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Gallery Connection January 2010

10 Tips for Digtizing

It’s January and “Thank heavens all those holiday projects are mostly memories.” Yes, only mostly. Have you ever given something to someone before it was fully completed? I’ve heard this more than a few times over the years, but this year I heard it a lot. It’s the New Year, after all, so you might as well get them back and finish them up!

This year Designer’s Gallery will be 10 years old. It’s gone by in such a flash. And the worst part is that each year goes by successively faster. I’ve always held a 5 year plan for products I’d like to make, and that used to seem like a long time in advance, but now it doesn’t. Is there an appropriate response to the feeling that you’re getting older, and that time is winning out? Yes there is – salute Father Time with the middle digit! Then celebrate every opportunity to participate – make something special for every occasion.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of digitizing. So I thought maybe I could put up a few pointers on that topic. Now, I don’t claim ownership of these – I’ve learned a few things on my own over the years, but some friends of mine have said things more clearly than I managed to do, so I use their wisdom here as well, with their permission.

1.) Start with good art.

If you have to be an artist while digitizing, you’ve got too much to think about. Unless you are either a decent artist or a decent digitizer already, in which case, “Go for it.” What constitutes good art? Let’s put subject matter aside and talk about the technique used in the art. First, it has to be something that’s easily rendered as an embroidery design. A pen and ink sketch is not likely to be a great subject for a needle and thread. Outlines however can make nice quilting and redwork designs. Silhouettes make nice embroidery too, and can be accomplished easily with fills, satins and runsThere’s been a lot of hubbub about vector art. It really should be ‘graphic art’. The advantage of vectors is that the art is sizable and the image stays good-looking as it gets bigger or smaller. The advantage that graphic art has is that areas filled with color generally have solid colors or smooth gradients in them. This makes translating to embroidery a lot easier. If you have a shape filled with some color, then you can trace that shape while digitizing and fill it with color too. Then add the requisite stitch angle and density information and you’ve got a shape to be embroidered, commonly called an object. You can even create one with a gradient. But, take a photo of someone’s face and try to embroider it, and that’s an entirely different process.You can have a non-vector image that’s just fine to work with. Typically we have .jpeg or .bmp files, but there are others. This type of image is better known as a bitmap. That means that the design is made up of little dots of color known as pixels. If the image is graphic art, and you have enough pixels (think about your digital camera) then the picture is easy to digitize. If you have too few pixels you can be forced to guess where one shape ‘ends’ and another ‘begins’. Too many pixels and you’ve gotten the program slowed down while it’s drawing all those pixels every time you click something. Also the pixel count can affect the Magic Wand or other drawing tools in some programs. So how many is enough? I usually size the image to about 1000 pixels on the widest edge, unless the design I want to create is really, really large or very small.

2.) Plan your design.

You’ve watched countless designs stitch out haven’t you? It goes over there and then runs over here, which is okay because that run will be hidden later. Then it works its way up there, where it can color change and not have a jump stitch. Think about the minimal movement it is going to take for the embroidery machine to travel through the design. Less stitches equals more time for you to be doing other things than watching the machine.

3.) Decide what stitch types will be used in each region before you begin.

Sometimes a design will lend itself to a lot of satin stitches. Use fills sparingly if you can. Layer stitches to add texture. But you need to know that a fill stitch in an area that is shaped like a narrow curving column will not look as good as a satin column stitch. And a really narrow satin might be better embroidered with a run.

4.) If you have to jump, add tie-offs and tie-ins.

 It’s easier to add them as you go than to edit them in later. If you’ve planned you design well, there shouldn’t be many of these. But if you have a few and you’re not selling the design, it’s usually not worth it to re-digitize the design just because you got a few jumps. If you’re selling the designs, then you want to make it right.

5.) Compensate your objects.

 This means stretch them so that they overlap. Yes there’s a compensation control for most objects, but it’s easier to digitize them overlapping their neighboring shapes than it is to play around with compensation controls. For most of your projects, compensation controls only add in the width of stitching lost by physically creating the stitch on a machine – and it’s in addition to your overlap. So, if you have two objects with adjacent edges, there will be a gap when they actually sew. Some of that is take care of by compensation, but depending on what else is happening in the design, you need to overlap your objects onscreen to fill in the gaps. If there’s a run stitch at the edge on the early object, then just get to the other side of that – that will typically keep them from separating.

6.) Allow the software to do the underlay.

 Adding runs manually can seem like a good way to ensure the foundation for a good design; however there are other factors that later affect the generation of stitching, such as sizing. If a design size is adjusted the underlay generated gets adjusted too. Things like stitch length, etc.

7.) Ease up on the density.

 If you have underlay, you don’t need as much density and your designs won’t be bulletproof. And simply ignore anyone who wants ‘full coverage’. That’s needed occasionally for a corporate logo, but for almost all wearable art or logo items, the background fabric shows through and is intelligently incorporated into the design. If you must have better coverage, then two objects on top of each other, each with half density, is generally better than one overly-dense object.

8.) Consider the real-world size of the project.

 As you digitize, the level at which you zoom can get ridiculous compared to the real-world output. For instance, a curve or circle is defined by many points. So one could easily imagine drawing a circle to make, for instance, a cartoon character’s eye. To make that circle smooth you might need a bunch of points. But if the eye is only 2mm wide, then you’ve just packed in a whole bunch of trouble. Always digitize within a scale that has some semblance in reality. Another benefit to this is that you will do less editing: If you zoom in, you’ll see all the imperfections and want to edit them. (Depending of course on your level of OCD.) Whereas if you look at the design onscreen at the size it will actually sew out, you can’t see that the tiny details don’t line up perfectly. And doing this has the added benefit of speeding you up!

9.) Play with color after-the-fact or ahead of time, but not during digitizing.

It will distract you. It is far better to plan how many colors you will use before starting with the design, but once it is done, you may want to refine the actual thread selections.

10.) Stitch – Edit – Stitch until it is right.

If it looks funny onscreen, but that is what it takes to make it sew right, then you have a decision to make – either look at a pretty picture on a computer, or actually sew the design! As objects get pushed around during embroidery, the fabric in the hoop is not where it started. So you have to plan or at least edit for that distortion which happens while sewing. This means it won’t look perfect onscreen. So be it. Let it go. It is what it needs to be. And you will have to repeat the stitch-edit-stithch cycle until it looks good enough when sewn.

Well, that’s it. It may be a bit of a primer for some, but generally accepted advice.

Happy Stitching!

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Posted in Brian's Articles and News 10 years, 5 months ago at 8:41 pm.

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