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Gallery Connection May ’09 – Jargon Junket part 2

Gallery Connection May 2009

                Hi everyone!  Last month I took you on a jargon junket, exploring the mysterious language of computer hardware and specifications. My plan was to expose the terminology in an accessible way, or at the least with some entertainment value.  Since it was to be a two-part series, perhaps I better continue, lest our editors take offense.

                This part of our mind-expansion tour takes a turn down the winding avenue of embroidery software. We’ll explore the concepts so that you know why there are so many choices. To that end, let’s talk about modular systems versus all-in-one systems.  All-in-one systems claim to do a lot. My experience with these things is that while they may do a lot, they rarely do anything well; I am reminded of a favorite Leatherman I got as a gift years ago. It was a handy tool. But if I really needed to do a job, I’d still go get my toolbox. I prefer a tool that does what it was intended to do. Take, for instance a ‘universal’ needle: It sews fine, but it doesn’t make a precise enough straight stitch for many quilters and it bogs down a machine when sewing through leather. There are, no doubt, different tools for different jobs.  Now, don’t mistake a ‘collection’ of tools as an all-in-one. I’ll buy the whole toolbox, maybe one item at a time if I can’t justify the whole thing at once. (Better make me a deal!) Many software items are sold as ‘bundles’ of really good individual pieces and that is a good way to buy them.

                So let’s find our starting point. For me that means accomplishing the most basic of tasks such as being able to see and use a design.  Often the design is stored in a ‘.ZIP’ file. This is typical because of the internet. Designs and collections download faster to your computer if they are smaller, and a .ZIP is a way to make virtually any computer file smaller. So the starting point for most people is to have a program that ‘unzips’, let’s you view your designs, provides some details about them and offers a way to put them on a USB memory stick, floppy, etc.

                For the purposes of either the person putting the file out there for you, or for you yourself, there is always a need for conversion too. See, this basic program which I call a design browser (for instance Designer’s Gallery Studio) does all this and a few other common embroidery tasks such as printing etc. It is generally a useful tool for everybody, even people who only use their own digitized designs. Now, not everybody needs more than this, so it is often sold by itself.

                The next thing an embroiderer may want to do is to re-size a design. Of course you can scale a design which changes its size but doesn’t recalculate the stitches. So special programs have been written to resize a design and recalculate the stitches. Not all programs are created equal in this area. There are some that barely do the job, and some that are ridiculously complex to use. There is also at least one that does it well and easily; SizeWorks.

                Lettering and monograms are an important part of embroidery. The style of lettering is called its ‘font’. To properly embroider, fonts must be created as a set of digitized designs by a skilled person. Yes, there are some ‘auto’ tools, but these generally have limitations in quality and stitch type. To embroider with the best possible quality, a trained person has to work inside a digitizing program (more about that later) and create each letter’s stitching. Because this is time-consuming and expensive work, lettering and monogramming programs are sometimes sold with ‘font packs’ or in levels; where each level adds fonts and font effects.

                Merging or combining designs together is a pretty common and easy task. Many machines can do it, as well as most lettering software. It is a common feature, and one that you will probably use often. Usually this software also lets you re-color a design, for formats that have color. We’ll talk about that in a bit too.

                Digitizing software spans a large gamut, and generally you get what you pay for. There are some very basic tools which require some skill to make a design. If you know what you are doing, then you can probably get a decent result. People who digitize a lot will find these programs extremely limiting in the sense that common features are missing such as underlay types, push and pull compensation, etc. The high-end of commercial software has an incredible amount of functionality but it requires much training and experience in order to get a commercial result. We have achieved a carefully-balanced product in our MasterWorks, but then you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

                Because the nature of digitizing requires some skill, not everybody needs a digitizing program. But for those who do, there are some really useful features to look for that don’t exist everywhere:

  • The ability to work in a drawing mode and apply or change stitch types later.
  • Ability to adjust compensation and underlay for different fabrics. Sometimes called recipes.
  • Ability to set and change start/stop points for any object.
  • Ability to see a list of the objects you’ve created and to be able to re-sequence them when your layering is incorrect.
  • Ability to import vector-based artwork which speeds the process.
  • Ability to dig a hole as needed.

One tip that is often worth repeating: As you digitize, remember to save your working file early and often.

                There are some specialty programs available too. I’ll mention a couple of ours so that you can see why they exist and are sold separately. The first is HoopWorks. I wrote this for owners of machines with small embroidery fields. If you want to embroider something larger than your machine can handle, sometimes it is useful to embroider the design in two or more sections. Normally, splitting a large design into smaller pieces requires a good deal of editing, but I managed to make the process relatively painless.

                Editing software lets you cut apart designs and/or move individual stitches around. We have this functionality in several programs such as QuiltWorks, CustomWorks and MasterWorks. Honestly most embroiderers don’t do much editing on a stitch basis, but they do a lot on a color basis. For this, check out ColorWorks, which is part of Studio+ or Studio III.

                DensityWorks was written because I was frustrated with the bullet-proof nature of many designs I acquired, and also because I wanted to be able to embroider ‘scenes’ where I had combined designs that might overlap. Additionally, I wanted to be able to see and adjust design problems quickly and easily – I hate throwing failed projects away – so it’s better to know how bad a design is going to be before I sew it. And if a design looks good in DensityWorks, sometimes I don’t bother with a test-sew; I just jump in and stitch the design.

                Interactive Designs are a whole new category in and of themselves. Part design and part software, the designs are actually running programs that re-digitize themselves to get a closer result to what you actually want. This is easier to understand if you take a look at one. We have free downloads from the Designer’s Gallery website, along with videos for you to examine.

                Earlier I mentioned File formats. What we are talking about are the actual design files that various embroidery machines use. There are differences in formats, sometimes based on machine limitations. If you are a Baby Lock user, you will use the ‘.PES’ format, which happily is very robust and has a lot of ability because the machines that use PES have many features. That format has stitch information, color information including real thread names and colors, and it can activate thread trimmers on machines with them. What it does not have is the ‘working file’ information from a digitizing program. For that each digitizing program has a file to hold the editable shapes and outlines which are used to create the stitches. In MasterWorks, this is a ‘BLF’ file.

                Other machine manufacturers have their own formats. Most have color information, but some do not so I’ll mention them here: DST and EXP. Because these formats have no color information, programs that display these files have a very ‘rude’ color palette, usually blue, black, red, green, etc. If you want to colorize these files, convert them into a format that understands color (such as PES) then colorize the design in a program like Studio’s ColorWorks. A new invention is EXP+ which has a few files and they now include color information.

                One question asked frequently is, “Why do some formats have a different number of stitches in a design?” There are two main reasons for this: 1.) Some formats have a limited length of a stitch. So when that stitch exceeds the maximum length, then multiple stitches are needed, so the count goes up. 2.) Another reason for this is the trimmers on some machines. The trim function often takes several instructions, which appear as an increase in stitch count.

                I hope this techno-tour has made it easier for you to understand why so many products exist and to help you navigate through the jumble of offerings from computer companies. It’s a large and complex task to break it all down, so find someone who teaches you how to use the products you’re buying and that should help enormously. Thanks for spending your time with me!

Until next month, Happy Stitching!

-Brian

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Posted in Brian's Articles and News 8 years, 7 months ago at 1:07 am.

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