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.

Reviewing your embroideries collection

If you have a big collection of designs on your computer and no longer know what they all are, Bernina ARTlink and Wilcom TrueSizer are free downloads for Windows with design information, placement, and printing, plus simple editing tools.

It’s not necessary to have these placement and printing tools if you have editing software, which includes them, 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 (now not available) 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 stitch out.

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 and embroidery software,
plus 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.

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Embroidery software

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.
[I’m talking about software for amateurs. There’s another level of complexity for professional embroiderers and digitisers, see e.g. Wilcom, and home and commercial software use different formats).]

Software from embroidery machine companies

Most domestic 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.
(Unless noted, I don’t know if these run on Mac OS Catalina or Big Sur. Babylock not available in UK.)

Babylock Creator, Windows only.
Babylock Embroidery Works, Windows and Mac.
Babylock Palette, Windows only.
Bernina Toolbox, Windows and Mac (I’ve tried the free trial so know it runs on Mac OS Catalina and Big Sur).
Bernina Embroidery Software 8, Windows, or a Mac running Boot Camp.
Brother PE-Design, Windows only.
Husqvarna/Pfaff/Singer/Viking Premier+2 is conventional embroidery software at various levels, including auto- and manual digitising, for Windows and Mac (they say it runs on Mac OS Catalina and Big Sur), with free trial download. There’s also an iOS app for the TOL Pfaff machine.
Husqvarna/Pfaff Premier+ECQ produces files for embroidery, cutting, and robot quilting machines, for Windows and Mac. As far as I understand it, this claims to be an easy introduction to manual digitising.
Janome/Elna Digitizer, Windows only. Also iOS apps for TOL Janome machine.

Independent embroidery software

‘Machine Independent’ editing software is independent of the machine manufacturers, and 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.
Sew What Pro for Windows, no digitising. Information about ’emulators’ so it can be used on Mac.
Wilcom Hatch includes both auto-digitising and manual digitising, for Windows, or a Mac running Boot Camp with Windows loaded.

Embrilliance software runs native on both Windows and Mac, advanced modules for manual digitising only.
Mac OS Catalina : I have Essentials and Convert It Mac, so know they run on Mac OS Catalina without any aids.
Mac OS Big Sur : Essentials and Thumbnailer run on Big Sur, Convert It Mac doesn’t. Alpha Tricks, Density Repair Kit, Enthusiast, and Stitch Artist are on the same platform as Essentials so should also run on Big Sur.

Software for iPad
Stitch Buddy is for Mac and iOS, no digitising.
DRAWings Snap is for Mac and iOS, no digitising.
I haven’t tried either of those, but from the on-site descriptions it looks as if you can edit details within a purchased design, not just the whole design as most basic software does.
AirStitch is like Convert It Mac but for iPad, no editing but view and process designs.
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.

Digitising

Ultimately you may want to digitise your own designs. Two levels of difficulty :
auto-digitising : give the software an image and it produces the embroidery instructions. Some of these can produce embroidery instructions which make a picture from a photo. Frowned on for quality by purists.
manual digitising : do it yourself from scratch, with more control over the details. Most of the placement of individual stitches is done by the software, but you choose the main lines and shapes, their placement and fill pattern.
Some software can produce instructions for cutting machines to cut fabric shapes, and for robot quilting machines.

Although I love machine embroidery and often change someone else’s design a little, I rarely feel any desire to make my own designs. I haven’t got that sort of visual imagination. I have done auto-digitising once ! I do occasionally use a basic manual digitiser for Mac, but I don’t know enough about digitising to review all the options.

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So, in summary :

For Windows : use free software for simple design changes (re-size / rotate / flip, change colours, no text) and printouts : Bernina ARTlink or Wilcom TrueSizer.
If you want more editing functions, such as adding text, or combining designs, then there are many options (see above). Software from the machine companies is more expensive than from the independents (unless it’s free with the machine).
For digitising, the top level of software from most companies will do that.

For Mac : It’s a smaller market and there’s nothing free.
Embrilliance Essentials and Thumbnailer run on Big Sur. Essentials converts formats, and prints real size templates and colour lists, as well as basic editing.
Embrilliance Alpha Tricks, Density Repair Kit, Enthusiast, and Stitch Artist are on the same platform as Essentials so should also run on Big Sur.
Bernina Toolbox, Premier+2, Premier+ECQ run on Mac OS Catalina and Big Sur. I don’t know about Babylock as it’s not available in the UK.

You can do auto-digitising in Premier+2, manual digitising in Premier+2, Premier+ECQ and Embrilliance StitchArtist.

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 change designs if you want to.

Of course software options change frequently. This is correct as far as I know in November 2020.

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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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