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When I first started embroidering, I imagined putting an SVG or JPG image on a USB, plugging it into my machine, pressing start, and watching my machine magically embroider the image. Well, it turns out, that’s just not how it works.
You need embroidery software for everything from editing and customizing designs to creating your own embroidery designs, which is called digitizing. The exact type of software you need, though, depends on your embroidery design aspirations.
Purchasing software can be costly, and the different types can confuse beginners. Software selection was by far the most challenging part of ramping up my own embroidery journey.
If you’re a newbie and don’t know where to start, this post is for you.
I’ll start with the basics by explaining types of embroidery software and end with brief reviews of some of the best embroidery software for digitizing and basic editing based on my experiences.
That way, you can feel equipped to make the right decision for your needs!
Embroidery Software Types
Knowing the differences between the types of software is the first step in choosing the best option.
Not everyone needs the most advanced digitizing programs, which are expensive and more difficult for non-tech-savvy beginners to learn.
1. Thumbnail Viewers
Downloaded machine embroidery designs are in embroidery file formats such as .jef, .pes, or .dst.
These file types are not recognized by your computer, which will display a nondescript, generic icon when showing these files.
Thumbnail viewing software tells your computer to display the actual image of an embroidery design instead of a nondescript icon. I highly recommend this functionality!
2. File Conversion Software
Basic embroidery file conversion software converts embroidery designs from one machine format (ex: .pes for Brother) to another format (ex: .jef for Janome).
This is NOT the same as converting a picture file (ex: .jpg or .png) to an embroidery design file, though.
3. Editing and Customization Software
This type of software allows you to import premade designs and edit or customize them.
Examples of editing include: resizing while keeping stitch density constant, splitting a large design into small pieces for a machine with a small hoop, and changing thread colors.
Many embroidery customization software also allow you to add text to designs. For instance, adding or creating a name or monogram. Depending on the software, you might be able to use computer fonts (.ttf) with some success in addition to purchased embroidery fonts.
4. Digitizing Software
If you want to create your own designs, you need digitizing software. There are two main types of digitizing software to consider.
4a. Auto-Digitizing Software
With auto-digitizing embroidery design software, you upload an image file (ex: .jpg. .bmp, or .png) from your computer. With minimal user input, the software generates an embroidery design.
This is quick and effective for some images, like simple 1-2 color logos. However, this DOES NOT produce excellent results in many cases. The more colors you have and the more intricate the image, the worse the quality.
Almost all auto-digitized images need some editing or clean-up. If you plan to sell designs commercially or start a home embroidery business, you do NOT want to rely on auto-digitizing for clients.
4b. Manual Digitizing Software
The most advanced digitizing software is manual digitizing software, which is significantly more expensive than auto-digitizing software. It also has a very steep learning curve!
However, you need manual digitizing capabilities if you ever want to digitize from scratch, create in-the-hoop projects, make quilting blocks, or even create redwork designs.
Here, you create a design from scratch by telling the program what type of stitches you want to go where. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to several days if you’re working on a highly complex design.
If you’re not artistically inclined, you can even load an image file as a guide, tracing the image file with your mouse and assigning stitches.
Is there a “best” embroidery software?
If you ask twenty embroidery enthusiasts what their favorite embroidery design software is, I bet you’ll hear at least five different responses. If you add in professional, commercial digitizers, you’ll get even more!
The best embroidery software is the one that is easiest for you to use, contains everything you need, and is in your price range.
You also DO NOT have to buy the embroidery program made by your embroidery machine’s brand. For instance, the best embroidery software for Brother embroidery machines is not necessarily Brother PE-Design 11.
Embroidery software has a steep learning curve if you plan to do more than just basic editing.
I know users who have no idea how to even work a computer who decide they need top-tier embroidery software. Please don’t spend thousands of dollars on software if you’re not tech-savvy or want to learn with a fiery passion!
Try All the Free Trials First
Choosing the best embroidery digitizing software took almost six months for me. This is because I tried every free trial offered! I highly recommend you do the same to get a feel for the programs before purchasing.
Under each software review, I’ll try to link to the free trials when available. There, you can download the software for a period to try before purchasing. Some free trials do not allow you to save designs, and others only allow limited functions, so keep that in mind.
Considerations Before Purchasing Embroidery Software
1. What features do you want and need?
Make a list of how you envision using your software, and then check your requirements vs. the features of each program.
Some big things for me besides basic editing were being able to export SVG files for applique as well as digitize linework designs, in-the-hoop projects, and designs for piecing quilt blocks.
Also, I wanted a program with both manual and auto-digitizing capabilities plus the ability to use computer fonts as embroidery fonts.
2. Ease of Use
During the free trial period, watch the introductory videos, play with the interface, and decide if it’s a program you’d be able to use.
Everyone has different preferences, and the choice is about YOU, not what someone else thinks is the best embroidery software.
3. Your Computer Specs
Embroidery software goes on your computer, not your machine.
Thus, you must have a laptop or desktop computer to use embroidery digitizing software.
So, check your computer’s specs and ensure they’re good enough for your chosen program.
Some of these programs take up a decent chunk of space and require specific processing abilities. (Read my list of best laptop and desktop computers for embroidery software for sample specs.)
Some software are also native to Mac, and some aren’t. Keep this in mind if you want embroidery software for a Mac computer.
Do you have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on embroidery software, or do you need to start small and work your way up to a higher level of digitizing software?
If the latter is true, modular programs purchased in levels might be a better fit for you.
Using a monthly subscription software or choosing one with flex pay is another viable option.
5. Support Availability
Before purchasing software, check for Facebook groups, YouTube videos, or classes from your local sewing shop.
Unless you’re an experienced digitizer (of embroidery designs, not just vector graphics!), you will need help learning to use your software and troubleshoot.
The more support you can find, the easier your journey will be.
Best Embroidery Machine Software – Reviews
This list is hard to order since the best embroidery program for someone who only wants to edit designs is not the same as for someone who wants to also digitize designs.
While I use Hatch 3 embroidery software and have been a proud owner for a while, I’ve tried MANY free trials and also own the SewWhat-Pro/SewArt combination. I also use Embrilliance Express and am eyeing their Merrowly program.
And as a disclaimer, I am NOT a professional, commercial digitizer but rather a gal who likes to hobby digitize and who spent a ton of time researching the differences in software before buying her own!
The software I mention are more affordable for home-based embroidery enthusiasts and those wanting to dabble in small-scale design production. Yes, there are VERY pricey commercial digitizing programs out there that are “better,” but I won’t mention those.
And, if you have sticker shock from these software, check out my best free embroidery software post. This is an excellent place to start if you do not want to purchase something immediately.
Plus, if you just want straightforward editing software, a thumbnail program, or a design organizer, the free options work great and will save you money.
Now, let’s get into the embroidery software reviews!
1. Hatch Embroidery 3
This is the software I use, and this is what I feel to be the most user-friendly embroidery digitizing software. (I get no affiliate commission for promoting this, so don’t worry that it’s a biased review!)
I don’t recommend it if you’re simply looking for basic editing software, though, as its basic levels are pricier than other similar programs.
Hatch is produced by Wilcom, which is a giant in the commercial embroidery industry. Hatch is kind of like the “hatchling” of their mac-daddy Wilcom software, which costs thousands of dollars.
Hatch comes in 4 modules that build upon and include one another.
So, if you buy Hatch Digitizer, for instance, it includes the functions of the three previous levels.
However, if you start with Organizer, you can later pay just the upgrade fee to add Hatch Personalizer or higher levels.
Here’s a basic overview of what the levels accomplish and links to the Hatch site.
- Hatch Organizer
- Simple file viewer, resizer, converter, and organizer
- Auto fabric assist (really handy as this automatically adjusts design properties to accommodate different fabric characteristics.)
- Hatch Personalizer
- Add lettering and monograms and change color blocks
- Hatch Composer
- Extra tools: creative, sequence, and layout
- Editing of design objects
- Hatch Digitizer
- Manual digitizing and groovy stitch effects
- Photo Flash (check it out on their site!), Photo Stitch (digitizing a photo for embroidery), and redwork design capabilities
- Auto and manual applique creation with the ability to create cutting machine files
The main reasons I liked Hatch more than Embrilliance, which comes later on, are the auto-digitizing option, the computer font conversion to embroidery fonts, and photo stitch.
I also like the “Auto Fabric” setting, which adjusts design properties depending on the base fabric.
Hatch is expensive, but they frequently discount it if you check the price around major holidays. Also, I recommend purchasing and downloading your free trial through John Deer’s Embroidery Legacy.
He will give you freebies and free classes on digitizing theory to help you learn the process.
I’m a good machine embroiderer and decent-ish digitizer, but I’ll leave digitizing tutorials to people with much more experience and success than me!
Several very helpful Facebook groups also give tips for working with this software, as do many YouTube channels. Make sure to check those out as you’re learning.
2. SewWhat-Pro and SewArt
S & S Computing produces SewWhat-Pro and SewArt, which I loved when I first got started. They’re affordable and easy to use after watching a few tutorials. (I recommend The Baby’s Booty on YouTube for that.)
SewWhat-Pro is an embroidery editing and customization software, and it offers functions similar to Embrilliance Essentials and Enthusiast (discussed later). I’ve written a SewWhat-Pro embroidery software review of features that gives more in-depth information.
In contrast, SewArt is an auto-digitizing software from S & S Computing, which works well in many situations. As it is auto-digitizing, you can’t really freehand designs from scratch.
However, it’s simple to use and produces decent results for basic images with minimal design editing needed.
Auto-digitizing doesn’t take much skill or insight into the art of design creation, so this is good for users who don’t want to spend hundreds of hours learning digitizing theory or a more complex program.
For a fraction of the price of Hatch, this is a good option for beginners! I started here before I realized its limitations and my desire for more intricate and accurate digitizing.
Embrilliance is arguably the most popular embroidery software and another great option if you’re looking for the best embroidery software. It’s one of the few embroidery software for Mac that runs natively, so I’d strongly consider this plus if you don’t have a PC!
Another great thing about Embrilliance is that it comes in different levels that build upon one another and add different embroidery abilities.
If you’re never planning on digitizing embroidery files and only want basic editing and customization software, this is a better choice than Hatch. I also highly recommend (and use) Embrilliance Express for using downloaded .bx fonts.
Now, here’s some basic info on the Embrilliance modules to give you an idea of what they all do. This is just a short overview of the features, and I recommend checking out their website for the full descriptions.
- Embrilliance Essentials: basic design customization and editing
- Resize designs appropriately
- Split big designs, merge designs, change thread colors, and delete stitches
- Add basic lettering and make monograms with included fonts
- Make appliques for die-cutting machines (read using a Cricut & embroidery machine together!)
- Embrilliance Enthusiast: advanced editing features
- Create a knock-down stitch and baste hoop
- Save a .png image of a created design
- Embrilliance Stitch Artist 1: basic digitizing
- NOT auto-digitizing and NOT a customizing program. While you don’t have to have Essentials to use this, you will likely want it if you plan to edit or customize designs.
- Embrilliance Stitch Artist 2: adding more digitizing abilities
- Foam embroidery
- Expansion of satin stitch options
- Import SVG files for tracing
- Embrilliance Stitch Artist 3: really only for advanced digitizers
- You have to have this level if you want to create your .bx fonts.
- Embrilliance Express
- This is free and allows you to work with .bx fonts using your keyboard. I highly recommend this over importing font letter files into your program one by one!
Just to note, Embrilliance Essentials and Enthusiast must be purchased each independently. However, Stitch Artist 3 gives you levels 1 and 2, and Stitch Artist 2 gives you level 1. But, you still have to purchase Essentials and Enthusiast separately if you want editing capabilities.
A major caveat of Embrilliance for the graphically challenged or embroidery hobbyist is that it does not auto-digitize designs or convert .ttf fonts into embroidery fonts as Hatch does.
While it only takes 10-15 minutes to digitize a simple design manually, this is 10-15 minutes that you could have spent embroidering if you used an auto-digitizing program for simple designs.
Embrilliance also doesn’t have photo stitch, which is something available in Hatch. Not that I’ve used the function more than twice, but having the option available makes me happy.
One big pro of Embrilliance, though, is Merrowly, its add-on that allows you to create faux-merrow borders when digitizing patches.
Their free trial does not allow you to save files but gives you a demo of the program to try out.
4. Embird Embroidery Software
Embird is another great software option to consider for beginning digitizers.
My personal experience when I trialed Embird, though, was there were too many screens and modes. Using multiple modules together was confusing for me.
I like Embird, though, because it’s an affordable program if you want to digitize manually. It also gives you some unique options (cross-stitch and photo-stitch) that many other digitizing programs don’t offer.
Now, there are four main “plug-in modules” that build upon Embird’s Basic Program. To use the modules, you do have to purchase the Basic Program. Here are a few details of some of the features of each program.
- Basic Embird: the required base module for simple editing and customization
- Split and resize designs
- Simple editing properties (thread color changes, joining designs, individual stitch editing, etc.)
- Add text using your own embroidery fonts (or created in Font Engine)
- Creation of image files
- Embird Studio Digitizing Tools Plug-In
- The manual digitizing module add-on, which is necessary if you want to create designs. It also has limited auto-digitizing capabilities for converting vector files into embroidery files.
- Sfumato Stitch Plug-In
- Import a photograph and create a photo-stitch. This is not “automatic” per se and requires user input to create a realistic photo embroidery stitch out.
- Font Engine Plug-In
- Automatically create embroidery lettering or a monogram from .otf or .ttf computer fonts (with limitations)
- Use purchased embroidery fonts with keyboard lettering
- Cross Stitch Plug-In: This is awesome but takes serious brainpower to get good results if you’re not graphically inclined!
- Manual or automatic creation of a cross stitch pattern from an image or font file.
The free trial has minimal functionality and works for 30 days or 100 designs.
If you are willing to put in the time to learn, I think this program compares to much more expensive digitizing software. It’s also 1/10th of the price!
It is a fully-fledged manual digitizing software that relies on some underlying knowledge of vector graphics. It is a VERY powerful software for the price. Beginner-friendly, though? I had a hard time at first.
The user interface isn’t as intuitive as most, and support is limited. While they do have a helpful Facebook group and a collection of introductory videos within the software and on YouTube, the learning curve was steeper.
For instance, see all those icons on the right of the screen above? They were much too small on my laptop, and it was difficult to remember which icon did what function. There are also no auto-digitizing options, and you can’t automatically convert .otf or .ttf fonts to embroidery lettering.
The free trial is available for 30 days with full features, though, and I highly recommend trying it out if you don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on an embroidery digitizing program!
Other Options Worth Considering
These programs below are options that I’m not as familiar with because they’re either more expensive for similar(ish) functions or programs that didn’t offer everything I wanted in software.
But, I think it’s important for newbies to check out every piece of software before making a decision. I’ll leave you more resources than in-depth reviews here.
Floriani Embroidery Software
Floriani software is the most common software sold in my local sewing stores. As such, classes are offered in person locally, which is a huge plus.
When I stopped by to try the software out during my hunt, I found it VERY easy to use and filled with impressive functions. (Here’s where to find a Floriani Preferred Dealer to try it.)
However, I had major sticker shock when considering purchasing! If you have a larger budget for embroidery software, though, this one’s worth a second look.
Here’s the software comparison guide for Floriani Total Control U, Total Control Pro, and Floriani Embroidery Suite, showing all the features these three embroidery programs offer.
There are also several options for DIME (Designs in Machine Embroidery) software. You can view their large selection of software and add-on modules on the DIME website.
Their Perfect Embroidery Professional software is their most full-featured digitizing software geared toward commercial digitizers.
What’s fun about their software is you can purchase add-ons like the My Block Piecer (for quilters), My Pet Emoji, and even Word Art in Stitches!
I also love their free Embroidery Tool Shed for tasks like converting file formats and estimating thread required to stitch a design.
Inkscape and Ink/Stitch Extension
If you’re interested in a challenge and have no capital to spend on embroidery software, I recommend checking out the free, open-source vector graphics program Inkscape and its embroidery extension Ink/Stitch.
For users familiar with CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator, you already think like a vector graphics artist, so you’ll have more success using Ink/Stitch. I like to create SVG files for my Cricut in Inkscape, and I successfully transformed many of them into embroidery designs.
Ultimately, the process just wasn’t as user-friendly, as it required much more manual input rather than the automatic features of many premium programs.
For complete newbies who do not know objects, paths, and nodes, this isn’t the best option unless you’re motivated to learn independently. There is limited support available because, after all, this is a free program. Do check out YouTube and Facebook for other users if you need a question answered.
Sierra Software – Stitch Era Universal
If you want to pay only when you want to digitize, a monthly embroidery software subscription is an excellent idea.
You can purchase a one-year or 6-month license and access this software.
There are three levels: Express Edition, Standard Edition, and Liberty Edition, their most full-featured digitizing software. This chart will give you all the features and compare the three levels in great detail for you.
I have not personally tried this embroidery program because I knew I wanted a program for the long haul, and a one-time payment made more sense for that. But, this is a very cost-effective option for someone who isn’t ready to make a substantial down payment yet.
Premier+ 2 Embroidery Software
Also popular at local sewing machine dealers, Premier+ is related to Husqvarna Viking and Pfaff.
They have three main software tiers, including Premier+ 2 Ultra, Premier+ 2 Extra, and Premier+ 2 Embroidery. Check out their website for more information on where to purchase and the differences between the different tiers.
Brother Embroidery Software
Brother also has a vast selection of Brother embroidery software for digitizing, editing, monogramming, and more. I’ll leave you with the Brother website to check out the availabilities and the features of each program.
Each program should come with a free non-saving trial. The most popular software options here are PE-Design 11, PE-Design Plus 2, and BES Lettering 4.
I tried all the free trials for the Brother software, and I didn’t find them as easy to use as Hatch or Embrilliance. The auto-digitizing also wasn’t as great.
I am a HUGE Brother fan and currently own five Brother machines (two embroidery machines, one sewing machine, one serger, and one coverstitch). However, I just couldn’t appreciate their digitizing software as much as I did others.
However, I know many people who own and love this software, so it might be the best fit for you! Also, many dealers offer classes, which is a big plus for new users.
Lastly, it works well with all Brother embroidery machines with wireless design transfer. The Brother Luminaire XP3, for instance, has added capabilities that help PE Design 11 and the machine work more in sync together.
Bernina Embroidery Software
There are also three main Bernina software options:
- Bernina Toolbox, a basic editing and customization software
- Bernina Embroidery Software 9, their full-featured embroidery digitizing software
- Bernina ARTlink 9, their free Bernina software that does fundamental tasks like file conversion
You can learn more at their website and download 30-day free trials. Bernina is associated with Wilcom, who makes Hatch Embroidery Software. Thus, there’s significant overlap and striking similarities between the two programs.
Janome Artistic Digitizer
Like every other embroidery machine manufacturer, Janome also has its own full-featured embroidery digitizing software called Janome Artistic Digitizer.
You can check out more information about it on the Janome website, but just know Janome Artistic Digitizer, Bernina Embroidery Software 9, and Hatch Embroidery 3 are associated with Wilcom and are thus very, very similar in look and many functions.
Buy From the Manufacturer or an Authorized Retailer
I know that the $5 embroidery software copies on eBay or Etsy look very tempting. However, if you visit embroidery groups, there are tons of people who have tried these and have had bad results.
Besides being pirated copies, this software often contains viruses or forces you to connect to the buyer in a way that opens your computer to insecurities later on.
Furthermore, you can’t get updates because you don’t have a valid license for the product. And, if the company finds out you’ve been selling designs made with pirated software, I’ve heard of prosecution reports.
So, I recommend buying directly from the manufacturer or an authorized retailer. Authorized retailers sell on their websites, in local stores, or on Etsy. They will specifically state in their description their credentials.
And that’s my experience with searching for the best embroidery digitizing software.
I hope this has been helpful for new embroidery enthusiasts, and I’d love to hear about experiences with other programs I’m not as familiar with!