Digitizing the Details

Use this checklist to ensure optimal sewouts for intricate embroidery.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

February 11, 2016

Of all the positive business decisions you make daily, mastering the ability to provide amazing detail, infinitesimal lettering and artistic shading should be among them.

Whether you do your own digitizing or outsource it, you must know how thinner-weight threads are awe-inspiring, producing designs and logos that are, well, awesome. While 40-weight thread is viewed as standard and suitable for nearly every embroidery application, consider other threads when you are faced with a logo that contains tiny letters, or if your customer is looking for intricate shading or detail.

For in-house and contract digitizers, here is a checklist of considerations you should make when choosing to enhance a design with thinner-than-40-weight thread.

1. Underlay
You can keep small letters from sinking into fabric by using various types of underlay stitching. This light fill is sewn in the same color as the fabric and follows the shape of the word or lines of text. The two most popular underlays for stitching small areas are center walk and edge walk. The latter runs just along the inside edges of a column or block of fill. Particularly useful on knits or a material with loft, a solid underlay provides the best foundation for stitching small letters that will be clear and readable.

2. Density
Since 60-weight thread is 25%-30% thinner than 40-weight thread, density needs to be adjusted. Thread manufacturers will suggest densities that enable their threads to produce the best results. If you were embroidering an entire design or logo in 60-weight thread, there would be about a 25% increase in total stitch count. It is more likely that only portions of a design will be appropriate for 60-weight thread, where tiny letters or detail are needed.

Since your pricing is most likely based on stitch count, not only will thin thread improve your embroidery’s appearance, but it also will increase your pricing.

3. Thread Path
A letter should be digitized as you would write it. For example, for a capital “T,” you would write the tall center line, then cross it at the top. By thinking of the shapes of letters and digitizing them as you would write them, you’ll automatically look for the point of closest access to the next letter. Reduce the number of trims by keeping letters close enough together that a small stitch moving from one letter to the next will not be noticed.

4. Font Choice
The smaller the lettering, the simpler the font you should choose. If you have been handed a small, intricate logo or design, try simplifying the curves or omitting unnecessary flourishes to improve readability. Open up gaps and holes in letters and omit serifs when possible to keep letters from “closing up.”

5. Fabric Choice
You don’t always have a choice when it comes to fabric, but you do have some options in your approach. If the fabric is unstable in any way, or has loft or pile typically found in knits or fleece, you have two options. Digitize a solid background of underlay or use a topping that will disappear with the use of steam or heat. Since the underlay will provide a secure foundation, it will allow you to produce small letters that are crisp and easy to read.

A water-soluble topping that is hooped on top of the fabric to be embroidered will prevent stitches from sinking into the loops or loft of a thick fabric. Once removed, it is no longer visible and stitches are easily read as they sit above the loft of the fabric.

6. Needles
In using a thinner-weight thread, there is no need to puncture the fabric with a needle that is meant for 40-weight thread. Pair a 60-weight thread with a #65/9 needle or a 75-weight thread with a #60/8.

For many embroiderers, making one or two needles smaller on each embroidery head — in black and white, or whichever colors you are most likely to need for small letters — will save production time. It also will give you a head start toward achieving the best finished product.

One exception is embroidering caps. Because of the thickness of the fabric and backing, it’s best to use a #70/10 needle to prevent breakage.

7. Testing
The value of testing cannot be overemphasized. Density and underlay settings, minimum text size — much of this will fall to individual settings of your machine, digitizing software, the final version of your sewout, and how it appeals to you and your customer. Each version of digitizing software handles density a little differently; some work in metrics, some in U.S. standard decimal, some in percentages and others in their own variable density settings. Be patient — regardless of whether you are your own digitizer — and test your settings.

One final pro tip: Rather than trying to describe how much better a logo or design may look with the addition of thin thread, stitch some samples to show customers what a difference it will make. Do a sewout of the same logo in 40-, 60- and 75-weight thread,or simply use the thin thread for lettering, so you can share samples that will clearly show what a difference this problem-solving thread can make.

Alice Wolf is the marketing communications director for Madeira USA. She began doing marketing and public relations for the art industry in New York, then migrated north to Madeira’s New Hampshire headquarters. For more information or to comment on this article, email Alice at awolf@madeirausa.com.