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Embroidery File Formats [Complete Guide]

It’s so tempting to download new machine embroidery designs from the internet. Not all of them will work with all embroidery machines, though. You have to keep an eye on the embroidery file format of the design. But what is an embroidery file format, and which one should you use?

An embroidery file is a set of instructions given to an embroidery sewing machine. These instructions are written in a digital language or format that the machine can read. Popular embroidery file formats include .pes and .dst. An embroidery machine creates a stitch pattern from the digitized image file. Recreating the image as an embroidery design.

In this article, we’ll look at the different formats available. We’ll also show you which embroidery machines they will work with.

Embroidery File Formats

What Is an Embroidery File Format?

Embroidery machines are fascinating to watch. They recreate stitched designs on fabric at the touch of a button. Effortlessly and methodically. You choose the design from the inbuilt selection or an external memory card, push a button, and off it goes.

All you need to do is load it with the different colored threads when it beeps at you. When it’s done, you have a picture of Winnie the Pooh or a rose on your tea towel. Or maybe a monogram on your bathrobe.

Although it sounds pretty simple, there is a little more to it than that. Embroidery machines can’t see pictures in the same way we can. The machine doesn’t know it’s stitching your favorite cartoon character. Nor can it tell a rose from a daffodil. It doesn’t even know if your Pooh Bear is being stitched in orange or if you’re using red.

As a machine, or rather a computer, it can only follow instructions contained in a computer program. In this case, that program is known as an embroidery file. This file holds all the digitized instructions the embroidery machine needs to stitch an image.

From where to place the needle, how many stitches to make, and whether it should stitch in a straight line or from side to side. The embroidery file also tells the machine when to stop stitching and move on to the next section, when to restart, and when the design is finished.

To make things a little more complicated, not all embroidery files are readable by all embroidery machines. Different manufacturers use different languages to translate their designs into digitized embroidery files. These are known as embroidery file formats.

There are several embroidery file formats and they all fit under three main types. Let’s take a quick look at them.

Native File Format

The first type isn’t readable by an embroidery machine. It’s the blueprint of the design and is the first stage in converting an embroidery design into a digital image. This type is only readable by the digitizing software.

Expanded File Format

Expanded file formats include embroidery software with the .dst or .esp extension. These are the next step up from the native file in that they are readable by embroidery machines. Most commercial or domestic machines will read one or the other.

These formats follow the design instructions without deviating from the original plan. This means they use default settings on the machine and in the software for things like color selection.

You need to take extra care to set up the machine correctly with these formats. The machine must be threaded according to what color it knows as the default setting for a particular needle.

Machine File Format

The last type is known as a machine file format. These are the ones we are interested in for this article. As the name suggests, they are file formats for embroidery machines. However, they don’t work on all of them. These embroidery file formats are brand specific.

Examples of machine file formats include .pes and .jef. The first is the format used by Brother machines or machines made by Brother for other companies like Baby Lock. The second is exclusively used by Janome.

It’s important to know what file format your machine manufacturer uses. That way, when you download new designs for your machine from the internet, you’ll know they will work with your machine.

Does My Machine Come With an Embroidery File Format?

Embroidery machine files

Yes, it does. The manufacturer of your machine will have programmed it to read their specific format. So if you have a Bernina, you will find it can only read files with a Bernina-friendly extension. A top choice for this company is the extension .art.

Most embroidery machines come with a selection of inbuilt designs. Manufacturers know the first thing you’ll want to do is play with the embroidery machine. So they give you a range of designs to choose from.

These will be pre-programmed into the machine using the embroidery file format specific to that particular make. This gives you an introduction to the embroidery machine’s capabilities, but it also helps you identify the type of file format you should be using.

You’re not limited to the designs already on your machine, though. As long as you stick with the file format used by your embroidery machine, you can download new designs from online sources. You can even purchase designs from third-party outlets.

However, there is a downside to machine file formats. As not all formats will work on all machines, you can be limited to the type of embroidery designs you can use.

Fans of Disney and Star Wars, for instance, might find decent quality designs that are exclusive to Brother formats like .pes. This is because Brother is the licensed supplier for those characters. If you want Chewbacca on your bathrobe, you may need a .pes-friendly Brother embroidery machine.

Can You Add New Embroidery File Formats to Your Machine?

Unfortunately, no, you can’t. File formats are not interchangeable between embroidery machines. You have to stay with the format specific to your particular machine. If it started life as a .jef compatible machine, it has to remain that way.

Trying to run a .pes file format on a machine that can only read .jef files isn’t recommended. It would be like running a computer program designed for a PC on an Apple Mac machine. Although both are computers, their software is written in a different formats. The PC can’t read Mac software or vice versa.

As embroidery files are a type of software, the format they are in is only readable by machines that use that particular software. Loading the wrong one onto your embroidery machine will result in error messages rather than beautiful embroidery designs.

However, you can download and use new designs of embroidery files on your embroidery machine. As long as you stick with the format your machine is compatible with.

Normally this is done via a USB stick, CD, or an SD card. You save the design from your computer to the portable memory device and plug it into your machine. Then, simply access the file via your embroidery machine’s LCD menu. As long as the embroidery file is in the correct format, the machine will have no trouble reading the file.

Where Can I Get Free Embroidery File Formats for My Machine?

File type for embroidery

Most embroidery machines come with a selection of embroidery files already built-in. These will be in the correct format for your machine and ready to stitch. Many of the top names in embroidery machines also provide extra designs via their websites.

On top of that, there are third-party websites offering embroidery files in various formats. These can include free designs as well as purchasable options. Let’s take a look at some of the popular outlets that provide designs in a whole host of embroidery file formats.

Brother Embroidery

Brother offers embroidery designs through the website. Designed specifically for Brother embroidery machines, this site is exclusive to owners of Brother machines. You have to register your embroidery machine before downloading any of the designs. Because of this, the designs are .pes or .pec specific.

Once registered, though, you have instant access to loads of designs, including Disney Princesses, The Muppets, Star Wars characters, and the more traditional flowers and cute animals. While most of the designs on the site incur a charge, there is usually one free design available per month.

Janome Embroidery

Janome offers a small selection of embroidery designs. You can take a look at them on their website. Although the choice is limited, the designs are free to download. Better still, you don’t have to register on the site to use them. All you need is a machine compatible with the .jef format.

You can also check out video tutorials for Janome’s Artistic Digitizer. The videos show you how you can use the software package to create your own embroidery designs and convert them to .jef files. They may even encourage you to invest in the software and become an embroidery designer.

Bernina Embroidery

If your embroidery machine is made by Bernina, you’ll want to check out the free designs they offer on their website. Although the selection isn’t as large as Brother’s, there are still plenty to choose from.

It isn’t just for pictorial embroidery designs, either. You’ll find downloads for crazy quilting patterns, trapunto designs, and embroidery for costume decoration.

Anita Goodesign

One of the best-known names in embroidery designs, Anita Goodesign has a variety of patterns suitable for a whole host of projects. Although they are a little pricey, the designs are intricate and detailed. They are also of the highest quality.

Anita Goodesign products are available in different embroidery file formats. Making the designs available on this site suitable for most of the top-named brands of embroidery machines.

With an impressive coverage of 14 different embroidery file formats, this website covers all the popular embroidery machine brands. Their designs also come in a variety of sizes to suit different-sized hoops. Although they only state the size of the actual design, not the hoop size it will fit.

There’s a large selection available, from cute animals to motivational phrases. All at reasonable prices too! The website has a gallery section allowing you to see the designs on garments, cushions, and other projects. All of which help you get a better idea of how the design will look in real life.


Offering embroidery designs and supplies, this site could be your one-stop shop for all your embroidery needs. They also offer a custom digitizing service that can have your own unique design ready in as little as 24 hours.

Their designs are available in a range of embroidery file formats, including .exp, .jef, .pes, and .hus. In fact, whatever brand of embroidery machine you have, they’ve got you covered!

All the designs show the hoop size they can use and range from cutesy to motivational. There are also a few well-known characters like Spiderman. Prices are affordable and the quality is top-notch.

Free Embroidery

This website offers free embroidery designs that can be downloaded as many times as you like. Available in most top embroidery formats, including .dst, .pes, .jef, and .xxx, you’re bound to find designs compatible with your machine.

Their catalog includes some Disney and Star Wars themed designs. However, some of these are only available to members of their Embroidery Club as part of a subscription package.

The site also offers a custom design service where you can ask them to digitize a design to suit your needs. You can also subscribe to their newsletter for regular updates on new additions to their catalog.

Different Embroidery File Formats by Make of Machine

Now you know there are different embroidery file formats for different machines, you’re probably wondering how to identify the right one for the machine you have. To help you with that, I’ve put together a table.

The table shows the embroidery file formats alongside the brand of machine they are used with. It’s not a complete list. It concentrates on the top brand names and the file formats they use.

There are other brands of embroidery machines available. You’ll find that most of them will use one of the file extensions listed below. Check your manual to double-check which one you should be using.

Make of Embroidery MachineFile Format
Husquarna Viking.hus
Melco Commercial.exp
Tajima Commercial.dst

Can You Convert Images to an Embroidery File Format?

How to Convert Image to Embroidery File

Yes, you can convert images to an embroidery file format. You can also convert .pdf files to a file readable by an embroidery machine. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds, though.

The first thing you need to do is make sure the image you want to use it in a picture format. So if you have a .pdf, you’ll need to change it to a .tif, .jpg, or .png. There are online tools you can use to do this. Try this one here. All the image files can be digitized, but you’ll find .png will work best.

Once you have a usable image file, the next step is to digitize it. This is where things get a bit complicated. You need special software to digitize an image into an embroidery file format.

Brother has a software package that can convert images to embroidery file formats. It’s called PE Design. Although the software itself is expensive, they have a trial version free to download. The trial doesn’t have all the features of the full package, but it will give you a good idea of what it is capable of doing.

Unfortunately, digitizing software can be incredibly pricey and out of reach for many of us. You may find it cheaper to find a ready-made design close to what you are looking for.

Alternatively, you can find places online that will digitize your image for you. Embroidery and Free Embroidery both offer this service.


An embroidery file format is a set of instructions for an embroidery machine. These formats can be machine specific. The one your machine uses will depend on the brand of embroidery machine you own.

Knowing which embroidery file format your machine uses is important. It will help you find new designs to embroider.

What format does your embroidery machine use? Have you downloaded new, exciting designs from the websites mentioned above? How did you get on? Let me know in the comments.