Making The Right Choice: Embroidery

What Is "The Right Choice" Anyway?

I find shopping somewhat of a hassle. Whether it's shopping for business, or a birthday present, it just doesn't come easy to me. But when I come across a company or supplier that does what they do, right, and consistently, my shopping experience is so much more enjoyable.

In addition, I find myself shopping at that business frequently, and when they prove they can deliver consistently, I'm a customer for life.

That, is what "The Right Choice" is all about!

Making The Right Choice: Embroidery

The truth is, there are many telltale signs to look for when seeking consistently quality embroidery. 

To the average observer, embroidery can look "good" even when it is poorly engineered or the machines are improperly set-up by the operator. This can be rather troublesome for our industry. The truth a consumer believes about their embroidery provider is usually based on an advertisement or referral, and not on the tested proof of their quality.

So let's load your guns with a few tricks to help you sniff out the embroidery impostors.

What to look for with embroidery:

SAMPLES: When you begin your search for an embroidery provider, ask them to provide you with physical sew-out samples. The more complicated the embroidery design is, the better. These samples should feature several stitch types such as fill stitches, satin stitches and even running stitches.

TOP THREAD: The side of the embroidery that features the design is the top of the design, thus, the thread is known as the 'top thread'. No matter which type of stitch it is, it should look tight to the material the embroidery was sewn on to.

REGISTRATION: When two objects are designed to align, this is known as registration. Objects that either align to each other, of have uniform spacing between them should look consistent. A dead giveaway for bad registration is if there are gaps between an object and it's outline.

PUCKERING: A properly engineered and hooped embroidery will place none or very little tension on the garment it is being applied. Embroidery is a tensioned "tug-o-war" between the top thread and the bobbin with the poor fabric holding on for dear life to it's highly uniform weave in the middle. Puckering at it's worst should be barely recognizable.

ONE-THIRD RULE: Now comes the true test of quality . . . turn that sample over. On the under side you will see thin white zigzag stitches in the middle of all your top thread. This white thread is the "bobbin" thread. The bobbin is the one constant standard by which the top thread depends for it's proper tensioning. The 'One-third Rule' dictates that properly tensioned machines should reveal a one-third reveal of top thread on either side of a one-third reveal of bobbin in the middle of the stitch type. 

When observing these top stitches, they should all run tightly next to each other

How to Find The Best Embroidery and Screen Printing Provider

Rare are the opportunities companies get to compare their product's quality to their competitor's. Even more rare, is when that comparison is truly "apples-to-apples."

One of our clients was approached by a screen printing provider who claimed he could do their shirts cheaper . . . he actually delivered on that claim! Not only were the shirts less expensive, but his quality was, well, cheap.

So, I thought I would take this opportunity to assist you in "sizing up the competition".

I want to make one thing clear, this is not an article where I will provide the answers, I want to help re-train your thinking about selecting the most qualified apparel embellishment providers. To do this, we need to establish what quality means.

5 Quality Standards in the Embellishment Industry.

  1. Product construction and durability. - Many mainstream, high-profile brands make high-tech fabrics that look great and feel even better. However, after a few washings, they're nothing more than a high-tech rag. A well-informed apparel provider will understand your needs and recommend products that will last and save money. 
  2. Embellishment design engineering. - Apparel these days is made from so many materials and weaves it can make your head spin. In order to make sure the integrity of your design looks it's best on the apparel of your choice, talented designers must engineer your design to embellish properly on all materials.
  3. Embellishment application. - Thread puckering, ink cracking or peeling, are a few of the problems people worry about when ordering custom apparel. A company may have the latest, greatest, and biggest shop in town . . . but if their apparel puckers, cracks, or peels, then their machines are not being run by competent operators who know what they're doing . . . RUN!
  4. Well-trained, knowledgeable garment printing and embroidery machine operators.  - Garment printing and embroidery machines are only as intelligent as their operators. It is next to impossible to interview all the operators, but if you know what to look for, actual embroidered and printed samples can reveal more than enough about the competence of the operators.
  5. Customer Service and On-Time Delivery.  - If your current provider tells you your order will be delivered in 2-weeks, and 6-weeks later they deliver . . . ask for your money back. There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for serious embellishment providers to be late on delivery.

Notice that "price" is NEVER mentioned in the list of quality standards. That is because, unfortunately, too many people in our industry simply cannot compete with quality, so they price their product so low that uneducated consumers blindly purchase from them. 

What I want you to focus on here though, is not price, but what the companies offer, their quality, and their ability to deliver that quality in a timely manner. 

As you research embellishment provider websites, and even call on some, ask the following questions: 

  1. Does this company appear 'professional'? - Often, apparel embellishers put zero effort into their web presence. If, they don't care how you perceive them, why would they care about how you are perceived?
  2. What is their "expertise"? - Today, too many providers 'over-diversify.' Instead of being 'Excellent' at one thing, they are 'okay' at several. Do not get sucked in by a business that says they can "Do-It-All" . . . they can, but at your expense.
  3. How creative is their ability to provide exciting graphics compared to the others?  - Look at their galleries (if they have any). If they use a lot of clipart, or the graphics look lame, yours will too!
  4. Are their galleries displaying pictures of actual embroidery and screen printed samples, or are they graphic renderings? - Artwork for embroidery and screen printing is unique to other types of artwork. It may look great as a 3-D rendering, but if improperly engineered, looks horrible on a garment. You should be looking at actual garments in their galleries.
  5. Are they informative, or just trying to pay for all the equipment they are showing in their shop? - They should sound like they've pushed a squeegee or threaded an embroidery head before. If they simply want to talk "over-your-head" with industry terminology that you don't care about, they're hiding their lack of quality behind their equipment manuals.
  6. Do they provide you with reasonable options, or simply selling you what you want? - I am a professional in the embroidery and screen printing industry, as you are in your industry. If I can help you save a few bucks by informing you of a better solution, then you just found an friend in the industry. 

Okay, it is really important that you ask these and more questions while on your fact finding mission. If the provider cannot answer your question honestly, or professionally, and in a way you can understand, you may want to simply move on.

I feel that if one of the companies you contact answers all the questions I've listed above . . . and they deliver . . . then you win, the industry wins, and that means more people will have faith in apparel marketing . . . and I've done my job.

How Much Does Embroidery Cost?

If questions were rated based on the frequency of being asked, this one would be the 'coup de gras' of all the questions I get from our customers. 

You've probably been calling around, and let me guess ... you're getting all kinds of different embroidery estimates from all kinds of embroiderers. Unfortunately, there truly are no hard-and-fast ways to pinpoint the cost of embroidery for your design, without actually having it converted to stitches.

That being said, the better question to be answered here is, How much should embroidery cost?


Calculating the cost of embroidery can seem somewhat complicated, but it's not. Let me explain ...


In order to price your embroidery accurately, your design must be converted into stitches by a professional embroidery designer. The finished design is commonly called a "tape." Each tape must be engineered to run smoothly on various types of material. The tape file tells the embroidery machine where, when, and how many times the needle will penetrate the material to achieve the proper image. These needle penetrations are what's known as the "stitches."


There are two main embroidery pricing types that you will find in the embroidery industry; 'Per-Stitch Pricing' and 'Fixed Unit Pricing'

Per-Stitch Pricing - is the value the embroiderer places on a "tape" based on the amount of stitches that make up the design.

Most commonly, embroiderers will break each tape down into a unit price for every 1,000 stitches of the tape design. This unit price is established by the number of items ordered to be embroidered.

For example: Let's say you're ordering 12 caps and your "tape" (or design) has 7,500 stitches. Your embroiderer may have a 'Per-Stitch' rate of $1.00 per thousand stitches based on 12 garments. That would make your embroidery cost $7.50 per garment (7,500 / 1,000 = 7.5 X $1.00 = $7.50).

Fixed Unit Pricing - is the cost of your embroidery no matter how many stitches make up your tape design.

In other words, a provider may charge you $7.50 for your embroidery whether it is 5,000 stitches or 10,000 stitches. Though this type of pricing is rare, BE WARNED of companies who use this type of pricing. It sounds like a great bargain, but the embroiderer could simply use less stitches, sacrificing the embroidery quality in an effort to make more money.


The bottom-line here is to have an embroidered garment that best represents your company's image. Embroidery is an art form that takes a craftsman (which are far-and-few-between) to define each stitch so it looks its best on that garment.

Don't settle for the "best price" . . . settle for true embroidery quality.

After all, this is your business we're talking about.