There are 2 groups of software tools which can help with your embroidering. They are for :
– knowing what designs you have.
– editing to change designs.

If you have a big collection of designs on your computer and no longer know what they all are, Bernina ARTlink is a free download for Windows with design information, placement, and printing, plus simple editing tools.
Convert It, Mac, not free, no editing except change thread colours, does the same on a Mac.
Not necessary if you have editing software, which includes these tools, but very useful for keeping track of what you have if you don’t want to go as far as editing yourself. (I transferred a big collection of designs from a PC with embroidery software to a Mac without. Until I got Convert It, Mac I just had a big collection of numbered unknowns. It’s marvellous to be able to see them all again, as well as see complete colour lists and print full size templates.)

Changing designs on a machine

Do you find yourself wanting to change a design ? Entirely optional but it can be fun. The most likely changes are :
– adjust the size,
– add lettering.

You can do both of those on modern mid-price embroidery machines, without needing separate embroidery software.
On lower-mid-price machines you can edit single designs (re-size, rotate, flip) and produce text, directly on the machine. Design and text have to be stitched out separately.
Upper-mid-price machines also have simple options for combining, so you can group several designs, or design and text, in one hooping.

Though be aware – on a machine with a small screen you can’t see the fine detail of your changes.
To see the fine detail of designs, there are a couple of options :
a. embroidery machine with a large screen, convenient but expensive – basic embroidery software costs much less !
b. embroidery machine with small screen, plus computer, embroidery software, and a way of transferring designs from computer to machine :
– usb stick (or card on older machines).
– usb cable direct from computer to machine – many mid-price machines have this option.
– wi-fi on some top-of-the-line (TOL) machines.

Levels of embroidery software

If your embroidery machine does not have any design changing tools, or you want to see more than is on a small screen, and for more control over design changes – you do need a computer and embroidery software.

An embroidery ‘format’ (e.g. .jef, .pes, .vip) is the language used to give instructions to the machine, and sadly each machine company has its own way of doing things.
It is essential to know which format(s) your machine understands.
Get software which can input and output this format !
Single designs are sold on-line in individual formats, design DVDs usually include all the common formats.

No need to start with full-scope embroidery software. Most software is modular, so you can start simple and add more tools if you find you want them.

For some you can download a free manual so you can get an idea of how you would get on with it. Or look for ‘independent / 3rd party’ tutorials and videos – often much easier to understand than the official manual !
It is good if you can get a free try-out, to check both if the software runs on your system and if you enjoy using it.

I think there are 4 main levels of software, though different companies include different combinations of tools.
Very briefly :
1. free software :
– can re-size/rotate/flip designs but not usually add text,
– show a complete colour sequence chart,
– print full size templates to use for design placement.
– print fabric cutting patterns if needed for appliqué and in-the-hoop.
Designs are at real size or larger on the computer screen, so you can see what you are doing.
2. using low level software :
– you can also add text and combine designs in real size,
– perhaps choose between constant stitch count or constant stitch density when changing size,
– or remove hidden stitches when combined designs overlap.
3. with mid-level software :
– you can extract parts of a design,
– even alter individual stitches,
– do extra editing tasks such as :
– – split large designs for multiple hooping,
– – run a stitching simulator to check how your design works out, or the steps of an in-the-hoop design.
4. you need top level software :
– if you also want to do ‘digitising’, to make your own designs rather than adapting designs made by other people. Choose between auto-digitising (give the software an image and it produces the embroidery instructions), or manual digitising (you control the details).
[I’m talking about software for amateurs, there’s another level of complexity for professional embroidery designers, see e.g. Wilcom.]

Software from embroidery machine companies

Most embroidery machine companies have their own design editing software, though it is not essential to use it for their machines. May be given free with machine purchase.
Some of these work with several embroidery formats, some only work with the format used on that company’s machines.

Babylock Creator, Windows only.
Babylock Embroidery Works, Windows and Mac.
Babylock Palette, Windows only.
Bernina Toolbox, Windows and Mac.
Bernina Embroidery Software 8, Windows, or a Mac running Boot Camp.
Brother PE-Design, Windows only.
Husqvarna/Pfaff/Singer/Viking Premier+2, Windows and Mac. Premier+2 has a free download version which does simple editing and colour changes. Also iOS app for TOL Pfaff machine.
Janome/Elna Digitizer, Windows only. Also iOS apps for TOL Janome machine.

Independent embroidery software

‘Machine Independent’ editing software works with most embroidery formats.

Several companies offer embroidery software for Windows.
A well-known one is Embird, advanced modules include photostitch, cross stitch, manual digitising.
Wilcom Hatch includes both auto-digitising and manual digitising, for Windows, or a Mac running Boot Camp.
Embrilliance runs on both Windows and Mac, advanced modules for manual digitising only.

Stitch Buddy is for Mac and iOS, no digitising.
DRAWings Snap is for Mac and iOS, no digitising.
From a tablet or phone, you have to export your changed design to a computer for transferring it to your embroidery machine (unless you have a very expensive TOL machine with wi-fi).
I haven’t used these and don’t know about software for other tablets and phones, as I prefer a bigger screen for editing.

Ultimately you may want to digitise your own designs. Either auto-digitising (easier – give the software an image and it produces the embroidery instructions), frowned on for quality by purists. Or manual digitising (with more control over the details).
Some software can produce instructions for cutting machines to cut fabric shapes.
Although I love machine embroidery and often change a design a bit, I’ve never felt any desire to do digitising (I have done auto-digitising once !), so I’m not the right person to give advice.

So, in summary, use free software for simple design changes (re-size / rotate / flip, change colours, no text) and printouts : Bernina ARTlink or Wilcom TrueSizer for Windows, Premier+2 for Mac.
If you want more editing functions, such as adding text, or combining designs, then software from the machine companies is more expensive than from the independents.

For digitising, the top level of software from most companies will do that. I don’t know about all the software, but for digitising on a Mac I think the choice is : Embrilliance Stitch Artist (manual digitising), Premier+2 Extra (simple auto), Premier+2 Ultra (auto and manual) (they all work with enough formats to be usable with most machines, but do check).

There are so many attractive ready-made embroidery designs, there’s no need to make your own.
But modern machines and software do make it easy and fun to make changes to designs if you want to.

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Other posts in this group on using an embroidery machine :
Choosing an embroidery machine
Starter basics
Designs from the internet, more techniques

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