We expect many things of ourselves when digitizing, but there is no such thing as a “perfectly digitized design”. You may be close, but there is always that little something that you would change if you digitized the design again. For many digitizers, the major problem is small objects or small lettering. Both small objects and small lettering have similar challenges when setting parameters such as density, underlay, pull compensation or stitch angle for each object, but lettering can be more problematic. Name any problem you can have with embroidery and small lettering usually amplifies it. In this article I will be talking about small lettering, but the same principles will apply to small objects in a design.
Every digitizing problem has a solution that lies in following the basics of good digitizing. If you understand the underlying physics of digitizing and embroidery, the solution to virtually every problem becomes obvious.
When digitizing small lettering, the 800 pound gorilla in the corner is short stitches. Small lettering requires very short stitches, which will create the majority of problems with small lettering.
Back to physics: fabric absorbs small stitches. If you make a stitch short enough, it seems to disappear right into the fabric. Actually, several physical properties combine to cause this problem. If you could magnify the area you are embroidering on, you would see that if you place a stitch in one area on a piece of fabric with the next stitch 3 millimetres away, the resulting distance between stitches is roughly 2 millimetres rather than the original 3 millimetres.
Embroidery and sewing machines traditionally use thread tension to manage thread output as you are machine embroidering or sewing. When two stitches are formed concurrently, the tension of the top and bottom thread joins the stitches together. That joining action pulls stitches closer together than the points where the needle originally entered the fabric. To compensate for this, pull compensation is usually added to a design. No matter how stable the backing or stabilizer is, every stitch you place on a piece of fabric will be shortened by at least half a millimeter, usually more.
But that is not the only reason that fabric seems to absorb short stitches. The effects of fabric nap rarely cross a digitizer’s mind, unless you are using corduroy or wool. Fabric nap refers to tiny fibers of the fabric, which are loose and protrude from the knit or weave of the fabric.
Whenever you are dealing with tiny stitches, the nap of every fabric becomes a factor. Dull appearing fabrics usually appear dull because of a large presence of nap, while shiny fabrics have little nap, or very fine fibers affecting the nap. When you embroider on any fabric, some nap will come into contact with the thread. Whatever amount of embroidery thread gets covered by nap, fibers will be hidden from view.
Large, irregularly surfaced fabrics like corduroy can hide a sizable amount of embroidery thread, but as stitches get shorter, the nap of even the finest fabrics can hide critical stitches.
The “what you see isn’t always what you get” syndrome now kicks in. The optical illusion of the embroidery thread factors into the problem of disappearing stitches.
What makes most embroidery threads so special is their sheen, or the reflective quality that gives embroidery its characteristic glow. But the tables get turned when you create short stitches, and that same sheen that makes your thread desirable can create further headaches.
As you know, angles you set when digitizing will change what you see. Embroidery threads can appear to be different shades of color based upon the angle from which they are viewed due to the smooth, shiny surface of the thread.
From a side view, embroidery thread is reflective, appearing brightest at the area that best reflects a light source to your eye, and darker in areas that reflect the majority of light away from your eye. As stitches get shorter, this optimum reflective angle seems to disappear and the stitches appear darker.
If you are digitizing with true type fonts, (i.e. sending true type fonts to Embird Studio through Font Engine) you should use a sans serif font for best results. Density, underlay, scale (stitch length) and pull compensation are the key factors to successful small lettering. Tiny letters need to have a lower density (higher number = lower density) and have greater pull compensation.
The default density in Studio is 4.0 mm, which is fairly tight. Smaller objects should begin with a density of no more than 4.5 mm and can go as high as 6.0 mm, depending on the underlay settings.
Begin with a basic pull compensation of .02 mm, increasing it as necessary.
The default scale (stitch length) is 100% in Studio; set the stitch length to a higher percentage (more space between stitches).
Select edge walk and zigzag stitches. The edge walk provides a foundation for the outer stitches of the column to grab onto while the zigzag underlay provides a foundation for the stitching to sit on, preventing sinking of the stitching into the fabric. The length of the underlay stitches is controlled through the global parameters. In Embird Studio left click to select the object; right click/parameters. The red and yellow shield at the top left represents the global parameters. Change the minimum stitch length to 1.0 or 1.5 mm. The program takes the length you have created and evenly spaces stitches along this line based on the minimum stitch length.
Combining a longer scale (stitch length) with an underlay, you will have longer stitches because the needle travels further between stitches. But since your columns aren’t much wider than the thread, the underlay that shows through will make the columns appear much denser than they are, with the end result that the stitching will sit on top of the fabric rather than falling into the nap of the fabric. The density change will also give the thread more space to stretch out on top of the underlay. Fewer stitch penetrations means less background color showing through.
There will be times, especially with some fonts, where the normal rules for column width and density go completely out the window when dealing with small letters. A letter that appears “fat” at normal sizes may appear sickly skinny when sewn at a very small size. Sometimes, you need to increase column widths to the point where letters appear “blobby” in 3-D preview to achieve crisp letters on fabric. This can usually be achieved by changing the pull compensation to a higher number.
When embroidering, remember that you need to use the right size and point of needle, as well as the correct stabilizer; you may also want to add a topping, if you feel a topping is necessary to prevent the stitches from sinking into the fabric. You may also need to adjust the tension at your embroidery machine. It can help if your thread tensions are set to minimal acceptable settings to decrease the loss due to stitch pull. Slow the embroidery machine down when sewing small letters to reduce the heat caused by friction. The slower you go, the more time the thread has to dissipate heat before any point on the thread segment receives friction again.
With very small lettering you want to use a thinner thread, such as a 50-weight thread. The thinner thread helps because it bends better at sharper angles without breaking than a thicker thread would.
Note: part 2 of this topic deals with a “perfectly embroidered design”.