The Extinction of the Professional Digitizer

In today's market the true professional digitizer who knows how to create crisp small letters, make your sewing machine sing through a 200k stitch design without a thread break and create some of the best looking embroidery you will see on material are becoming extinct.  Those who are becoming digitizers today are learning how to get it done fast with automated tools and systems, without knowing or utilizing techniques that make that cutting edge difference between creating an embroidered give away shirt or making a professional embroidery garment that a person will be proud to wear.

But, is a change on the horizon? If there is a change who will pick up the pieces and bring the industry back.

What am I talking about some of you might ask?  This information might help those asking that exact question the most.   What I'm talking about here is that the perception of what is "good embroidery" and what isn't "good embroidery" is changing and not for the better.  Its very simple, if you do not know what is good, there is no way you can know what is not.  Now some may say that they see great embroidery designs at shows and in contests.  This is true.  Many professional digitizers still spend hours creating embroidery art to help get their names recognized.  But, these designs are not from the real world.  You and I do not use these designs to sew our customer's shirts, make their hats or sew monograms on gifts.  I am referring to the everyday designs that we all use to make a living or grow our business through our customers.

With the professional digitizers falling by the side, many of home and commercial embroiderers rely on overseas digitizers or U.S. companies sending it overseas.  Granted, work has improved from really bad to ok.  But after a while the ok , becomes accepted as good or excellent, simply because there is no longer a higher level commonly available for comparison.  Does this make sense?

I recently had the opportunity to work with a person who owns an embroidery company that brags about how good their work is and how inexpensive they produce their embroidery designs.  We met at a show and the owner of the company said that he gets flat rates on any design left chest size for $35, others jumped in that were listening in and bragged about getting the best quality work even cheaper.

Shortly after the show I did some IT work for the same person's company and at their facility.   I was taken for a small tour where I watched the machines in production and viewed the finished garments being bagged.  I was very surprised and disheartened at how poor the quality of lettering and embroidery was.   They truly believed that the work being created here was of the highest quality.  My point is that this situation is happening all over making the overall standard of what many view as quality embroidery drop to sub standard levels. 

Let me put it another way.  Have any of us looked at or called on a used item that was for sale and the seller told us that the Item was in "excellent" or "like new" condition, only to find out later that it was in terrible condition or average at most.  The person selling the item may have truly believed that the item was as they described.  From their perspective but,  you may have known different because you had the opportunity to view, see and experience better!

So, If you were to take the item you looked at in what you would call excellent condition and set it next to one that the original seller was seeing as excellent condition which will bring more money?   Yours or theirs......?   This illustrates how the perspective of good, quality embroidery can be skewed and lowered by those who have not had the opportunity to experience the difference.

That should make us ask the question;  "How did we get here and what can be done about it?"

This is a good question and one not easily answered.  Many of the true professional embroidery digitizers have left the industry.  But some still remain.  We all want to be competitive on price and at the same time provide a professional service with the best quality embroidery available so that our customer comes back.  Let's face it your order is only as good as the re-order.

The cost of your embroidery design doesn't stop at the bill you receive from your digitizer.   How is that you might ask?  Well, let's look down the road a little bit.

I can best illustrate this with a hard lesson I learned recently.   I purchased two large screen LCD TV's for use as monitors.  One I purchased was rated one of the best for quality of image and was more expensive.  The second was a LCD that had the same appearing image and options, but it was four hundred dollars less.  I purchased the good one and I chose to get the lower cost second one.  Now it's 15 months later and the less expensive LCD went bad.  The warranty is up and it will cost as much to fix as it will to buy a new one.  But, I saved $400 fifteen months ago.....right!   Not really because I lost a lot of money since now it needs to be replaced.  The more expensive one is still working today.

Let's look at an embroidery design.   What do we need from it?  1) The design must have a clean edge, rich looking appearance that won't pucker or pull the material.  2) Any lettering must sew sharp, even and legible. 3) The design must sew with the minimum amount of trims and color changes to save on labor while sewing the job for our customer.  4)  The design must sew without having thread breaks or unthreading the needle causing false thread break stops.  5) The final looking job has to be so good that your customer wants to come back for their next order and finally, 6) the design should be received ready for production with no editing or adjusting necessary by you or your staff.

So....looking down the road, one might have the same choice as I did with the LCD when getting that design for your customer.

You may have the $25-35 flat rate or cheaper choice compared to the $58 dollar design created by a professional digitizer.   One might go for the cheaper design and, let's face it, that is $23 or more dollars profit on the order.  This is where it becomes fun!  The hidden costs associated with that choice.   Let's look at what we need from a design.  The job may have taken longer to sew then it should have; thread breaks, too many color changes, too many trims etc, as well as your labor time in front of the machine.  All this is worth money $$.  You may have had to send the design back or spend some time tweaking and editing the design to get it the way you liked.  Add more $$ for your time.  The re order comes in and it is for a higher end shirt or different garment that is very stretchy material and the original design sews horrible on it.  Now I have it digitized again for this material, another $25-$35 dollars.  It doesn't take long for that savings to be eaten up does it?

This does not take into account your customer not coming back for that second order because they found a place that can make their shirt look much better!  This happens more often than you might think and many times you are not aware of the loss until you see someone from your customer's company wearing a nice embroidered shirt , that you know you didn't do......!

Most of us have a tendency to look at what we are spending now, at this moment and not at how it may affect us down the road.  If you are looking at building your business or becoming more profitable this is an area you should look at seriously.   I have seen a trend occurring lately.  Many companies are beginning to seek out better digitizing and digitizers as the reality of the long term costs compared to the short term savings is counterproductive and "NOT PROFITABLE".

Now here is the opportunity.   Seek out the better digitizing company, someone with old school digitizing wisdom.  Remember, knowledge is not the same as wisdom.  Knowledge is thinking you know how to do something.  Wisdom is having actually done it.  They will generally be more expensive than your overseas counter parts.  But, they want to earn your business also and you can always negotiate with them.  The key to successful negotiation is being fair.  I am seeing more embroiderers from the home shop to the large companies making a gradual shift.

This is a great opportunity!  Remember when I said you always have to have an edge.   This may be the best tip to create your edge that is available today.  The market has thinned many professionals away from the industry.  But, there are still professional digitizing companies out there that have the quality and service to stay strong in this market.  Make your company stand out and find one.

Create embroidery that becomes the new quality standard.  Raise the bar.  Make this new method part of your advertising scheme.   Brag about your quality and people will pay a little more for it.  I have seen slogans that read " What you think is great embroidery isn't even average. Experience the difference!" 

Hey, who doesn't want to work less and make a little more.   I will leave you with this thought.

Many have told me that customers in their market are used to paying nothing for the designs and they won't pay the higher prices, I will lose the order, they say.....  I say Nonsense!   Build a good relationship with your digitizer,  let them know when you have a situation that arises where you might lose a job.  They will work with you !  Why not offer the best you can when it's possible!

I invite all of you to join me on October 28th at 4pm for a Webinar that will cover "What constitutes good embroidery and digitizing?"

Sign up at

Thank you for joining me here today and I look forward to seeing you all again at Scotts Corner!

Comments (6) -

pattersonelizabeth 10/24/2009 7:21:05 AM

I have just bought a phaff embroidery machine and found out very quickly not to buy simple patterns as they don't look good. A flower pattern took four hours to do and it looks beautiful. Worth the time and thread changes. Two companies I buy from are Embroidery Library and Sew Swell.  They have quality patterns.

Elizabeth Patterson

Unfortunately the " cheapest " attitude is in lots of modern industry.  I have been a professional photographer for forty years,and I can relate to the fact that few people can recognise the difference between excellence and OK . Now semi-retired I have bought a Janome embroidery machine, a fairly basic one, and what fun I've had.  It has taken me a few months to realise the benefits of good quality threads and the ease they bring together with  good design.  I know I have an awful lot to learn but from some one who knew absolutely nothing about machine embroidery I now have a new passion.

Your article was very interesting and I look forward to reading more.

Christine Blagburn

geelittledot 10/24/2009 2:30:57 PM

I'm not a digitizer but I can tell the difference in some of the designs I have purchased that they are just auto fill. I hate to criticize when I can't even do auto fill. The true digitized designs have so much more depth.

I think this is what is happening with every industry "craft mans". Everyone is in a hurry with less quality in their work. Not that it isn't good, it's not the best. It's like buying a Ford instead of an Aston Martin. Unfortunately the economy isn't helping.

Dorothy Dunham

tourlady522 10/24/2009 7:11:48 PM

I tried to sign up at the web site you posted but it says

The following Webinar is not available:

What constitutes good embroidery and digitizing.


I tried to sign up also and got a message saying the Webinar is over. How can that be if its not the 28th yet. Was this last year's????

I am trying to sign up for the Webinar and it says it is over I tried four times, and no can do. Where is the glitch?

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