Erich Campbell offers some practical advice on how to get the best results from your digitiser

When outsourcing your digitising, it’s easy to assume that all you need to do is send the digitiser your source image and billing information. However, while most digitisers will happily work with whatever you provide, the best ones – and consequently some of the best embroidered interpretations of your ‘art’ – benefit from more input. The following are three items of information you should always provide to your digitiser to allow them to produce the best possible results from your artwork.

Finished size

Machine embroidery is restricted by the dimensions of the thread and the size of the needle, so it’s important to respect the recommended maximum and minimum stitch lengths and distances between elements if you want reliably clean stitching. Specifying a precise finished size that butts up against these measurements may prompt a discussion, but not stating it can often lead to your digitiser producing an easier to execute, and often undesirably large, rendition when faced with difficult details.

At 10X magnification, it’s easy to see that what at first seems like standard support material inside this misbehaving cap is actually woven with thick, plastic vertical bars, something that explained a great deal about stitch quality problems in the finished piece. A digitiser may not be able to tame every type of material, but knowing the level of support and stretch is critical if they are to produce the best quality files. 

At 10X magnification, it becomes clear how this satin border, bereft of an edge run underlay, suffered from a poor quality edge due to interaction with the textured material of the cap crown. Digitising can make a huge difference to edge quality on textured materials like this that are far from the standard smooth polyester of most caps.

Fabric specs

Designs are only truly tested when they are sewed out on the finished garment: your digitiser can adjust for the qualities of that garment’s fabric, but only if you communicate its qualities upfront. This is especially important if you are using any exceedingly unstable or stretchy materials, particularly thick and/or lofty materials, those with heavily textured surfaces like ribbed knits, or those with high pile surfaces – each will require critical changes in the digitised file for best results. Likewise, digitisers looking to reduce density for lightweight materials need to know the potential colours on which a design will sew, so that they can account for the contrast between garment and thread.

Knowing the colour combinations and the material specs makes all the difference between these two executions of the same design; elements are added or removed, colour changes omitted and sizing/ sequencing altered to make the best design for knit hats and for tonal-variant hats. Without that information, all designs would be the heavy, fully-filled version complete with extra colour stops seen on the knit hats. The outcome might be similar, but highly inefficient at best.

Speciality grids are great for heavily ribbed knit hats, particularly where thin satin strokes might otherwise ‘fall’ into the grain of the fabric. In person and viewed at a direct angle, this mesh disappears into the fabric for an attractive, debossed effect.

Garment type/construction

Most embroiderers are well aware that cap designs should be sequenced and pathed to run from the bottom of the design to the top and from the centre out to the edges, so as to maintain stability and achieve the tightest registration from colour-to-colour. However, fewer embroiderers tend to realise that the height of the cap crown, the level of structural support in the cap and the type of cap all play a part in the finished size, underlay style/ settings and even the sequence in which elements stitch. Any garment that has something peculiar about its construction or manufacture– from slippery, lined jackets and puffer vests to bags with heavy seams or supports – may cause a digitiser to change settings or to insert speciality stitch elements to enhance the finished quality of the design. Telling and showing a digitiser where your decoration meets the garment will help them to make adjustments that will help you embroider more easily, from speciality basting stitches to gaps that account for those thick seams.

Material specs can also include the kind of thread you intend to use. This logo utilises 60wt thread; this fine thread is fantastic for fine text, but requires 25% higher densities to achieve the coverage of standard 40wt thread, something your digitiser will have to account for

Structural underlay and increased densities help embroiderers get complete coverage on highly contrasting colours

The universal solution

Without these three items of information digitisers will generally aim to create ‘universal’ files in the vein of stock designs. The problem is that in the absence of specific directions they will be forced to make assumptions that may not suit the actual garments on order. My ‘universal’ target used to be a medium-weight cotton piqué polo shirt. Yes, those files work on many fabrics and surfaces, but, for example, they are far from ideal for today’s polyester performancewear. Rather than having to live or deal with an imperfect finished piece, it is far better to spend time on your initial communication; ultimately, providing clear, detailed information is far less time-consuming than repeated sampling and off-site edits. Moreover, your customers will love the quality of their embellished garments as much as you’ll love the time you save.

There’s a world of difference between the addressable height and accessibility of the design areas in these three caps of high, medium, and low profile. Moreover, the seam on the military piece on the right can cause issues with some design elements – knowing that can help a digitiser arrange, align and use underlay to compensate if crossing the seam is necessary. 

Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator, with 18 years’ experience both in production and the management of e-commerce properties.He is the programme manager for the commercial division of BriTon Leap.