Frequently Asked Questions




How many thread colors can we use for embroidery?

Most commercial embroidery equipment can sew up to 12 colors per logo, but rarely does a logo require that many thread colors.


What kind of artwork do we need to submit for embroidery?

Typical vector artwork used for printing brochures or promotional products will work fine for embroidery. However, all vector artwork must be “digitized” in order to convert the image into the format required for embroidery equipment. There is usually a one-time charge for this conversion process, and once digitized the files can be edited to some extent. For example, if you have already had your logo digitized and now you would like to add your web address, most times it will only require an edit charge instead of the entire digitizing charge.


Will the thread colors bleed or fade when the garment is washed?

If the garment is going to be washed at high temperatures or with heavy bleach thread selection can be an important decision. For this reason, most embroidery shops use polyester thread as their standard product as it is the most colorfast and has more tensile strength resulting in fewer breaks during the sewing process. Rayon thread which is brighter, softer and more vibrant, is readily available as well, and is used when a higher degree of luster and shine are desired. However, rayon thread is less colorfast, more delicate and breaks more easily. Rayon thread was more common back in the 70s and 80s, and was the reason that many shops at that time would recommend that embroidered garments be washed in color water.


What does “stitch count” mean?

The number of stitches required to sew a particular design will determine the speed at which it can be sewn and as a result the cost to have it sewn. In general, most designs sewn on the left chest position of a shirt are no more than 8000 to 10000 stitches. And, most embroidery rates are calculated based on those stitch counts. As a rule of thumb, most designs will require roughly 1000 stitches for every square inch of coverage.


Are there limitations to the logo or design that can be embroidered?

Working with threads, needles and fabrics is not the same as working with ink or toner on paper, and therefore the end result will be different. Very small elements in a logo design may need to be eliminated if not vital to the design or enlarged to adapt to the sewing process. There are minimum stitch sizes below which one cannot see within the design, or that are smaller than the actual thread itself. It is much more difficult to capture certain details, such as very small lettering and color gradients with thread than it is with ink and paper. Lettering is by far the most challenging part of the digitizing process. One of the common challenges is trying to fit a tagline onto a left chest or sleeve location. This cannot always be accomplished, and may result in the need to break the tagline into two lines or select a different location such as back of the cap or shirt back or sleeve. The minimum letter height can be dependent on the type of fabric being sewn. For example, letters cannot be smaller than ¼” for pique, terry cloth and fleece, and no smaller than 3/16” for twill. Many times lettering will need to be enlarged out of proportion to the rest of the logo for it to stitch successfully. It is standard practice to produce a sew-out of the design once it has been digitized for the customer’s approval prior to sewing the garments. Sew-outs can be viewed and stored electronically to save time and expense.


Are there limitations to the kind of garment or fabric that can be embroidered?

Mid to heavy weight fabrics typically carry embroidery best, such as twill, pique, denim, and fleece. However, thinner fabrics such as rayon or cotton tee shirts can accept embroidery, too. Extremely stretchy fabrics will not work quite as well. Just about any type of fabric can be embroidered if the proper stabilizer is used. It is important to know what fabric (pique, silk, leather, terrycloth, fleece, velour) or garment (shirt, cap, slippers, neckties, lingerie or tote bags) will be used for a project at the time of digitizing. For example, digitizing for the front center position of a cap will generally be done so that it sews outward from the center of the design. If a design has originally been digitized for use on a specific garment, it can at times be used on others even if not optimal. For instance, if a design has been digitized for shirt left chest position, it can sometimes (but not always) be used to embroider the front center of a cap. The most popular location for embroidery on shirts and jackets are left chest, right chest, sleeve and on the back below the collar. Depending upon the construction of the caps, most can be embroidered in front center, back center, left temple and right temple.


What are fabric stabilizers?

The layer of material placed beneath the top of the fabric to prevent wrinkles and to give additional body to the fabric to improve its ability to be sewn is called a stabilizer. There are several types of stabilizers including cut-away, tear-away, vinyl, nylon, water-soluble, heat-n-gone, adhesive, and open mesh.


What is “Keyboard Lettering”?

Most commercial embroidery software offers several basic fonts from which letters or words can be created. This feature is usually used when personalizing the garment with the wearer’s name or initials. These computerized fonts will produce a smooth flow of letters that are consistent in height and density. 


What are “hoops” and “heads”?

The fabric and stabilizer are mounted onto a clamping device called a hoop, which then is attached to the embroidery machine. Hoops can be made from wood, plastic or steel. The fabric is gripped tightly between the hoop’s inner and outer ring. Typically, a mechanical arm moves the hoop under the needle. The logic head of the embroidery machine houses the needle and threads. Commercial embroidery machines can have from one to 18 heads capable of sewing garments simultaneously.


How can I tell if embroidery is of good quality?

Learning the difference between excellent and mediocre embroidery takes time and practice. The stitches should cover the fabric completely and have smooth edges; the fabric should not pucker; the outline and detail should be precise; the underlay or stabilizer should be flat and well placed beneath the garment; and, letter spacing should be clean and consistent.


Can we change thread colors to accommodate different garment colors?

Yes, this is standard within the industry and will not increase your embroidery cost. Most organizations choose to make simple modifications in their logo colors so that they show up well on the garment color. For example, if your logo colors are blue and black they will work fine when embroidering on white or light color garments. The black portion of the logo can be switched to white for embroidery on black garments, and so forth. Another way to approach choosing embroidery colors is called tone-on-tone where a logo can be stitched in thread colors very closely matching that of the garment. And, again, there should be no cost differential to make these color selections.


Artwork Questions


Whether you are looking to put your company's logo on an award, pen, shirt, business card or one of the thousands of other mediums out there, using appropriate artwork is key. As digital art evolves it can be increasingly difficult to know if you are submitting "usable" or "digital-ready" art. Understanding the differences between the types of files can save a lot of time and aggravation!

There are two different kinds of art used by computers: "Vector" art and "Bitmap" art. The difference between these types is how an image is created and stored within the art file itself.

What is vector art?

A vector file contains the information for creating lines; an equation that includes both direction and velocity. Using these coordinates, the computer can draw a line from point A to point B, creating a proper curve. Vector files can be enlarged without distortion because the computer simply recomputes the coordinates. There is several file extensions associated with this type of art: AI (Adobe Illustrator), EPS (Encapsulated Postscript), CDW (CorelDraw) and others.

What is bitmap art?

Bitmap files are nothing like vector files. They consist of a series of numbers that represent coordinates within the image area's grid, and the color for that pixel. Pixels are the tiny dots on your computer screen that light up and create everything you see. A line from a bitmap file might look something like this: (62, 19, 64). The first two numbers represent the coordinates on the grid, and the third number represents the color for that pixel. Unlike vector art, bitmap files cannot be enlarged without losing image quality. The current industry standard for bitmap resolution is 300 dots per inch, or dpi, at full size or greater. Common file extensions associated with bitmap files are TIF, BMP, GIF and JPEG.

What is NOT Acceptable?

While it helps to understand why types of art are acceptable, it is just as valuable to understand what is not usable. Photocopies, faxes, business cards or any other printed materials are never acceptable as art. PDF, DOC, PUB and TXT are all unusable file extensions. If you are unsure of the type of file needed, consult your promotional products distributor.

What is compressing your files?

Another important aspect of digital art is how to transfer it properly. Before sending any type of art file, it should be compressed. Compression makes large files smaller, decreasing transfer time. More importantly, it protects against corruption. Your artwork files are delicate programs that must be enclosed in a file type designed for proper transmittal.

Although this information may seem a bit confusing, the good news is that the entire industry uses the same artwork guidelines. Just remember a few simple rules: When in doubt, use vector files. If you do submit bitmap instead, make sure it is at least 300 dpi or greater at full size. Compress your files before electronically transferring them. As always, if you have any questions, your promotional products distributor is just a phone call away!

Decoration Terms

Applique: Shaped pieces of fabric sewn onto one another for decoration that adds dimension and texture. Designs with applique are economical because they reduce the amount of embroidery stitches needed to fill the design areas.

Backing: A woven or non-woven support material added to the back of the fabric being embroidered. It can be hooped with the item or placed between the machine throat plate and the hooped garment. It comes in various weights in three types:  tear-away, cutaway and wash-away.

Bean Stitch: Three stitches placed back and forth between two points. Often used for outlining because it eliminates the need for repeatedly digitizing a single-ply running stitch outline.

Bobbin: Spool or reel that holds the bobbin thread, which forms secure stitches on the underside of the fabric.

Buckram: Coarse cotton woven fabric treated with a glue substance to stabilize fabric for stitching. It is commonly used for caps to hold the front panel in place.

Chenille: A form of embroidery in which a loop stitch is formed on the top of the fabric. Heavy yarns made of wool, cotton, or acrylics are used.

Column Stitch: A series of zig-zag stitches placed closely together to form a column. Also known as Steil Stitch or Satin Stitch.

Copy: Lettering imprinted on an item. Can be an advertiser's name, slogan or trademark.

Deboss: Machine presses a dye into the surface of the material, resulting in a depressed imprint.

Digitizing: A method of programming a design. Artwork is converted into a series of digital commands to be read by an embroidery machine's computer.

Embossing: A surface effect achieved on fabric by means of passing cloth through a series of engraved rollers that impart figures or designs to its surface. Rollers work through heat and pressure.

Emblem: Logo or design with a finished edge, commonly an insignia of identification.

Embroidery: Decoration on fabric using thread to produce designs either by hand or machinery.

Fill Stitch: A series of running stitches commonly combined to cover large areas.

Finishing: Processes performed after embroidery is complete. Included trimming loose threads, cutting or tearing away excess backing, removing topping, cleaning any stains, pressing or steaming to remove wrinkles or hoop marks, and packaging for sale or shipment.

Hoop: A round device made from wood, plastic or steel with which fabric is held in place for machine embroidering.

Monogram: Embroidered design composed of one or more letters, usually the initials in a name.

Pad Printing: Pad printing utilizes a flexible silicone rubber transfer pad that picks up a film of ink from a photo-etched printing plate and transfers it to an item. Pad printing is usually used for three-dimensional items.

Registration: This refers to the ability to line up details and parts of designs with each other.

Running Stitch: A series of single stitches forming a line.

Satin Stitch: A digitizing technique that places shorter stitches in curves and corners to avoid unnecessary bulky buildup of stitches.

Silk Screening: Also known as screen-printing, photographic process that transfers artwork onto a porous nylon screen, which allows a custom color ink to flow onto the garment.

Stock Designs: Digitized common embroidery designs that are commercially available for general use by embroidered.

Tackle Twill: Letters or numbers cut from polyester or rayon twill fabric that is commonly used for athletic teams and organizations.

Tension: The tautness of thread when forming stitches.

Trimming: The action of cutting loose thread, removing backing, from the final embroidered product.

Underlay Stitching: The stitching action that will attach the backing to the fabric being embroidered. It also supports the top embroidery for a more lofty, dimensional look.