Digitized embroidery design files can be either purchased or created with industry-specific embroidery digitizing software. Embroidery file formats broadly fall into two categories. The first, source formats, are specific to the software used to create the design. For these formats, the digitizer keeps the original file for the purposes of editing. The second, machine formats, are specific to a particular brand of embroidery machine. Here, the files are available for use with particular embroidery machines and are not easily edited or scaled.
Embroidery machines generally have one or more machine formats specific to their brand. However, some formats such as Tajima’s .dst, Melco’s .exp/.cnd and Barudan’s .fdr have become so prevalent that they have effectively become industry standards and are often supported by machines built by rival companies.
Machine formats generally contain primarily stitch data (offsets) and machine functions (trims, jumps, etc.) and are thus not easily scaled or edited without extensive manual work.
Many embroidery designs can be downloaded in popular machine formats from embroidery web sites. However, since not all designs are available for every machine’s specific format, some machine embroiderers use conversion programs to convert from one machine’s format file to another, with various degrees of reliability.
A person who creates a design is known as an embroidery digitizer or puncher. A digitizer uses software to create an object-based embroidery design, which can be easily reshaped and edited. These files retain important information such as object outlines, thread colors, and original artwork used to punch the designs. When the file is converted to a stitch file, it loses much of this information, rendering editing difficult or impossible.
Software vendors often advertise auto-punching or auto-digitizing capabilities. However, if high quality embroidery is essential, then industry experts highly recommend either purchasing solid designs from reputable digitizers or obtaining training on solid digitization techniques.