Photo-Stitching Techniques Offer Potential & Pitfalls

By Ken Lightsey, Contributing Editor

Impressions Magazine

Febuary 1999 - page 108

"Action Super Stars." The designer, Klebber Mattos, Artworx International, Inc., Germantown, Md., painstakingly prepaired this masterpiece by hand. It is a product of his vision, creativity, and skill. His hours of detailed work resulted in a striking image that cannot be done any other way.

This jacket back, manually digitized by Klebber Mattos, Artworx International, Inc., Germantown, Md., is one of the two methods for doing photo- stitching. The second method, which involves a sertain computer program, does not allow for as much creativity and artistry.

Photographic stitching is a recently developed technique that allows embroiderers to create photo-realistic designs with thread. It offers great potential to reach new markets and generate additional income. However, like any new technique, you want to be knowledgeable about the pros and cons before getting started.

Be aware that there are two distinct techniques to create photo stitching. The first is digitizing software specifically designed for photographs. This method is quick but allows less artistry. The second method, where the digitizer plots each stitch by hand, allows more creativity, but takes more time. Each technique has merits.

Photographic stitching lets embroiderers create truly personalized designs. What could be better than offering garments with a picture of a customer's spouse, children, pets, hobby, car, or other treasured item emblazoned in stitches?

You've probably seen photographic stitching in trade show booth displays, magazine ads, fliers, or anywhere else digitizing companies promote their services. Digitizers also have used it to produce beautiful pieces for competitions such as "Action Super Stars," an embroidered jacket-back design of some of Hollywood's most famous heroes. This piece won the Outstanding Design/Embroidery category in the 1998 IMPRESSIONS Awards.

With the software method, embroiderers scan the photo into their computers, and it is converted into stitches in black and white or color. To digitize manually, an artist/digitizer begins with a photograph or drawing and uses specialized techniques to build an image with thread.

The computerized image-conversion process lets embroiderers convert every-day images into stitches quickly. It is relatively easy and gives a reasonably good rendition of the scanned photograph. With image-manipulation software, an embroiderer can enhance the photograph, separate one image from others, or combine the picture with other images. Ultimately though, what you see in the photograph is what you get.

With the manual technique, when an artist digitizes an image from a photograph the finish design may look different from the original picture. Unlike a computer-generated image, this is the artist's rendering, not a duplicate. He may combine different aspects of several photographs, merging divergent styles into a harmonious image or work from memory without a photograph. Digitizing by hand is more difficult and time consuming than with software, and the result depends on the digitizer's skill and vision.

Do not purchase photo-stitching digitizing software and expect to automatically produce a piece such as "Action Super Stars." The digitizer, Klebber Mattos, Artworx International, Inc., Germantown, Md., painstakingly prepared this masterpiece by hand. It is a product of his vision, creativity, and skills. His hours of detailed work resulted in a striking image that cannot be done any other way.

Those interested in getting started in photo stitching also need to be aware that although the software makes digitizing photographs faster and easier, there are limitations. Not every image lends itself to this process, and it still requires an experienced digitizer who is willing to invest time in learning the software and practicing to get good results.

A computer is not a substitute for an artist/digitizer; rather, it is a tool to enhance and extend the user's capabilities. Regardless of how easy a digitizing system is to use, an operator must make decisions using his experience and skills to produce the best design.

Market Considerations

Another factor to consider when investigating photo stitching, is how well it fits in with your business and clientele. With embroidery, art development is always part of the production process. Consider a photographic image that has a stitch count of 25,000. With an average sewing speed of 800 stitches per minute, it takes a little more than 30 minutes to complete one sewout on a single head.

A digitizer who creates a custom design that takes hours of work probably will use an image of a well-known person or thing. This gives the finished garment a wider, more lucrative market. Even though most of these designs require more than 25,000 stitches, by choosing properly and securing the licensing rights to the image, the time and effort could be profitable and worthwhile, especially on a high-end garment.

Before you offer photo-stitched designs, decide if this service is right for you. Is it economically feasible to provide? is there enough of a market to support it? It's one thing to take a photograph of someone's grandchild, scan it, add a simple saying, output the image or transfer paper, and apply it to a T-shirt. The total cost of materials is only a few dollars, and your investment in equipment and software is relatively low.

When you scan that same image into your digitizing system, output a stitch file, and set up your embroidery machine, your cost of materials will be even smaller than with the digital transfer. But the digitizing investment is high, and it takes a significant amount of time to sew.

The bottom line with either photo-stitching techniques, as with any part of your business, is whether it is profitable. Scrutinize the process, cost and revenue it can generate. Photographic stitching has great potential if it fits in your operation.


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