consumer product that exists in several versions: Essentials, Lite, Liberty and Universal. Prices are from $400 to $1000. Universal used to be free (see above). Sierra also seems to have a more professional product line (see below). Their websites are quite complex and some pages don't fully work on modern browsers (FF4 or IE 9).
- Fancyworks has a series of products. The top-end Fancyworks Studio Plus (editing, digitizing, lettering, import, etc.) costs $650.
- Designers Gallery seems to sell the same under a different packaging (not sure about this.)
- Art and Stitch Standalone digitizing software for longarm quilters and machine embroiderers. Includes drawing, filling, importing vector graphics, punching. $ 870
3.5 High-end home user and entry-level industrial suites
It is difficult to find out who produces the software (as opposed to selling it), how much it costs, and (again) what the software can really do. Some websites are too heavy on useless pictures, light on information and difficult to navigate. I addition, more than one product may be advertised on totally different web sites which is quite confusing. I find it interesting that at least three products are based on Corel Draw and I wonder if there is some common code base. Also, many modern programs can at least import from Corel or Illustrator by copy/pasting or some OLE mechanism.
Most sewing/embroidery machine makers sell their own custom software suite. Most of these packages also work with other brands, i.e. they can digitize into more than one format and write to several types of cards or otherwise communicate with a machine.
High-end "prosumers" (advanced home users) software superficially may look quite the same as entry-level professional software, but there seem to be the following differences:
- Prosumer products may have additional features and tools for the home market, i.e. so-called short-cuts and other built-in features that will make design easy.
- Entry-level industrial products may give the designer better control over stitching and control of stitching machines.
Good examples are Bernina embroidery software V6 made for the home market and Wilcom DecoStudio made as entry-level professional tool. Both are made by the same company and both are extensions of Corel Draw. Bernina's software is cheaper, is based on an older and weaker Corel version, but it does support other machine formats than their own. I.e. strictly from looking at specifications, one could qualify it as the advanced home user tool. However, we don't know how it would scale up against cheaper suites like Stitch Era and DrawWings (see above).
- (Rather) brand specific for the home market
(some entries may not qualify as "high end" consumer products)
- Bernina's Embroidery Software (en) based on Corel Draw is about $2000/€ 1600, but one can find it for less (€ 1400). The current embroidery software version 6 probably was developed together with Wilcom and should be quite similar as Deco Studio. Bernina sells other products: Software link (en/USA). See also the Swiss version of the software page (de/fr). In Switzerland, a littre price cut is offered to education.
- Brother PE-Design NEXT (about € 1500).
- Janome, a sewing machine maker has line of products known as Janome Digitizer Software Series with three software levels Jr, Pro and MB. There is no price list. Digitizer MB is about € 1000. Digitizer Pro and MB are probably powerful vectorizers/digitizers, but one can't draw (if I understand right). I.e. the program allows to import a bitmap or windows vector file and then "massage" it into a stitching design. Janome Customizer has very basic digitizing capability and is lenghty to use. It seems that Janome programs are made by Wilcom.
- Elna has Digitizer EX V 3.0. This product looks more like mid-end software (e.g. one can't draw). Price is about € 1000. Probably the same as Janomes Digitizer Pro, since Janome and Elna have a strategic partnership (common machine models).
- 5D Embroidery Software Packages. This company sells two kinds of high-end packages, one for Husquarna and one for Pfaff. Individual modules can be bought directly from 5D. No price list.
- Husquarna's packaging of the 5D suite for its Viking line, includes 5D™ Professional. This product includes eleven software modules, e.g. design creator (edit/fill/etc), editor, aligner, sketcher, cross stitcher, organizer. Eight of these can be bought separately. Did not see real technical information (i.e. power of the design tools).
- Pfaff's 5D™ embroidery software version.
- Drawstitch sells two software families:
- DRAWings includes graphics design, digitizing, computerized quilting and textile printing. Cost is about $1800 / € 1300. There are other variants like Creative Drawings or Wings modular. Available through third-party dealers only. Seems to have a good performance/price ratio and comparable to Wilcom Decostudio. Needs a USB dongle (and I always loose these ...). In addition there may be OEM solutions. Maybe Artistic Suing Suite could be one.
- The professional eXPerience include 4 different levels (price unknown and relationship to other Wings software is not clear.)
- Rather general purpose industrial entry-level
- DecoStudio. See also the (outdated) page at Corel. Decostudio integrates CorelDRAW® Graphics Suite X5 with Wilcom's stitch processor, lettering, monogramming and appliqué tools to create a complete graphics and embroidery software solution. Wilcom also has a product line called Embroidery Studio with several product levels. These are more sophisticated and more expensive (probably over € 10000).
- Embroidery software by Pulse. Pulse creates various products like Tajima DG/ML, Tajima Librarian, Tajima Passport. High end and really expensive. For the home user, there is Embroidery i2, both for Corel and Illustrator, rumored to cost just a few thousand $.
- Melco (D) has a line of products known under "Design Shop". See Melco USA: Lite, normal, Pro and Pro+. Melco produces embroidery machines and software prices are not directly communicated ....
- Embroidery Office (EO11) made by Sierra includes: Art and Design; Design Administration; Production Organization; Machine Connectivity; Catalog Preparation and Spreading. Claims to be very high-end and easy to learn. No pricing information. Their web pages are full or errors and won't display well in FF4 and IE9 ... (on April 19, 2011). Sierra also makes the very popular Stitch Era software with the free Universal edition.
- I-CLIQQ € 1900, is a suite with three levels that is marketed for professionals. Claims to in the same ligue as the multi-thousand competition. (Demo version available).
- Floriani has a larger product line. Embroidery Suite Pro costs € 1600 and includes 8 products, e.g. editing, digitizing, borders, monograms, lettering, resizing. These also can be bought individually. The top-of the line product is € 5000.
- McStich Professional software, fairly useless web site....
3.6 Free converter tools and other utilities
- Free converters/resizers/etc from commercial companies
I suggest to install the following four programs: Wilcom TrueSizer, Bernina Artlink, Pulse Ambassador and myEditor. Then pick the one that you like best. Also, each can do at least something that the others can't. Read on ...
- WILCOM TrueSizer. Read, resize, rotate and convert many popular industrial and home expanded/condensed file formats. Can't write .ART (Bernina) but can write .JEF (Elna/Janome). The program is free , but registration is required. Tested under Windows 7 64 bit. The software and I managed to convert a file to *.jef. It can resize and rotate designs. Wilcom is one of the leading software companies in embroidery. Recommended.
- Bernina Artlink, a free multi-purpose utility program form Bernina. Can resize, rotate 45 degrees, select stitch color, read/write many embroidery formats, display hoops for various types (also other brands), write to various hardware. I somehow got the German version, but there is also an English edition. Cannot save in *.jef (Elna/Janome). Recommended.
- Pulse ambassador is quote: “a free, easy to use software that allows you to change design formats, resize designs, change colors and more. Import/export to various popular formats”. It can change colors but it cannot resize. It cannot save in *.art. This software includes an animation of the stitching process and probably shows more details than the others. Pulse is the maker of high-end prosumer and professional software (Tajima and Embroidery i2). Download is difficult to find and is here when last checked. Recommended.
- MyEditor from Wings Systems is a free, Opens/saves to many different formats. Includes a complete stitch editor, scaling and rotation, array tool, etc. Can import/export to many formats (including *.jef). Recommended.
- multi-converter from Stitch & Sew. Can read designs from manufacturer's cards to the hard disk and the other way round. Registration required. I Installed it on Win 7/64, but did not understand how I could convert files within my hard disk.
- Artistic my editor free viewing and editing software: view and modify supported embroidery files and then re-save them in any of the available embroidery file formats. (not yet tested, may be the same product as MyEditor above).
- Free online converters
- Embroidery Designs.com offers translation between 19 formats (registration required).
- SVG 2 embroidery Free online service that can convert SVG (strokes) to PCS. As cool as it can get. Since it only translates strokes, you do need to replace fills by lines, e.g. some zig-zag pattern. Otherwise just use this programs to draw line-based art.
- Free utility tools (converters, digitizers, etc.) from other sources.
Some of these are available as plugins for graphics programs. Some programs are open source.
- Six short tutorials to create stitch files in Inkscape (saved as .svg, one then needs a converter, available on the same page). As close to stitch level as it can be (in particular, one needs to manually check that generated patterns have a density close to 4 or 5 stiches / mm).
- Hershey Text: An Inkscape extension for engraving fonts. This is not directly useful, but this extension could be used as "middleware" for an Inkscape to embroidery converter (see below)
- Embroidery output extension for Inkscape by Jon Howell, 2010. GPL. Easy to install on Linux, needs Python and the shapely library. Tested on April 2011 under Ubuntu 10.04. To install:
apt-get install python-shapely cp embroider.inx embroider.py PyEmb.py ~/.config/inkscape/extensions
- In Inkscape, the extension is available in Extensions->Render->Embroider
- Only works, if you create a drawing with filled regions that are converted to pathes and are not grouped. (So no grouping, no strokes, etc. !)
- Result *.exp will sit in your home directory or some other place ...
- I managed to create a stitched oval and display it with some *.exp viewer. - April 2011.
- Joachims's freeware include Pesview 1.3.0, a Viewer/Conversion-Tool for PES/PEC/PCS/DST/SEW and EasyPEC for converting PES.x to PEC 1.0
- PES-file thumbnailer (pes2png converter) by Linus Thorvald himself ! (for Linux, needs pnglib-devel and cairo-devel to comple) Read Embroidery.. gaah January 13, 2010. To install this under Linux (Unbuntu 10)
apt-get install libcairo-dev apt-get install libpng-dev git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/torvalds/pesconvert.git cd pesconvert make cp pesconvert /usr/local/bin
- Embroidery Reader for PES (Brother)
- Planned since 2009: The Brother Liberation Front announced working on and Inkscape and Gimp plugin named Yarnscape (seems dead as of 2015) and Crafty Gimp respectively. If this will happen, then Inkscape could become a free embroidery design tool.
3.7 Commercial converters, resizers, etc.
(See also the free conversion tools above, there is probably no reason to buy one of these, unless you don't own any kind of embroidery software)
- SewWhat! from Stitches in Motion. Can read most formats and write a lot of formats (but not .art). Between $50 and $65. Free trial versions.
- StichBuddy converter, resizer, etc. For Mac OS X. Cheap (€ 40) and demo version is available.
- Embrilliance. A (relatively) cheap multi-purpose tool for converting/merging/lettering etc. Supports most embroidery formats, but can't import "normal" 2D graphics. (Mac/PC)
- Mac Embroidery. Multipurpose converter ($ 129).
3.8 Thread colors
Thread colors (not surprisingly are not standardized). Each major make has its own. The major ones seem to be Janome, Robison-Anton, Mettler, Madeira and Sulky. Some may have different color numbers with respect to different threads.
- Thread Chart information (best site I found)
- Sewing Thread Conversion Chart
- Thread chart
- Pantone and RA
- Links to Various Thread Charts for Machine Embroidery (long list)
- Robinson-Anton (RA)
3.9 File formats
There are several kinds of formats, in particular
- All sorts of 2D bitmap and vector formats for the drawings, i.e. formats that are not specifically made for embroidery
- Embroidery file formats that work on a range of machines and also can be used as exchange formats. These are sometimes called commercial formats.
- Embroidery file formats that are mostly brand or even type specific
- Both so-called commercial file formats and more brand-specific formats come in two forms: Some only have stitching information, others keep information that makes them easily editable. The latter could be called worker files.
It seems that there are about 30 different formats. It is not clear to me what different formats can do. Also, I don't know how formats are supported by various vendors. Some formats seem to be barely editable since they only contain stitching instructions like "go to x/y" and "add a stitch from x1/1y to x2/y2" or "change thread". Others may include precise information about the shape and kind of a design part and keep stitching information apart, i.e. an area is not just defined in terms of stitches. The latter are more easily editable. Other formats (like JEF) may keep just some information, e.g. colors.
It is sometimes difficult to find out what formats a specific machine from various Brands can read. E.g. Bernina's feature their own brand-specific editable *.art formats, but it seems that the high-end machines directly can read *.exp which is a commercial format, if I understood right. When I bought an Elna 8300, no information about formats was included in the documentation (or I couldn't find it) ...
To make the situation worse, some formats have different subtypes. E.g. the popular .PES comes in eight different versions :( - I once thought that the situation was really bad for video codecs, video containers or 3D vector formats, but embroidery beats anything else I am aware of in terms of obscurity and diversity.
Vendors include conversion software that can translate to their (and other's) machine readable CNC formats from a series of other low-level and also from more high-level formats. The most popular exchange formats seem to be DST and EXP, but these are not necessarily the best. As little as we know of today (after few hours spent on exploration) a good format (e.g. EMB) includes a vector description of each design part and attaches abstract stitching information to that object. This way it can be transformed without deforming stitches. Less powerful formats are directly stitch-based. The most popular rather machine-specific format seems to be *.pes (Brother) since it also includes worker information.
|extension||Machine manufacturer||software range||Contents|
|ART||Bernina||brand-specific||worker + stitch|
|CND||Melco||professional programs||worker + stitch|
|EMB||Wilcom||most high-end programs||worker + stitch|
|EXP||Melco, Bernina (high-end models)||most programs||stitch|
|HUS||Husquarna Viking||brand-specific, many programs||stitch|
|JEF||Janome, Elna||brand-specific, many programs||stitch (but keeps colors)|
|PES||Brother||popular, most programs||worker + stitch|
|SEW||Janome, Elna, Kenmore||most programs||stitch|
|VIP||Pfaff (older), Husquarna||brand-specific||stitch|
See also (probably better informed authors):
- Embroidery Formats (at Puncher)
- Embroidery File Formats supported in Embird
- Formats Supported
- Welche Maschine benötigt welches Format? (2009).
- Need other embroidery format? Good list about popular embroidery formats (from Russia).
- Sewing and embroidery websites (unsorted)
- k2g2 “is an open platform that is spearheading the brains and crafts movement of the 21st century, taking a hacker's perspective on everything from handicraft to crafting machines”. This website includes good "portals" for machine knitting and machine embroidery. Best resource for open source projects.
- Sewing.org has free sew, quilt and craft projects
- Sewing & Craft Alliance provides educational information and creative resources to the sewing and crafting enthusiast
- SewReview, includes a blog with entries on various topics plus buying guides and reviews
- eHow includes entries about sewing, embroidery, etc.
- rumblr includes a few entries about sewing etc.
- The Embroiderers' Guild of America (EGA). A few interesting links.
- Open Source embroidery
- patternreview Popular site for sharing patterns and advise (including computerized stuff)
- Embroiderers' Guild (UK organization). Publishes two magazines, STITCH with the Embroiderers' Guild and Embroidery.
- In other languages
- Art / political
- Other links of links
- Embroidermodder has some good links (including broken ones, last update was 2004)
(Retrieved April 2011, unless otherwise stated)
- Introductions to embroidery
(there are many, but we keep it down since we are interested in computer-created designs only here)
- Embroidery (Wikipedia). follow-up the various Wikipedia links at the bottom.
- Introductions to computerized embroidery
- MIT High-low tech wiki has a series:
- Machine embroidery (Wikipedia)
- How to Digitize Embroidery Designs at eHow
- How to Create a Digital Embroidery Design at eHow
- Introductions computerized sewing machine
- Introductions to normal sewing machine
- Flashback: Anatomy of a Sewing Machine, April 2007 in CRAFT Volume 03: by Christine Haynes and Kent Bell. (mechanical parts)
- How Sewing Machines Work at How Stuff Works (includes good animations)
- Specialized tutorials
- Electro-knit! Hacking the Brother KH-930e knitting machine by Ladyada, March 2011. See also Electroknit Technical Information by Sconklin. (Dec 2010).
- computer controlled embroidery?. Discussion about fab labs and tools of culture (fab/MIT)
(see our own links to software packages in the software section above)
- Useful websites
- Machine Embroidery Portal at k2g2. It includes pointers to the most of the few open source software and:
- embroidery software which runs natively under Mac OS X (2/2010)
- Professional Embroidery Software (a long list with links to publishers).
- Review by TVP textil (In German, includes interviews with professional punchers with respect to quality differences in software) by TVP Textil.
- Understanding Digitizing Software by Floriani.
- File formats
- Technical info about formats
- Embroidermodder has links to other pages
- Wotsit.org includes a description and a link for most somewhat popular computer file formats. (you will have to search for stitching/sewing formats).
- Need other embroidery format? at needlework.ru
- Computerized Sewing Machines Reviews and Prices at products/how stuff works.
- The Best Sewing Machine Online. Explains some history, how they work and discusses various models (include some that are computer-powered or controlled).
- Best Sewing Machine. Lots of reviews (> 600 models)
- In other languages
- Do it yourself
4.5 Free design repositories
There don't seem to be many truly free and easy to use websites. Most commercial web sites offer some free designs. In addition, some of the free open source or close source software packages include free designs (see above).
- The 'Automatic Embroidery Machine' System Thingiverse. As of 4/2011 only 3 things .... but that will change ;)
- Free Embroidery Designs Online. This is a commented list of embroidery sites that offer some freebies. Each referred sites offers a few free designs.
- You could search for embroidery patterns on Flickr. Some are free (but you then need to digitize these or find another version)
4.6 Fablab work, open source, etc.
- svg to/from embroidery converter (for now just a discussion at Inkscape Forums)
5 Bibliography and journals
- Introductory books for machine embroidery
(I don't have any of these, and therefore can't recommend any - DKS June 2011)
- C&T Publishing (2004), All About Machine Arts, ISBN 9781571202277.
- Betty Barnden (Author) (2003). The Embroidery Stitch Bible, Krause Publications, ISBN 9780873495103.
- Deb Menz (2004). Color Works, Interweave Press, ISBN 1931499470 (This book address color for crafters).
- Deborah Jones, Machine Embroidery on Difficult Materials (Book & CD Rom), Krause Publications, ISBN 0896896544.
- Jeanine Twigg (2001). Embroidery Machine Essentials: How to Stabilize, Hoop and Stitch Decorative Designs, Krause Publications, ISBN 9780873419994 (There are several companion books from the same author).
- Linda Turner Griepentrog, Rebecca Kemp Brent (2006). Machine Embroidery Wild & Wacky, Krause Publications.
- John Deer (2007)., Digitizing Made Easy: Create Custom Embroidery Designs Like a Pro, Krause Publications. ISBN 0896894924
- Linda Miller (2010). Creative Machine Embroidery, A&C Black. ISBN 1408103982.
- Van Holmes (2008). Encyclopedia of Machine Embroidery, Anova Batsford, ISBN 9781906388188.
- Academic Journals
- Textile Research Journal, Sage.
- Trade journals