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I need to start digitizing because...

I need to start digitizing because...

Cons Pros Buttons Show Decisions Or DebateIf I had a nickel for every time I have seen, heard or read a comment from an embroidery business owner along these lines...

I am seriously considering purchasing digitizing software because I have to turn a lot of business away. I can't justify hiring someone to digitize a design for a few shirts. Does anyone have any suggestions on good software that is affordable?

I would be a very, very wealthy woman!

And because I DO have this conversation at least once a week with an embroidery professional, it is clear that this conversation that needs to happen on a broader scale than just one-to-one conversations.

So here it is... my thoughts on becoming a digitizer because you want to be able to do small runs for customers - the good, the bad and the ugly!

PLEASE consider letting any of the hundreds of experienced digitizing professionals, the experts, continue to do your digitizing! Think about the statement above... You would rather spend your time (your most precious asset) creating designs for customers BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT PAY FOR DIGITIZING!?!?!?! Yup, I AM yelling about this.....

There is NOTHING WRONG with charging customers for a custom design. In other industries, customers pay BIG $ to have a custom design created. Ad agencies charge hundreds of dollars to create a logo, much less an entire branding package. Yet in our industry of apparel decorating, so many business owners do not charge a single penny for this service yet they perform it regularly. WHY is that??? If the customer comes into your business with a concept, why is it reasonable for us to assume the expense of generating the useable artwork? It is NOT reasonable! Charge the customer for your time, or for the design fee or digitizing fee you hire it out.

Getting the art done well and getting the digitizing done right and quickly is worth every penny as the quality of the work you will deliver will be awesome.

Let's take the first challenge - creating good art... Everyone can take a basic image (stock design) and add some lettering to it and it will look OK. That is not what I consider digitizing.

When a customer comes to you and has a rough concept along the lines of something like this

"I want a toolbox with a bumble bee coming it out of and then my company name somewhere..."

since their company name is Mr. B's Plumbing (he is Mr. Benson)... Now you are edging over into the realm of graphic design.

Guess what? People go to school, sometimes for years, to become good graphic designers! There IS an art to creating appealing designs. Understanding how to create a visually pleasing design with balance, selecting fonts, combining colors comes naturally for some people. For the rest of us, we should NOT attempt it! Bad designs abound in the world, and I think it is a visual crime to add more to the universe! I speak from personal experience - I STINK at creating a decent design from scratch. I am not so bad at modifying an existing design, I can see what might improve something. But to start at a blank page and come up with a good design - I am NOT the person for that job!

Now let's look at the second challenge - creating good digitizing... HOW LONG will it take you to become halfway proficient as a digitizer? MUCH longer than you have time for if you want to earn income from your embroidery business. In the meantime, are you willing to put work out there under your name during your learning curve? 

I've seen WAY too many businesses in this exact same spot make the decision to "become digitizers," only to realize soon after that it was a very expensive mistake! They lose untold number of hours trying to create a design that looks good and runs well, sometimes even DAYS, and the embroidery they produce with their design is marginal at best while they are learning to digitzing.  And then they end up in a bind - to produce the embroidered goods as is or to spend money to send out the design anyway!

Now I did promise you the GOOD as well as the bad and ugly (reread above).

If you are a graphically creative and/or talented person, and if you do not need to earn income from every hour that you are working in your embroidery/apparel decoration business, then by all means embrace and unleash your creative genius with digitizing software. It is an awesome feeling to have a vision of a design in your head and then be able to create it with the software and then ultimately in embroidery thread. But you need to to know that during this time of creative fulfillment and bliss, you are not earning any income! Can you afford that?

I know some embroidery professionals that set aside "personal" time for digitizing specifically because of the level of enjoyment they get from the creative process - it energizes them and gives them something essential that they then apply to the rest of their businesses. Feeding that inner creative is important and healthy and I applaud everyone that gives themselves that time and spark.

But the reality of digitizing for customers is far different. You are not able to embrace your creativeness because, in this situation, you need to create the customer's vision, not a vision of your own choosing.

So, here is the acid test as to whether you should purchase a full scale digitizing software program and invest the time to become proficient with it - can you afford to spend that time and money and not be earning anything from it for however long it takes you to become proficient with it? If you are the only employee in your business, this is the real question. If you have more employees, it does become more viable, as one person can be running machines and earning income while someone else is spending the time to become skilled with digitizing software.

If your answer is yes, you can afford the time and money to add this system to your business, then go for it. Otherwise, take that money and invest in the digitizing fees for your customers - the money is spent all the same, and you will be earning income on order after order that sew well. And in a perfect world, you would be charging your customers for that digitizing and not even underwriting it for them!  THAT is a model for a financially healthy embroidery business.

What do you think about this?

Do you digitize?

Is it a profit center or a loss for your business?


22 Responses

  1. Warner Brown says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article. by the way it is correct , digitizing should be left with professional. there are many companies not asking much for the work.

  2. I would outsource embroidery digitizing to professionals rather than doing it in-house. The quality is better and it saves time as well as money. Finding a quality digitizing service is however a difficult task and quality is compromised when work is outsourced to cheap overseas digitizers. I would prefer professionals from USA and paying them a bit more instead of wasting my time overseas.

  3. Peter Ellis says:

    As you said there are pros and cons, we do all our own digitising and have done over the past 6 years. We had the program, but started by sending 90% of our designs away. This was fine although we often had to tweak them when they got back and we had sampled them.
    We ended up spending more time trying to get alterations made, and explaining to someone what isn't running right by email or over the phone isn't great. So we now do all our own and can sample them quickly and adjust anything within minutes.
    The down side is as technology moves on and programs become more flexible, we get left behind as it isn't a cost we can afford to be able keep up with the new programs.
    If you aren't technically minded or arty, it could take a long time to learn your way around the program and as said, could cost you either business or money or even both. We are still learning new things with our program after 6 years.

    As for charging for digitising or set up costs, it has never been a problem as long as you tell the customer up from, as you said, if you use a graphic designer to get any printing done they charge without batting and eyelid.

  4. Alisa Davis says:

    I agree with you. But, for me, I want to be one of those digitizers that people hire to do digitizing. Before becoming an embroidery, I was a website designer. Over the years, I have learned to manipulate graphics software, so when I started trying to digitize, I felt that I was way ahead of the game. I have also been sewing garments since I was a teenager, making my own clothes, and then my kid's clothes. So, I also know fabric, what will work and what won't.

    In my current situation, most of my design requests are fairly simple, but with a very short turn around. When I have sent complicated designs out, I end up re-doing them. I always end up sending them back for revisions, but in that time, work on themmyself. I have never once used the design I paid for, but used the ones I did myself. What I do use is the order that things are sewn out in. I've gotten pretty good at digitizing in the evenings, and sewing out during the day. Maybe I haven't found the right digitizer, but for now, I just prefer to do it myself.

    I have Pulse Illustrator Extreme v13&v14, bought in late 2010, but wish I had Maestro or the top Wilcom software.

    I guess a lot of whether to buy good digitizing software or not is what your final goal is. Mine is to retire from embroidery, but to keep digitizing as long as I can sit in front of a computer and have a sharp mind.

  5. Jackie Kruse says:

    do you guys have classes on learning how to do this

    • Jennifer Cox says:

      Hey there Jackie, NNEP does not present classes on learning how to digitize - but there are some excellent options available. The training is often software-specific, so first, you need to know what software you want to learn. Then check with the software company to see what training they offer, and what independent trainers they recommend. Lee Caroselli at Balboa Threadworks is an excellent teacher if you use the Wilcom software. She presents 3 day trainings several times throughout the year and offers a course as well. Check them out on her website here: http://balboastitch.com/merchandise/index.php?cat=295.

  6. Sharon Repici says:

    I'm still a rookie, not sure I will ever be very good at digitizing, but I do need to know some of the basics, because understanding how density styles affect the push and pull of designs on fabric helps make me a better embroiderer.

    • Jennifer Cox says:

      Sharon, yes, indeed having a basic knowledge IS important, for exactly the reasons you mentioned! Understanding how the design is programmed helps you know how to stabilize and hoop the product properly to get the best results.

  7. Pat Flanagan says:

    I agree with what I'm reading; however I find myself doing most of the digitizing, because I don't know whom I can trust to do excellent digitizing. Can you recommend several Digitizers? I use Melco software. Thanks so much!

    • Jennifer Cox says:

      Hi Pat! There are SO many excellent digitizers here in the US, and then there are hordes more popping up from overseas. We advise you to try one or two of them. I ran an experiment to find out if I liked working with them. I sent at least 2 digitizing companies MY logo to have it digitized. I paid for both designs, as I saw it as an investment in finding the best supplier for my business. I sewed out the designs and then compared them - quality, density, how the design ran, looked and felt when it was done, as well as comparing the costs, how smoothly the process went and how quickly I received the sew files. I found that one company came out "ahead" of the other, in quality, process and overall. We then went with them as our primary digitizer, and I still use them to this day. I have others that I like and have used at times in the past 20 years, due to a crunch situation, or a special situation, and it IS nice to have a backup plan in case there is a situation that would put you in a bind. We have long-standing relationships with several digitizers that offer special pricing to NNEP members - you can see them on the NNEP Members Savings Page here: http://www.nnep.com/member-savings/

  8. Judy Del Rosso says:

    My Dad is always telling me to learn to digitize, that it can't be that hard! I'm sure that if I devoted 100% of my time for I don't know how long, I could probably learn to digitize. But I have been in the embroidery business long enough to know that there is digitizing and then there is "digitizing"! I am in awe of a design that comes to life in the hands of a good digitizer. You can't be 100% proficient in everything, so I respect the art of digitizing, and stick to what I know best. Thanks for the article. I will definitely make sure my Dad reads it!

  9. Juliene West says:

    Completely agree! Professional digitizers (not just people who call themselves digitizers) know how the stitches (density, pull compensations, etc.) will look on the fabric.

  10. Terri Hanson says:

    I agree! I am frequently asked to redo a design that someone either tried to do themselves or was done by an inexperienced digitizer. An embroidery business will not be successful unless they produce quality products using well digitized designs. I see people asking where they can find a pre digitized font so they can create a logo. If you hire a professional digitizer they will digitize the font to look exactly like the logo and you do not need to waste hours looking for a font that is close but not perfect. Keyboard lettering is useful but a logo must be exactly the same to please most customers.

  11. Pam Spears-Bradford says:

    I agree with you and then I don't. I DID purchase a digitizing program. I DO hire graphic artists to draw what I need from scratch because to me I am the world's worst. If I need the design quickly I will and do hire a great digitizer because I am in the learning stages. I have digitized designs for items that I would like to sell to other embroiders and I use for myself. As you noticed I don't have a website yet. I just have to get over my fear that my designs will not sell or will be pirated.

  12. Vicki Buckley says:

    You are totally right about sending the digitizing to a professional. Why would I spend hrs and hrs . trying to digitize something that my digitizer can do an a few minutes. Plus I don't have the time it takes to learn the ins and outs of the software program. I just tell the customer up front that there will be a digitizing fee. Never had one walk out because they didn't want to pay the fee.

    • Jamal Faridi says:

      Absolutely correct! When you send your logo to a professional digitizer actually you are promoting your business by giving more time to it, you can spend this spare time to do sales or meet new walk-in customers. Seeing is believing.

  13. Sharon Marhefka says:

    I absolutely agree with you 100% Jennifer. Even though I have top of the line software I only use it to edit and do lettering. I might add if you do send your digitizing out try to find a good one that has the same software. Then you can get the outline files for future editing purposes.

  14. Pamela Mizzi says:

    I agree with you completely, Jennifer! I send all my digitizing out except for simple keyboard lettering. I do think being able to use some simple digitizing software is helpful for making minor, easy changes. But, I would never attempt to digitize a custom design myself - that's not where I need to spend my time - just as you explained so well in your piece.

  15. Great article. I agree with you completely. I would rather pay someone $15 or $30 to digitize artwork in less than a day, than to sit and try and figure it out myself. It's money well spent for me and I will charge my customer $50 to setup their order.

  16. You hit the nail right on the head. I let the professionals create the art and I let the professionals digitize it. I have enough to do running the business and running the embroidery machines. thank you, Renee

  17. I think that one of the reasons that so many new embroiderers jump into digitizing is because when they are buying a machine the salesman is pushing the digitizing software on them too. They can make it seem exciting, appealing, and easy, and what an addition to your machine! Now your business is complete! Let's face it, why wouldn't they want to sell as much digitizing software as they can? I think a lot of people fall into their trap, and that's when later they are either producing bad designs or asking themselves why they bought it.

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