Art to stitches - what kind of art works well

Q:  You hear stories of beautiful embroidery designs created from sketches on a bar napkin.  Is that true?
A:  Though I may have had gotten ideas from sketches, the better the art, the better the embroidered design will be.

Your software undoubtedly can import a wide array of art.  The two most common catagories of art are raster and vector art.

Raster artwork consists of JPG, BMP, TIFF, Photoshop files and images obtained through MS Word or PowerPoint files.  Though these files are the most common to be found, the main problem with these files are that they make digitizing less than 100% accurate, and, it changes the FUN FACTOR to actual WORK!!  Raster images rely on pixels and screen resolution, and when you enlarge a raster image, the detail, or the pixels do not generate to the larger size; just like a stitch file.  When you increase the size of a 2,000 stitch design to double it's size, you still only have 2,000 stitches and a design that doesn't look too good.  The same thing happens when you try to increase the size of a raster image.  If you double the size of a 1" image at 72 pixel-per-inch, or ppi (usually mistaken with dots-per-inch), you wind up with a 2" image, but now it's clarity is 36 ppi and the edges get dithered, or looks to be created by little squares with jagged edges.

Vector artwork consists of AI, CDR, EPS and DXF files.  Vector artwork is mathematically generated by drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator (AI files) and Corel Draw (CDR files); they both can produce the generic vector files as EPS and DXF.  As a matter of fact, digitizing embroidery designs is very much like working with those two programs.  Embroidery programs create wireframes (segments) that hold information that dictate what type of stitch type to use; it also knows what density, underlay, stitch length, pull compensation, etc. to use per the digitizers value input.  The previous mentioned art drawing programs typically do the same thing, but, not for stitch types, but for art segments.  Each segment that is created consists of a fill color, border color and weight of the border line.  In the previous example, we doubled the size of a raster image to only find out that the image looks worse.  However, when you increase or decrease the size of a vector image, the fill and border of that segment is mathematically calculated to be resized proportionately.  Raster Vector Comparison

Here are images of a raster image and a vector image.  Notice how easy it would be to follow the perimeter of the vector file versus the perimeter of the raster image.  And, this raster isn't that bad, imagine if there were 3-6 colors involved.  If your embroidery software supports vector drawing tools, you can first use those to better define the lines of the raster image to make the digitizing process a bit easier.  It takes more time, but, I feel better prep = less editing. 

Q:  OK, now that I know the difference between vector and raster art, where do I get the vector art?
A:   Over the past 5 years, due to technology, it has been much easier to obtain vector art from your customer, or their graphic artist.

Keep in mind, most everyone that has a business card has had that art created by a graphic artist .. or, someone that SAYS they are a graphic artist !! ha  If you can locate the printer where they had their business cards done, you are close to obtaining their vector art faster than David Caruso solves his crime on CSI: Miami.

Before I tell you the MAIN reason that I like vector art, I want to warn you about one pitfall that can occur when dealing with vector art and those people that call themselves graphic artists .. and, those occasional mistakes made by people who know what they are doing.  When someone creates a vector logo, typically, they will add text to the logo .. they don't create the text, they use their keyboard lettering and the fonts stored on their computer under START>CONTROL PANEL>FONTS.  The fonts that are stored on your computer are true-type fonts; they are used for emails, writing BLOGS and, they are used by all your computers programs.  These fonts are in vector format so you can control them like you do the segments that you create in the graphics programs.  But, because it is programmed for keyboard lettering, in your drawing program, they are automatically grouped together and must be treated differently.  Because the true-type font is programmed and saved on the computers hard drive, if a graphic artist sends an art file to a customer, and that file includes a font that the customer doesn't have, the customer will not be able to view the design as the artist does; in short, if I use a font 'you ain't got,' your computer will substitute another font for it.  Your system will REPLACE the unknown font with your default font, probably Arial or Tahoma, but, that is not the proper lettering intended to be used for the design.  So, when I get designs to digitize that contains a true-type font that is not loaded on my computer, when I attempt to open the file in Adobe's Illustrator, the first thing it tells me is that, "This file contains a font not found on your computer, it will be replaced with Arial."  IF I don't catch this, I digitize the art, using the wrong font, and, my customer thinks I'm smoking funny cigarettes when they view the design!! 

When the graphic artist sends out files, they must convert the grouped text segments to outlines or curves (the terminology depends on what program you are using), this breaks down the true-type font into simple segments so anyone can view the file as it was intended to be seen.  Here is one reason I like customers to send us not only a vector file, but, also the corresponding raster, typically in JPG format.  Raster images are like camera shots of the vector file.  I can quickly view the raster image, and, if it doesn't match the corresponding vector, I know the artist doesn't know the difference between stitches and shinola!

Once you get the vector art in the proper format, digitizing on most systems becomes a heck-of-a-lot easier.  Remember, I mentioned that if you digitize with your embroidery tools, you are creating vector segments that carry embroidery stitch type information?  Well, imagine if I can introduce a vector file into my embroidery software, click on it, and TELL it what stitch type I wanted it to be .. pretty cool, huh?!  Well, we do, and you can.  Someone took the time to create the art in vector format, how arogant am I to think that I can recreate their artwork better than them??!!  I use their vector segments to create embroidery segments by simply selecting the vector image, and telling what stitch type I want it to be.Vector layers > JPG flat image

Now, keep in mind that vector art creation is mucho-mucho different than embrodiery design creation .. they use layers on layers on layers, and, if I were to digitize like that, the CIA would use my embroidery in their bullet-proof vests rather than Kevlar; not to mention how FUN my customers would have trying to sew a design like that. 

Look at the elephant vector and raster image to the left.  From all those vectors, we get the more simplified JPG, or raster image.  Here is an instance when I would MUCH rather have the JPG to digitize from versus the vector file.  

The above vector is an example of a file that would be a nightmare to digitize from, and, a file where I could not use the existing vector segments to convert to embroidery segments.  So, when the vector segment allows it, I will use those to create my embroidery segments, when it doesn't, I can either alter the segment and then use it,  simply create it with my embroidery tools, or prefer to use the raster image to digitize from.  When it is between option and , my decision is made by whichever is quicker .. and, then me recreating only the area I need is usually faster.

vector design 1

  Finished design 1

The vector file to the left demonstrates easy to select segments that can be changed to embroidery segments.  The art looks simplified, but you can achieve great results with a little embroidery knowledge and experimentation with your digitizing skills as seen on the embroidery file to the right.

Vector versus Raster artwork in review:
-  Vector art is great because it is resolution independent, has smooth, easy to follow curves, small file sizes, and can be easily converted to embroidery segments.
-  Raster art does have its advantages.  They are the most common digital photo images, and, they allow for color correction easier than vector files do .. this is important if you get into direct-to-garment shirt printing.

Best regards,

Rick Macali / 407 509-2400 <-- coming soon

Comments (3) -

Each of your postings are better than the last.  There is so much to learn about digitizing.  

You write very clearly, so anyone who wants to learn, can.

Just a question, to avoid the bullet proof stitching, what do you suggest?  I have had that in designs from very good sources that caused my machine to struggle and one even broke a part.  

Thank you!  Pat

gillrichards 4/27/2009 5:55:36 AM

I am but a Home Stitcher who works full time and who adores the Ann the Gran site because if I want to just pick a design and stitch it out, I can but just now and then, I like to explore the skills demonstrated by Rick Macali.

I am quite computer literate and I understood most of the explanation above but all respect to Rick for speaking about it in a non-patronising way.  Thank you for stretching my mind just a little more, Rick.

Gill from the UK

Thanks Gill and greetings from this side of the pond .. let's face it, what comes easy to some, can be a mental road block for others .. I feel that if each of us took the time to explain things in a easy-to-understand manner, MANY things would be much more clear .. in-and-out of the embroidery world ..

Pat, firstly, many designs you purchase from the internet or download for free were digitized for a specific fabric or application that may not match your fabric or application .. there are 132 free designs to download from and, you MAY have an issue sewing some of those designs on anything other than knit shirt material .. that is what they were digitized for.  

To reduce bullet proof embroidery .. well, it easier said than done .. I will discuss this in another blog, but, simply put, avoid sewing layer-upon-layer-upon-layer .. needles can break trying to penetrate many layers of embroidery, you can cause thread breaks, skipped stitches and mechanically, much worse.  I am sure most of us are aware that the fewer the stitches the better to create beautiful embroidery.  There is a balance, or a ratio to be learned about the amount of underlay versus the amount of top-stitching .. I will try to explain all this in blogs to come.

Best regards,

Rick Macali / 407 509-2400  

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