February '19

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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2 0 1 9 F E B R U A R Y P R I N T W E A R 5 7 that image or potentially process it, if you want to change the shapes you created in your original art, you'd have to return to the vector file, and no amount of auto-tracing renders a file as clean as the original source. The only frustrating difference for design- ers is that you can't open the working file from one digitizing suite with another, nor export to a common file format with the same shapes and stitch settings as working files are entirely proprietary. THE PROCESS Interpreting art into stitches must start with the art. A digitizer will import either a vec- tor graphic or a raster graphic into their software, sizing it to the finished size of the intended decoration. Digitizers usually have their monitors calibrated for size, meaning that at 1:1 zoom, the design on screen is very close to actual size. As thread has a set physical size and quality stitching requires certain sizes for stitches and elements, scale is critical. Once art is imported, a digitizer will re- view the art looking for areas of difficulty that might need alteration as there are mini- mum sizes for lettering, thicknesses of satin- stitch lines, and spacing between elements that should not touch. Tight areas and fine details are usually up for consideration. The digitizer will mentally plan the sequence of elements in the design, thinking about the way they will layer and how one can travel efficiently through the design with the ap- parent motion of the needle as it stitches. At this stage, a great digitizer will also consider the sheen and dimension of stitches and contemplate ways to showcase the qualities of embroidery through altering the shapes and stitch angles in the design. Having identified potential changes and planned a sequence, the digitizer will pro- ceed in one of two ways. With vector art, the digitizer may choose to convert vector elements into embroidery elements, assign- ing stitch angles, settings, and entry and exit points to each element in sequence while planning travel between them. This can be problematic, as print vector elements will not compensate for natural stresses in em- broidery that will alter their shape during the stitching process, nor the overlapping necessary for proper registration across lay- ers. The second and more traditional way to work, whether the source art is vector or raster, is to draw new embroidery shapes over the original image, using it as a back- drop. In this way, shapes can be drawn with compensation for distortion, properly over- lapped as necessary, and embroidery-specific changes can be affected to make the design more aesthetically pleasing in thread. Once drawing and assignment of stitch variables are complete, the digitizer will preview the design, virtually stitching it with a simula- tor tool that 'plays' the stitches in sequence. Upon finding no errors in sequencing, the digitizer will output a machine file for final testing or stitching, taking care to set any parameters necessary to control a machine's color change and trim functions. HOW DOES A DIGITIZER CREATE THEIR SHAPES? Drawing is accomplished by plotting points either with a number of embroidery-spe- cific drawing tools that define narrow col- umns, center-line objects, or flat areas of fill with bezier input that use node styles and handles similar to those used in vec- tor drawing software, or with spline input which eschews the handles of the bezier curve for a calculated path based on the placement of corner or round points along a shape's outline. Aside from the addition of stitch angles and entry/exit points, the drawing process is very similar to vector drawing. Once drawn, no matter the input method used, the resulting shapes can be edited and re- shaped. Stitch parameters can additionally be changed and moved in the embroidery sequence as needed. The software contains some automation for applying compensation for the distor- tion inherent in machine embroidery, but settings alone can only do so much. Fabric- specific defaults apply settings to address the needs of a given garment, but the digitizer must ultimately know how a design should be constructed and what must be adjusted for a given combination of art, materials, and garment construction to create the necessary shapes and apply the proper pa- rameters. Circles must be drawn somewhat as ovals, satin stitch outlines must overlap the elements they border, and lettering fre- quently looks badly aligned at the top and bottom on-screen to finish with flush tops and baselines. Though the process of draw- ing is comparable to vector design work, the missing link between art and embroidery is in the digitizer's knowledge of materials and machines. Simply owning vector graphics software can't make you a graphic designer. Digitiz- ing software is a tool that anyone can use if they dedicate themselves to learning the principles of embroidery and spending quality time running machines. Digitizers may be lucky in that most of our designs start with provided art, but though we don't create most designs whole-cloth, it should be plain to see that digitizing is more inter- pretation than conversion. Even so, if someone like my younger self with no art training and no background in design can get by on curiosity, analysis, and a stubborn dedication to test and retest designs, you can do much more with the wealth of information and tools available to you today. If you want to digitize, there's no better time to get to know how this software works first hand. PW Software contains some automation for applying com - pensation for the distortion inherent in ma - chine embroi- dery, but settings alone can only do so much.

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