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When I first got started embroidering, I looked everywhere to find the best free embroidery software. Machine embroidery is an expensive hobby, and I didn’t want to immediately invest in pricey software when I was just a beginner. I wanted to test my embroidery machine first with built-in designs and possibly dabble in design creation. And if it turned out I liked embroidery and did it often enough, I would buy software.
Turns out, learning to use an embroidery machine is not as easy as 1-2-3. You have to figure out how to choose the right stabilizer, the best embroidery thread to use for a project, and the right type of embroidery needle for your fabric. In addition to learning your supplies, it’s important to study the types of designs and embroidery stitches and see how these work together in a design. I spent the better part of a month just learning the basics before coming up to breathe and finally wanting to create and edit my own designs.
Now, I’m going to say something you probably won’t love to hear, and I know I didn’t at first! For auto-digitizing and beginner manual design creation, paid software is SO much easier to use and produces better results than free software. There are still some great free embroidery software options to explore, though, especially if you are only interested in basic design editing. I’ll list them out for you below with an explanation of features.
After a year of using free embroidery software downloads and running into troubleshooting problems, I personally hit the proverbial wall where it was time to buy software. I did every free embroidery software trial after that and then got Sew What Pro and Sew Art. A year later, I purchased Hatch 2 Embroidery, and it has been amazing. I don’t regret the time spent dabbling in free software, though, because I learned SO MUCH about what I wanted and didn’t want in my future software. And, I still use several of them at times.
That being said, let’s explore some free embroidery software options to get you started!
Types of Free Embroidery Software
To help you differentiate between the free embroidery software options, it’s first important to discuss the different types of embroidery software available. Some free embroidery software will only do one of these functions below, whereas the more advanced software will do most or all of these functions.
1. Free Embroidery File Converters
If you download an embroidery file in a format not compatible with your embroidery machine, you need to convert it using a file converter. For example, I have to convert the .jef files that I use on our library’s Janome machine to .pes files that I can use on my home Brother embroidery machine. This is easily done with a file converter.
Embroidery file conversion, though, means only taking an embroidery design file of one machine’s format and converting it to another format. This does NOT mean uploading a .jpg, .svg, or .png image file and converting it to an embroidery design file. That takes a different type of software.
2. Free Embroidery Thumbnailer Software
If you’ve downloaded embroidery designs on your computer, you might notice they don’t display a picture of the design but rather a generic icon. If you want your computer to display pictures of designs, you will need to download an embroidery thumbnail software.
3. Free Embroidery Editing Software
Embroidery editing, or customizing, software allows the user to alter digitized designs that are loaded into the program. I use editing software the most to resize designs the right way, split large designs into smaller pieces to fit into my 5″x7″ hoop, and add knockdown stitches and embroidery basting boxes to designs.
Editing software also allows for thread color changes, basic editing of stitch properties, merging two or more designs, and many more things!
4. Free Embroidery Digitizing Software
There are two broad types of embroidery digitizing: auto-digitizing and manual digitizing. The first is done with the click of a button and a few parameter specifications whereas the second takes time and expertise. Manual digitizing produces the best embroidery designs and is how professional, commercial digitizers produce images.
Regardless of the method, digitizing is the process of creating a new embroidery design either by using an image file (.svg, .png, .jpg, .bmp, for example) as a starting point or creating from scratch by hand. This is the most advanced type of embroidery software and what I wanted most because it allowed me the ability to create my own designs for my machine. There a few free embroidery software for digitizing manually, but there are no free auto-digitizing embroidery software options at the moment.
5. Free Monogramming Software and Font Software
While many editing and digitizing software have font capabilities, there is also software geared directly toward working with letters and fonts to form words, names, monograms, and more. Depending on the program, you can use embroidery fonts that you’ve downloaded in .bx or design file formats or you can convert .ttf or .otf font files from your computer to embroidery designs. .ttf file conversion is kind of like auto-digitizing, which means you get so-so results.
Best Free Embroidery Software Options
Now, let’s talk about all the best free embroidery software download options. I’ll start with the “big guns” that offer the most functionality but are more difficult to learn and then move on to the software that fulfills a small niche such as thumbnailers, basic editors, and file converters. These are easy to use by comparison.
After that, I’ll let you know which paid programs have free trials, which is ultimately what I would recommend if you seriously want to learn to digitize. Or, if you want to easily digitize a few images and never digitize again, this will also be your best bet.
To download the free embroidery software, I’ve included links that will show up blue and underlined. Click there to be taken to the website.
Inkscape and Ink/Stitch Extension
By far the most complex and full-featured free embroidery digitizing software is the Ink/Stitch extension of Inkscape.
Inkscape itself is an open-source vector graphics program that rivals Adobe Illustrator, a premier program for graphics designers. I own a Cricut Maker and enjoy creating my own SVG files to use when cutting. SVG files are “scalable vector graphics” files, which contain more information than a regular JPG file. Since I had used Inkscape in the past to make SVG files for my Cricut, I already had experience with objects, paths, nodes, and other important vector graphics terms when it came time to try out digitizing.
The awesome thing about Inkscape is there’s then the Ink/Stitch extension which helps you digitize SVG files and also allows you to create your own embroidery designs from scratch. It doesn’t have many built-in fonts, and there is a limit to what you can do with it. However, it is the best free embroidery digitizing software by leaps and bounds and is quite possibly the only free software to split designs and digitize that’s updated regularly. It also is one of the best free embroidery software for mac, since mac software options are significantly more limited than free embroidery software for Windows 10.
Now, the bad part about Ink/Stitch is if you have no idea what an object, path, or node is, for example, you’re going to have a VERY hard time learning this software without a substantial time input. If you love tackling new skills, you may enjoy the challenge, though! I sure did when I started investigating how to create my own SVG designs.
I still create SVG files in Inkscape, but I no longer use Ink/Stitch. It turned out things that are easily done with a click of a button in paid embroidery software required an hour of research into how to do it on Ink/Stitch. Ultimately, time is money, so keep that in mind if you’re like me and end up spending hours trying to be cheap and just end up wasting time.
- By far the most extensive free digitizing software
- Ability to create SVG files and embroidery files in the same program
- VERY big learning curve for novices with no vector graphic experience. There are some good YouTube videos to help and an active Facebook group, though!
- No dedicated support staff. You will have to use a forum for troubleshooting or rely on the Facebook group.
- Simple tasks in other software are much less intuitive here since the interface is geared toward vector graphics creation rather than embroidery design creation.
SophieSew Free Embroidery Digitizing Software
SophieSew used to be one of the best free embroidery digitizing software, but development was seemingly stopped in 2013 when the creator reported health problems. It is a manual digitizing software that allows you to create your own embroidery designs and edit existing designs. If you’re willing to overlook its buggy behavior and obvious limitations compared to more updated embroidery software, give SophieSew a try! A few times, when I tried to design in SophieSew, I ended up with fatal errors (see above.)
There are several YouTube videos you’ll find to give you a tutorial of use, but if you’re not graphics-savvy, this will be difficult to learn.
It is sad the development stopped and tutorials are sparse. This program had so much potential as a user-friendly alternative to Ink/Stitch! That being said, this is the only other always-free embroidery digitizing software. So, it’s worth a try if you don’t like Ink/Stitch.
Embrilliance embroidery software is arguably the most popular embroidery software. It comes in different modules and allows you to purchase as you go.
The most basic module is Embrilliance Essentials for basic editing and customization while their most complex module is Stitch Artist 3, a top-tier digitizing program. One good thing about Embrilliance is they have free demo software with an infinite trial period to try before you buy. The downfall, though, is you can’t save any of your work until you purchase the program.
If you do want to save work and are interested in using fonts, Embrilliance Express is a free software download that helps you work with .bx fonts. With .bx fonts and Embrilliance Express, you use your keyboard to type the letters rather than importing them one by one using an embroidery software that lets you merge designs. This is a great option if you use lettering regularly!
2Stitch Organizer is a free embroidery program that allows you to view designs and their properties on your Windows or macOS computer. You add your embroidery design folders into the program and then easily organize them. I tag mine by digitizer and theme.
If you spend the time tagging and giving your designs extra information in the Notes section, there is a GREAT search function. My favorite part, though, of this free embroidery design software is you can also search by maximum hoop size. This filters out large designs and is helpful for those of us with small embroidery machines!
If you also click “Reveal in Explorer” when you right-click on a design, this will take you to the location on your computer where the file is saved. This helps me find designs that I want to delete or move to different folders on my computer.
my editor is another free embroidery editing software. It has very basic abilities but is a good place to start, especially if you really only want to merge or resize designs. You can convert files from one format to another, change colors, and also rotate the design. It even will print a template of your design. This helps with lining up and centering the design on your embroidery blank.
The one weird thing about my editor was it converted several files on my computer to .ngs format. Turns out, I had selected one of the wrong stipulations about how it would handle .ngs formats when I downloaded. So, be on the lookout for this!
Bernina Artlink 8
Bernina Artlink 8 is another basic free embroidery editing software with similar capabilities to the other free embroidery programs on this list. It’s just the teaser for Bernina’s full embroidery software package.
Artlink allows for basic design resizing, rotation, and even mirroring. You can combine embroidery designs, change thread colors, convert designs from one file format to another, and simulate a stitch out of the design. If you have a Bernina embroidery machine, this is a good place to start if you want very basic editing software.
Premier+ 2 Embroidery Software
Premier+ 2 Embroidery is part of a very impressive suite of embroidery software. While you can’t access very much of the software for free, you are able to use some of the basic features. It is fairly easy to use, but your options are indeed very limited. In my opinion, this one is not worth the download unless you are considering purchasing the entire software later. In which case, try it out!
StitchBuddy is a free embroidery editing software that works on Apple computers, iPhones, and iPads. As a PC, Android-loving gal, I can’t open this program to give you a full review!
That being said, check it out if you’re looking for free embroidery software for an iPad tablet. The creator says this program allows viewing and editing and embroidery file conversion. Merging designs, changing thread colors, performing minor edits on existing designs, and even printing designs and templates are also among its functions.
Embroidery explorer is essentially a free embroidery thumbnail software. As I mentioned earlier, this simply means your computer displays an image of the embroidery design either as a drawing or a stitch simulation rather than its default icon.
You can also view information about your embroidery files such as stitch count, design size, thread colors, and a slow stitch out of the design with this program.
Embroidery Digitizing Software Free Trial Options
If you’re found free digitizing software too difficult to learn or think it doesn’t do what you want, here are some embroidery software that offer free trials with the ability to save.
While these software aren’t technically free, you can use them for free during a trial period. To note, Embird and Embrilliance have free trials also, but you cannot save files. Brother has free embroidery software for Brother embroidery machines (and others for that matter) available as a trial, too. You don’t have any saving abilities until you purchase either. Here’s the free embroidery software download for Brother PE-Design 11 if you want to trial it before purchasing.
1. Sew What Pro and Sew Art
Sew What Pro is an embroidery editing and customization software that is very affordable. It offers a 30-day free trial with saves up to 3 colors. I’ve written a quick Sew What Pro review + tutorial if you want to get a sneak peek of its offerings. I also have a tutorial for how to make monograms from .ttf fonts using Sew What Pro.
Sew Art is the companion embroidery digitizing software to Sew What Pro. It is an auto-digitizing software, so you are limited in what you can digitize and how effective it will be. For simple, clip-art images, results are fairly good! It’s not a program that lets you create your own designs from scratch, though. Meaning, you will have to input an image into the program to start the digitizing process. For beginners without aspirations of ever selling designs, I think this is a great option.
2. Hatch 2 Embroidery Software
Here is the link to the Hatch free 30-day trial. Hatch has 4 different modules that build upon one another and can be purchased separately. I have Hatch Digitizer, which lets me do pretty much everything I want. I think it’s the best embroidery digitizing software for non-commercial digitizers. There is also Hatch Organizer, Hatch Personalizer, and Hatch Embroidery Composer. Composer allows for auto-digitizing, so if you’re not wanting to do much manual creation, this is all you need.
Embroideryware is a full-featured embroidery digitizing program that offers a 2-week free trial. I found it to be up there with Ink/Stitch with the difficulty of use although it has more features. So, I personally would rather spend a few hundred more dollars to get a program that has a simpler user interface! Either that or tough it out with Ink/Stitch. Embroideryware also does not offer auto-digitizing, so only look into it if you’re serious about manually creating your own images. It does have a helpful Facebook group and a slew of YouTube videos.
I hope this compilation of free downloads has been helpful. Just remember, digitizing is not something you learn in a day. The process takes weeks, months, and years to learn, so give yourself some time to become proficient.