All about Embroidery Digitizing: To Go In-house or Outsource?

All about Embroidery Digitizing: to go in-house or outsource?

Embroidery allows you to create beautiful, permanent designs that are sewn onto garments and other items, adding an excellent decoration to make your products captivating to potential customers. But the process of creating an embroidered design is no easy task.

Even with the advances in technology that make it easier to create embroidery designs, putting them onto a physical medium remains a challenge, especially when particular conditions must be met to create a great design. Digitization is the process of translating your designs into an actual embroidery creation.

So What is Digitizing?

An embroidery machine creating a fox design

To be clearer, digitizing is transforming digital artwork you’ve made (or imported from somewhere else) into an embroidery design file that your embroidery machine can use. Through embroidery digitizing software, you’ll plot the stitches of the design, which the machine will replicate to create the final product.

Think of digitizing as similar to how RIP software for direct-to-garment (DTG) or film (DTF) printing works: you first create the digital artwork needed for the order, then translate it into instructions that the printers can understand to print it onto the garment. It’s the same thing for embroidery. You can look at plotting the stitch work as coloring your designs for DTG/DTF printing.

Almost any design can be digitized, so long as you aren’t limited to the kind of stitches you can apply to the embroidery. You’d be surprised how various limitations to what type of stitches you can apply can make or break a design.

How Do You Digitize a Design?

A laptop sitting atop a desk

The first step is to upload the desired design into the embroidery digitizing software of your choice. Once it’s ready, you’ll need to tailor the design to the client’s specifications and remove any blank spaces around the design. You might need to set the correct size and adjust the number and type of colors needed. Be sure you also have the necessary materials to do the job quickly!

Next would be to choose the stitch type for the design. Keep in mind that each stitch type has pros and cons, so the nature of the artwork can inform the stitch type that would work best for it. You also need to consider the fabric you’re using and also account for push and pull compensation, both of which can affect the quality of the embroidery.

You’ll mainly use three stitch types for embroidery:

  • Straight stitch: straight lines of stitches are repeated to create a pattern. They can be used for shading or to add detail.
  • Satin stitch: a good choice for lettering as it creates a nice, shiny effect that highlights the letters.
  • Fill stitch: otherwise known as the tatami stitch, this type is ideal for filling in blank areas, creating a textured appearance, and can also be used for more durable applications.
An unsorted collection of threads

Digitizing provides step-by-step instructions to the machine to create the design with minimal fuss. As such, you’ll need to set the direction when plotting out how the machine should stitch the design. With a direction set, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture (no pun intended) in better detail, allowing you to emphasize efficiency while creating a beautiful design.

Without any stitch direction, a design can look haphazard. You might have to deal with many loose threads, faulty stitches, or other problems once you start embroidering. Once everything looks good and the digitizing process is completed, you can pick out the colored threads you need and the type of thread best suited for the job. For most embroidery projects, polyester is a good general-purpose choice that’s durable and vibrant. Have a Pantone color guide handy if your client needs the colors to match specific shades.

Do note that designs can vary in many ways. Some may have fine details, small letters, color gradations, and more, each of which will require more careful planning with your digitizing (and more set-up time once you start embroidering).

Once everything is set, you can transfer the design to the embroidery machine. You can set up the machine with the right selection of needles, threads, orientation, and the embroidery sequence to create the design. Make sure you conduct a test run before you start to ensure everything is set up correctly. If the test results please you, you can proceed to complete the order.

The Learning Curve

An embroidery machine working on a hat

It might be tempting to let the embroidery software do all the work for you, but that’s going to be counterproductive for a variety of reasons, chief of which stems from how the stitches will turn out. While the software will do its best to plot stitches efficiently, it doesn’t account for how the machine will create these stitches. It doesn’t know how the machine will achieve the desired results. As such, you might end up with a nested mess of stitches, for example.

While you don’t need to be artistically inclined to learn to digitize, it still takes a lot of practice and experience to be able to digitize designs effectively. Knowing some of the basics of embroidery and digitizing is important, so you understand how things work. You won’t get far without the knowledge and practice to digitize and properly create embroidery designs.

As long as you put in the time to learn the ropes, you can digitize as well as a professional digitizer. It will take significant effort and time to get there, but you will get there. The question is whether you’re willing to invest that amount of time and energy in reaching that level of expertise.

And this brings us to our main question: whether you should digitize in-house or have it outsourced to an expert.

Should You Digitize In-house?

If you’re willing to spend time learning everything about embroidery digitizing, then digitizing in-house would be a no-brainer. You could take everything you’ve learned and put it to good use in creating beautiful designs for your clients.

A person using a stylus with their laptop to design something

DIY Benefits

Of course, with everything under your control – from the time needed to digitize and embroider to the level of quality control – you can get a sense of empowerment from being able to dictate every facet of the embroidery process. The same goes for your customers: when they know what you’re doing, you’ll be able to put them at ease, knowing that you’ll do a good job!


You won’t need to hire professional digitizers (whether in-house or outsourced) to do the digitizing for you since you’ll be able to do it on your own. You’ll be able to redirect that expense to other, more important areas of your shop instead. The time cost is also obvious: you’ll be able to set the deadlines yourself without waiting for someone else to finish their part before you can deliver to your clients.

More Flexibility

You can take on various custom orders that require specific digitizing methods to tackle. You’ll have to start slowly at first if you’re unfamiliar with how to go about it. Still, as you become more confident in your digitizing abilities, you’ll be able to cover more methods and designs.

Contract Embroidery Opportunities

You can also consider taking on contract embroidery digitizing as an additional income source. With a demand for digitizing experts, you can offer your services to various print shops that might need digitizing. Just be mindful that you don’t end up taking more time out of your own shop’s business needs.

Should You Outsource Your Digitizing?

On the other hand, there are some benefits if you choose to outsource your digitizing. Having someone else do it for you can free up your time to focus on other aspects of your business, such as marketing your embroidery services.

Cost Effectiveness

You won’t need to buy expensive software licenses and a new computer to run the software. You also don’t have to worry about hiring an in-house digitizer. You’ll be able to pay a flat rate for each design that needs digitizing and still get excellent results.

Prices can vary from $5 to $25 per design, while designs that need a higher stitch count can go higher. Some shops might charge $40 for a 5,000 stitch count design ($8 per 1,000 stitches), while others might offer preferential rates for higher stitch counts: $75 for 10,000 stitches, for example (a rate of $7 per 1,000 stitches).

Sample embroidery rates

With the recommendation of a well-rated contract embroidery digitizer, you also won’t need to worry about the quality or the time you would’ve needed if you did it yourself.

Time Savings on Learning the Ropes

At the same time, you won’t need to spend time and effort learning everything about embroidery digitizing. You could use that time to improve your business outputs, communications, and more.

Focus on your Core Niche

If embroidery is a decorative method that isn’t one of your core services, outsourcing digitizing means you can focus on your primary services and improve upon them.

Digitizing Considerations

Embroidery digitizing and related software can be quite expensive to purchase. Even on an offer, Wilcom’s popular Hatch software can cost up to $900 for a one-time purchase. You can consider alternatives such as Wilcom’s Workspace Studio online service with an annual subscription fee of $49. There’s also the supplementary Workspace Estimator that helps to “generate stitch estimates” from designs and works in tandem with Workspace Studio. The Estimator also has a $49 annual subscription fee.

Standalone software allows you to work from your shop’s computer anytime, while online services provide ready access to digitizing from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Each has its caveats, such as standalone software being limited to where you installed it, so you’ll need to weigh your options carefully.

Besides the investment cost, you also need to consider the time to learn the ropes and labor considerations if you plan on hiring an in-house digitizer instead. You’ll have to ensure you can still meet your deadlines promptly.

Your shop’s services can also inform how you should approach your embroidery. Are you a screen printer with a lot of orders? Are you adding embroidery to supplement your existing services? Consider the following scenarios before you decide what’s best for your embroidery.

For Screen Printers

A person using a squeegee to screen print

Successful screen printing shops constantly print hundreds of garments for high-volume orders. Efficiency and speed are key components to producing great-looking garments, especially for well-equipped shops with highly trained staff and top-notch equipment. Such a business can receive multiple orders of more than 200 pieces in a single day and be able to meet them in a few days or weeks.

To add more value to your screen-printed garments, embroidery is an excellent choice to complement your screen-printed designs. Having said that, it can take time to add embroidered designs to each garment, so you’ll have to keep that in mind. If it takes too long, you might miss deadlines, which won’t improve your shop’s reputation!

If you’re worried about meeting these deadlines, outsourcing your digitizing would be the more logical option. It would be ideal if you could find the time to learn it yourself, but it could interfere with your other work. Outsourcing it to a trusted and well-rated contract digitizer would be a better choice so you can focus on your core business and not have to worry about your embroidery work.

While it’s tempting actually to consider doing it in-house, you have to weigh your options carefully beforehand. The biggest question you need to answer is whether you can reliably meet every order’s deadline if you add embroidery to the mix. Realistically, it would be better to leverage your core niche for your shop’s steady growth.

For Small-scale Custom Printers

Black shoes with a flower embroidery design

For small print shops that cater to small garment orders, be it a home business or otherwise, embroidery would be of great help to add more value to your products. Since you’re catering to unique, custom-made items for families, small groups, and special occasions, you’ll make various types of goods, including non-garment items like caps, blankets, and towels. If you’re already using some other decorative method and have a decent amount of sales, adding embroidery to your repertoire might be a good idea to expand your niche.

Because of the high costs of investing in embroidery equipment, including digitizing software, it can be prohibitive for a small-time business to afford all that and still manage to turn a profit. It can take a good while to see a return on investment if you can afford it. However, the long-term benefit is that you’ll be able to fulfill various kinds of embroidery orders if you have the right equipment for the job, opening up opportunities to sell to a wider audience.

For Contract Embroiderers

If you’re taking on embroidery jobs from other print shops, or plan to do so, then in-house digitizing is the obvious choice. For the most part, you’ve already acquired all the necessary equipment and supplies, and you’ve made your target clientele print shops that wish to add embroidery to their products but don’t want to get the equipment for themselves. If you’re a trained digitizing professional whose work speaks for itself, your services will be well sought after.

A collection of neatly arranged colored threads

Knowing your skillset, you’ll be able to project the number of designs you can digitize in a day, depending on the design’s complexity. You can also charge additional fees based on these aspects. For example, more complex designs that require more thought into plotting the stitches can cost more than simple designs or large font lettering.

You’re also at an advantage if you have customers who’d rather entrust all aspects of the embroidery process to you. Leveraging your abilities to do both can net you a broad (and profitable) customer base.


At the end of the day, embroidery digitizing is essential to getting various designs into physical form, but not everyone is cut out for it. With its emphasis on constant, frequent practice to be able to learn how to digitize properly, not everyone would have the patience to keep doing it over and over again. But persistent folks will find themselves rewarded by opening up new avenues of expanding their growth and capturing the attention of new customers who need a good digitizer to get their designs made.

For those who’re serious about going into embroidery and have the means to do so, learning the ropes to digitizing and then doing it in-house can be an immensely rewarding experience. However, for those who aren’t adding embroidery as a core service and have no time to focus on building it up themselves, outsourcing is an effortless way to add embroidery to your repertoire without having to fuss over its deployment.