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Blog / Beginner's handbook / Gradient Embroidery at Printful: All You Need to Know

Beginner's handbook

Gradient Embroidery at Printful: All You Need to Know

Gradient Embroidery at Printful: All You Need to Know
Lilija Karpjaka

By Lilija Karpjaka

6 min read

Embroidery’s been a custom apparel staple for ages. It looks and feels elegant, offering durability that prints simply can’t match. But what happens when traditional embroidery meets modern innovation?

Enter unlimited color embroidery, a technique that allows gradients—a seamless transition between colors, giving your designs a vibrant, lifelike quality that stands out.

Gradient embroidery is an advanced technique where white thread is recolored in real time to create a smooth gradient effect with multiple colors.

Now, imagine the possibilities with that type of tech! Think branded merchandise, personalized gifts, and custom clothing—all with designs standard embroidery can’t replicate. At Printful, we’ve mastered this process, ensuring your designs are stunning and of the highest quality.

Let’s examine how Printful allows us to bring the subtle beauty of gradients into embroidered goods. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to create beautiful gradient color designs and avoid common design issues. Let’s get started!

Is it possible to embroider gradients with Printful?

Yes, Printful offers unlimited color embroidery for select products, which means you can embroider gradients. This advanced technique brings a dynamic and modern twist to the classic art of embroidery, letting you add complexity and character to your custom products.

This embroidery method is called “unlimited” because the threads are colored by the machine, which means you can choose and combine any color within the CMYK color space. 

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How to find products for gradient embroidery

  1. Go to our Product Catalog

  2. Click All products

  3. In the Technique tab, scroll down to select “unlimited color embroidery”

a screenshot of a product

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How does gradient embroidery work?

Gradient embroidery is a sophisticated technique where a single white thread is colored in real time, allowing it to blend different shades seamlessly. This creates smooth transitions from one color to another, adding a refined touch to your designs.

This process can mimic the gradient effect seen in printed images, bringing a new level of detail and vibrancy to embroidered designs.

a diagram of a washing machineSource: COLOREEL

Unlike traditional embroidery, which uses solid blocks of color, Printful’s unlimited color embroidery can blend multiple hues. By recoloring a single white thread in real-time, we achieve a more nuanced and realistic look. 

To accomplish this, Printful utilizes top-of-the-industry embroidery machines. Since the same white thread is colored in different hues, there’s no need for breaks, knots, or needle head switching. Each time a knot is added at the end of an embroidered color, it adds weight to the design and may shift details.

Since Coloreel does not require thread breaks or knots, it allows smooth color transitions, more color choices, and a sleeker finish. For the record, traditional embroidery only allows up to 6 set colors per design.

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Just as with traditional embroidery, unlimited color embroidery design files require digitization. The digitization process, where a design is converted into a format that the embroidery machine can read, is key to ensuring that the gradient is accurately replicated. Our skilled technicians program the machine to adjust the stitching density and shading, enabling a smooth transition between colors, much like blending paint on a canvas.

Read more: What’s embroidery digitization?

a comparison of a popsicleSource: Printful

The result is a stunning, multi-dimensional effect that breathes depth and vibrancy into logos, artwork, and text. Whether you’re after a gentle fade or a dramatic color shift, gradient embroidery creates a visually striking masterpiece that makes your custom apparel unforgettable.

Let’s look at some design examples to help you visualize how this technique can be applied to your own creations.

Gradient embroidery examples 

Here’s how a gradient design looks when using unlimited color embroidery. Next to it, is the same design made with standard embroidery.


Here, you see the two embroidery techniques alongside the digital designs on the left and their embroidered counterparts on the right. 

a collage of images of cloudsSource: Printful

Stitch types

The stitch type we’ll use depends on your design. Our digitizers decide which stitch types are the best fit for each design.

Satin stitch

a sun with a face on a fabricSatin stitch example

Satin stitch is one of the most commonly used stitches in embroidery. This technique involves tightly spaced, flat stitches covering a section of the fabric, creating a smooth and shiny surface that resembles satin fabric.

The dense nature of the stitch allows for a seamless blend of colors, resulting in that beautiful gradient effect. The gradient will follow the stitching direction, much like the flow of calligraphy or handwriting.

Tatami stitch

a blue and yellow rabbit embroideryTatami stitch example

Tatami stitch is a fill stitch used for larger areas within an embroidery design. It involves a series of parallel running stitches laid out in a woven pattern resembling traditional Japanese tatami mats.

The gradient can move in any linear direction from one side to the other. However, radial, aka circular, gradients are impossible with the tatami stitch.

Run stitch

close-up of a logo embroidered on a fabricRun stitch example

Run stitch is used for small design details. It works for embroidering very thin lines that can’t be done in a satin stitch.

Now that you know the basic stitches, it’ll be easier to navigate the best design practices.

Gradient embroidery design best practices

Follow these tips and achieve smooth transitions, vibrant colors, and a professional finish to make your designs stand out.

Avoid neon and metallic-like colors

When designing gradient embroidery, be mindful of color limitations. The white recycled polyester thread used for unlimited color embroidery is colored with CMYK inks. That means, Coloreel can’t produce extremely saturated neon or metallic-like colors.

While neon and metallic colors may look great in photos, they don’t translate well into embroidery. The final results of metallic or bright neon embroidery designs can appear dull, shift hues, or overall not look as expected.

a pink and purple doughnutBright neon colors in design vs. in final embroidery

For the best results, stick to CMYK-friendly colors that replicate accurately in thread form.

Take note of space sizes

To achieve a gradient transition between two solid colors, make the gradient-filled shapes large enough. This gives the embroidery machines enough room to change the color of the white thread. As a result, you get a smooth, almost DTG-like gradient. If you don’t give the gradient enough space, the color transition will look choppy.

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Avoid small details

Choose large, simple, and filled shapes. If your design contains small run stitch details, they will disturb the gradient transition.

a colorful symbol with a pattern

Don’t create radial designs

Gradients can’t translate when they’re radial, i.e., circular. For example, if you create a circle in your design, it won’t blend and look like this circle by the cat. 

Avoid photo images

While gradient embroidery can create stunning effects with various designs, photographic images aren’t suitable for this technique. Photos typically contain a wide range of colors, complex shading, and too many small details that can’t be accurately captured with embroidery threads.

Instead of attempting to convert a photo into an embroidered design, consider using stylized graphics or illustrations that can be more effectively translated into gradient embroidery. This will ensure a clearer, more recognizable result. 

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You’re ready!

With the tips and best practices outlined in this guide, you’re now equipped to create stunning gradient embroidery designs that are sure to impress.

As you embark on your next design project, keep in mind the potential and versatility of gradient embroidery. Whether you’re creating merchandise for a brand, personalized gifts, or simply looking to add a touch of sophistication to your apparel, the unlimited color embroidery at Printful is your canvas for creativity.

So go ahead, experiment with colors, play with designs, and watch your visions come to life with the rich textures and vibrant hues of gradient embroidery. The possibilities are endless, and the results will be nothing short of extraordinary.

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By Lilija Karpjaka on May 30, 2024

Lilija Karpjaka

SEO Content Writer

Lilija is an SEO content writer at Printful. She's passionate about ecommerce, and in her spare time, she's an avid reader of various book genres.

Lilija is an SEO content writer at Printful. She's passionate about ecommerce, and in her spare time, she's an avid reader of various book genres.