Creating embroidered designs from your own images is a great way to personalize your craft and provide unique gifts for loved ones. But to do this, you have to convert the image to an embroidery file, and it’s even better if you can do it for free. I’ll explain just how to do that in this article.
Converting an image to an embroidery file for free is not that difficult. The biggest thing is that you need to make sure that you use a free software program. You’ll need to make sure that the image file is in the right format, digitize the image, then convert it to the right type of embroidery file.
Well, what exactly is an embroidery file? And what types of image files can be converted to embroidery files? Which programs can you use to do this for free? You probably have a lot of questions, but don’t worry. Just continue reading to learn everything you need to know about converting images to embroidery files.
What Is An Embroidery File?
First things first, we need to know and understand what an embroidery file is. This is important, especially if you’re new to embroidery. But you also need to know what the most common embroidery files are to ensure that you convert the image to the right file.
An embroidery file is a file format that your embroidery machine can read to produce the design in the file. The file contains essential information that your embroidery machine will need to know to produce the image correctly.
Embroidery files need to contain important information regarding what color thread to use in certain aspects of the design, as well as pertinent information about stitches, including:
- Type of stitch
- Stitch order
- Stitch angle
- Stitch density
- Stitching start and endpoints
You will have to input most of this information into the software program yourself to ensure that the embroidery file has the right information for your machine to read.
DST and PES Files
So now that we know what an embroidery file is let’s look at two common file types. This is important because each brand of embroidery machine is only compatible with certain file types. If you use the wrong file type, your machine won’t recognize or read it.
DST stands for Data Stitch Tajima because Tajima originally developed it. But, this type of file can be read by most embroidery machines. DST files primarily contain stitch commands that tell the embroidery machine how to stitch the design.
PES is a file format that was developed by Brother, but it can be read by Brother, Babylock, and Bernina embroidery machines. PES files contain the same information as DST files regarding stitch commands, but they also contain information regarding different colors for embroidery designs, whereas DST files do not.
Knowing which type of file your embroidery machine can read is essential before you can convert an image to an embroidery file. You don’t want to convert it to the wrong file only to find out later that your machine can’t read it.
With machines that can read both PES and DST files, it is often much easier and better to convert to a PES file, especially if your chosen image contains a lot of different colors. That way, you can ensure that the right colors translate into your finished embroidery.
Can You Convert An Image To An Embroidery File for Free?
Because it can be confusing at times to convert an image to an embroidery file, especially for beginners, some people prefer to have it done professionally instead of trying to do it yourself. But of course, if you want to try to do it yourself, you will want to do it the cheapest way possible.
Converting images to embroidery files is done through a digitizing program. These programs allow images to be digitized so that the machine can more easily read them. Some of these programs do cost money. But luckily, there are programs available that allow you to use them for free.
In some cases, the program and all of its features are completely free no matter what. Other times, a free trial is offered and then you have to pay to use it. Or, some features may be free, while more advanced features may cost money.
Here are some of the best and most popular free embroidery digitizing programs (click on each link to see key features):
As you can see, Ink/Stitch is probably the best overall choice to use for converting an image to an embroidery file. It has no free trial and is always completely free, plus it has a wide range of features for more than just converting images.
Can All Image Files Be Converted To Embroidery Files?
When it comes to image files, there are several different ones. Technically, they all can be converted to embroidery files, but some are more difficult to do than others and may not translate without taking additional steps.
Images come in two different forms: pixel-based and vector-based. Pixel-based images contain a lot more information and are more realistic and three-dimensional. They also contain more colors. Vector-based images have clean lines, but they can be flat in appearance and often don’t contain as many colors as pixel-based images.
Because they contain so many colors, pixel-based images are harder to convert to embroidery files. Vector-based images are easier. In a lot of cases, you will have to convert a pixel-based image to a vector-based image before you can convert it to an embroidery file (as is the case with Ink/Stitch)
Here are some common examples of image files.
This is a pixel-based image file and is one of the most common image files, especially for images that you took yourself on a phone or camera and uploaded to the computer or for images you downloaded off the internet.
The reason for this is that computers monitors can support millions of different colors, so the entire image, complete with all the different colors and details in a JPG/JPEG file, can be seen on the screen. This type of image file can also be compressed without losing any of the image quality.
JPG/JPEG image files are often the most popular image file that is converted to embroidery. But, harder to convert to embroidery fl because of all the colors they contain and because they often have a background. An image with a lot of different colors would mean more thread changes for the embroidery machine. And, the background would have to be removed from the image before digitizing it.
It isn’t a difficult process to remove the background from an image. Still, it usually requires additional programs unless you want to save it as a different image file before converting it.
PNG image files are also pixel-based, but this is the type of file used for digital artwork and things such as logos. It supports a lot of colors but doesn’t have a three-dimensional effect in the way that photographic images do.
PNG files also tend to have a transparent background. They are often easier to convert to image files because you don’t have to spend extra time removing the background from the image. You can save a JPG image as a PNG image to remove the background before converting it to an embroidery file.
A GIF image is another common pixel-based format, but it doesn’t support as many colors as JPG and PNG images. GIFs only support 256 colors, so you can reduce the number of colors in an image by saving it as a GIF. GIFs also support background transparency, so you can also save a JPG image as a GIF to reduce the color and remove the background.
A vector image (most commonly an SVG file) is the easiest type of image to convert to an embroidery file because they are made up of clean lines and flat colors. It is much easier to digitize a vector image because of this. But, you can turn a JPG image into a vector image by using additional free software. You will need to do this with Ink/Stitch as your free program since it is vector-based.
What Do You Need to Convert an Image to Embroidery File?
The good news is that you don’t need a lot of tools to convert an image to an embroidery file. There are two main things that you need.
First, you need an image in one of the formats listed above, although you may have to take additional steps to turn that image format into one that is easier to use. The image should preferably be one that you took yourself so that you don’t have to worry about any legal ramifications.
If you use an image that isn’t your own, it is important that you have written permission to use that image, especially if it is copyrighted and you’re planning on advertising and selling your design. Having written permission can help you avoid any legal action that may stem from using an image that wasn’t your own, especially if you will profit off of it.
Second, you need free embroidery digitizing software to convert an image to a PES or DST embroidery file. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about that because most programs will convert to many different types of embroidery files regardless of whether the software is free or not.
How to Digitize an Image for Embroidery
JPG and PNG images are the most commonly used image files for digitizing and converting to embroidery. Before we talk about converting between files, let’s look at the steps for digitizing an image. Before you can begin, it is important to become familiar with the software that you’re using.
If you use one of the free or free trial software listed above, you will have to do most of the image adjusting yourself. Some software programs do auto-adjusting, but usually, these will have to be purchased.
The first thing you need to know is that there may be some steps you need to take before even uploading your image to be digitized in the first place. This ultimately depends on what program you use.
Remove the Background
Uploading a JPG image to any program will require you to remove the background from the image first. This can be done in Photoshop if you have it. If not, you can use remove.bg to remove the background for free. Once you click “download,” the image will automatically be saved as a PNG file since it no longer has a background.
Convert to Vector Image
Most digitizing software allows you to upload pixel-based images directly to the program, so this step may not be applicable depending on which program you’re using. But if you’re using Ink/Stitch (the completely free program), it is vector-based, so you will need to convert your pixel-based PNG file to a vector-based SVG file.
Again, there’s a free online program for this called Vectorizer. You just have to upload your PNG file into Vectorizer, and it will turn it into a vector image for you. Then, you just download it automatically into an SVG file and upload it to Ink/Stitch.
Note that when you convert a pixel-based image to a vector image, you may lose some color and “texture,” but it will be easier for your embroidery machine to read. The more colors and pixels in your image, the harder it will be to digitize and convert.
Upload Your Image
The rest of the steps are applicable no matter which program you use, but they are rather generic because each program is different regarding the tools and algorithms. That’s why it’s important to become familiar with the tools before you’re ready to begin digitizing an image that you will use for an embroidery project.
Before you begin, it’s a good idea to download two files of the same image or make a copy of the image that you’re digitizing, just in case something happens to the original image that you can’t reverse. Some programs allow you to copy the image inside the program, but others don’t.
Begin by uploading your PNG or SVG file into the program, depending on which one you use. Then, you’ll need to crop the image to remove any space or areas that you don’t want to be embroidered.
Set the Design Size
Next, you’re going to input the length and width dimensions for how big you want the actual embroidered design to be. To do this, you will first need to measure the dimensions of the fabric that you’re embroidering and then use those dimensions to scale the image accordingly. Once you’ve set the size, be sure to lock the image so that the image remains the same size.
Reduce and Set Your Colors
Sometimes, you’re going to need to reduce the number of colors in your image if you use certain programs. For example, the free trial of Sew Art only allows you to export files that have six colors or less. That’s one of the advantages of turning your image into a vector first.
Once you’ve reduced your colors, you will need to set your thread colors to match the image.
Choose Your Stitches
Now it’s time to choose your stitches. More experienced embroiders will be familiar with what stitches to use for each purpose, but if you’re new to embroidering, here is an overview:
- Satin stitch- words/text, borders, making certain of the design “shiny”
- Straight stitch- used for outlining, shading, and details
- Fill stitch- filling in space, creating texture, used for larger designs
Your program will provide the tools you need to choose and set your stitches.
Set Stitch Direction
The stitch direction is essentially the path you want your embroidery machine to follow when creating the design. This needs to be the most meticulous part of the digitizing process because anything that you don’t input into the program won’t be followed by the embroidery machine and it could make your finished design look messy.
If you’re unsure how to do this, many of the programs offer tutorial videos. Or you can use a program that auto-digitizes the image for you. However, such programs aren’t usually free.
How to Convert Image to Embroidery File for Free
Once you’ve digitized your image, you can convert it to an embroidery file. Usually, this is as simple as saving it under the correct file name and downloading it to your computer. However, there are some special cases where you have to convert one image file into a different image file before converting it to an embroidery file.
JPG/JPEG to DST
JPG/JPEG images can be converted to DST, but you can’t do so in a free program without removing the background from the image first. Use one of the background removal tools above, then download your image as a PNG file. If you use Ink/Stitch, you need to change that image to an SVG file since they only accept vector image files.
At that point, you can upload either the PNG or SVG image to the digitizing program and go through the digitizing steps. Then, it’s as simple as saving the image under the DST embroidery file format from the drop-down menu and downloading it to your computer.
PNG to PES
PNG images are quicker to convert because you don’t have to remove the background first. The process for converting PNG to PES is the same as converting to DST. All you have to do is upload the PNG to the program, digitize it, then make sure that you save it as a PES file and download the file to your computer.
JPG to PES
This is essentially the same as converting a JPG file to DST. You will still need to first remove the background from the image and save it as a PNG file. Then, upload the PNG file to the program and digitize it. But instead of saving it as a DST file, you’re going to select PES. Once you’ve converted it to a PES file, just download the file to your computer.
There are a few programs that you can use to convert an image to an embroidery file. Some of them are only free on a trial basis, but Ink/Stitch is free all the time. The most important part of converting the image is digitizing it so that your embroidery machine can read it. Then, just save it under the correct file name. If you found this helpful, share it with others and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!