*****This article was originally published in August of 2012 but the information is poignant and new visitors and customers of Qdigitizing will find this useful *****
Before I say anything else please understand – this presentation is not meant to be a list of excuses for poorly programmed embroidery designs. Rather, it is a presentation of fact based on observation from many years of both embroidery production and embroidery digitizing experience. While it may be true that if you put 10 digitizes on the same project you will get 10 different results (because of artistic interpretation), one thing all honest digitizes will agree on is editing for production issues is part of the embroidery process. To be clear…I am not talking about subjective issues regarding the artistic interpretation in a design.…This blog is only about what would be considered “quality” issues.
It should be noted that Qdigitizing (or any other programming service for that matter) would never intentionally send out a poorly programmed designed. We sample everything and only send a design when we believe we have followed the instructions, think the design looks good, and is production friendly. Barring a goof up by the production team we have done the best job we can. Please understand, that does not mean anomalies don’t exist. Sometimes we mess up (I have seen some real head scratchers) but for the most part we do an excellent job and I am extremely proud of my staff.
Just so you all know, I have been working in commercial embroidery since the mid 1980’s. First with my own 60 head contract embroidery shop for 15 years and since then on various production floors; one with more than 1,100 heads, three hundred operators and 5 in-house digitizes. I have personally digitized more than 10,000 designs and I have been responsible for the embellishment of (literally) millions of pieces of apparel from hats to socks and everything in-between. I don’t say this to impress anybody I just want to establish my credentials for the topic I want to discuss today, Why editing embroidery designs is part of the embroidery production process.
Embroidery designs can be notoriously finicky about many factors that are within the control of a digitizer but might not become apparent until a design is run in a production environment. Even the best designed program might need to be adjusted to accommodate a set of circumstance not anticipated. I will list (and comment) on what I feel are the factors that most impact a design (in order of how great that impact might be) for how a design might sew in your world versus ours:
Material/fabric the design is sewn on – It is impossible for Qdigitizing to maintain an inventory of every fabric currently in the market place. And the type of fabric can dramatically impact the quality of a design. This is most apparent when shifting from materials that have a great deal of stretch (like moisture wicking performance materials) to fabrics that do not stretch, like a broad cloth dress shirt. It is critical to the embroidery process that you let us know the material you will be embroidering on. If we do not know the material we use “general” settings and program to accommodate for a wide range of fabric properties. As you might expect, this will not always work and edits may be required.
Programming for hats – Unless we (or any digitizer) has the exact same hat; we hoop it with the exact same framing system, run it on the same machine, in the same mechanical condition, at the same speed, with the same thread, bobbin, tension and operator skill set then sampling on a finished cap is almost pointless. Any digitizer who tells you otherwise is either fibbing to get your business or is very inexperienced. Because of this Qdigitizing uses generally accepted techniques for hat digitizing. It should be expected a “tweak” to the program might be required. Hats are very difficult to embroider on and digitize for. I would seriously question the skill set of anyone who did not admit to this. Anyone who has been around embroidery for any period of time knows this to be true. To further support this, most commercial contract embroidery shops have a 2% to 3% waste factor for hat production. That means for every hat order they do they fully expect to lose two to three hats for each hundred they produce. Seasoned operators know they must build in a “fudge-factor” for hat production. When I made hats for my customers I always ordered a few extra because I knew (even with in-house digitizing) there was a good chance it would take me a sample or two to dial the design in to the machine and get everything to be perfect. And I also knew the odds for some weird embroidery anomaly to occur was much higher for hats than flats.
Proper type and use of backing – The biggest sin you can commit when preparing garments for embroidery is failing to properly stabilize the material. I have seen everything from toilet paper (I swear to God!) to plastic bags used as backing material. I won’t be terribly critical because one time the only thing I could get to work was the cardboard inserts that came with the hats. However, it is vital to use the proper backing and to use it properly.
If you think using two pieces of backing is helping then you are using the wrong backing. We could probably go round and round on this and I am certain some embroiderer will tell me I am wrong but I have never seen a case where two layers did anything other than waste one layer. If your backing is too light you need a heavier backing, not two layers of a light backing. Sure, the heavier backing might be more expensive to buy, but is it twice as expensive, i.e. two pieces of the less expensive stuff? I doubt it. Maybe you don’t want to stock 20 different types of backing, I understand that, you shouldn’t have to. But at a minimum you should have 4. A mid-weight tear-away, a light-weight, mid-weight and heavy-weight cut away. There are also lot’s of specialty backings but that could be an entirely separate conversation.
Also – you should always frame 100% of the backing material in the hoop. If you have a 5” hoop do not frame a three inch stripe across the middle of the hoop and think you have stabilized the garment. You haven’t.
Furthermore, the cardinal sin for embroidery is to not hoop the backing at all and simply slide it under the hoop. If you don’t need to hoop the backing then you don’t need the backing. And it should be understood that not all products require backing (think nylon bags). Remember, the point of backing is to stabilize the top material. If all you do is slide it under the fabric and let it flop around while your machine bangs away at up 1,200 stitches per minute you have done nothing except waste a piece of backing material.
A couple of general rules to consider:
1. There is NO SUCH THING as ONE BACKING for all circumstances.
2. Typically, the less stretch in the top material the lighter the backing you need.
3. Designs with a lot of fill usually require a heavier backing to support the top stitching.
4. Lighter fabrics MAY require lighter backings but that needs to be balanced with the design properties.
Most times a design on a knit shirt needs to be specifically programmed for the material and the desired backing. Most people do not understand that companies like Ralph Lauren, Izod, and others with easily recognized designs/brands might have dozens of different versions of their signatures logos each programmed for a specific product. The reason for this is basically all that is stated in the preceding paragraphs.
Tension – Your operator controls the thread tension at the machine. If the tensions are off poor embroidery is the result. Poor tensions can cause a host of problems like borders and fills not lining up, thread breaks, bobbin thread showing on top of patterns and several other nasty things.
It should be noted that while bad digitizing can cause a lot of problems two things it will almost never causes are, looping in the top thread (99.99% of the time is poor tension) and broken needles. Broken needles are usually the result of a host of other issues but in order for the digitizing to cause this it has to be really, (really) really bad digitizing or the result of a major “goof up” on a setting and not an inexperienced digitizer. Additionally, it should be noted if the digitizing is so bad it is causing your needles to break, it would break ours too. A simple test is, if the needle breaks in the exact same place on ALL embroidery heads (not just one) then it is almost certainly probably a problem with the design. If a needle breaks on only one head on a multi-head machine then it is almost certainly a mechanical issue.
Machine maintenance – Poorly maintained machines produce poor embroidery. It is that simple. At Qdigitizing we have 6 Barudan one head machines, a Toyota and a Melco Amaya machine. All of these machines are professionally maintained to “new” standards as they run 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. Frankly, we beat the cr** out of them. However, since they are in new condition they produce superior results. If your machines are not properly tuned many issues that might seem like digitizing could be tied to your machine. Please note, I say “could be.” I am not trying to rule out digitizing I just want you to be aware there is more to it than only the digitizing.
Operator Skill – Ditto the above for operators. Poorly trained operators produce poor embroidery regardless of how well a design is digitized. For example, a poorly trained operator might use a sheet of light weight tear away backing on a performance knit shirt and a design with 16,000 stitches of a fill and a tight border. That scenario will fail. It is up to the operator to make the right decisions in this regard and it is up to us as business owners to properly train our operators.
I want to close with this…to me producing quality embroidery is like stepping in to the batter’s box. You can still succeed with two strikes against you but if the third strike comes across the plate you are all done. Superior embroidery requires superior digitizing. If you don’t have superior programming, that it is strike one. But it should be understood that each batting opportunity (like embroidery project) is different and you might have to modify your technique (digitizing) to accommodate the pitcher (fabric, machine, backing, etc). Qdigitizing will never charge you to make these kind of edits. The only thing we ask in return is that you understand editing is part of the digitizing and production process.
I hope to hear from you all soon. If you have any questions or suggestions for a blog topic reach out to me here or feel free to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.