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Blog / Beginner's handbook / Step-By-Step Guide to Embroidery Designs

Beginner's handbook

Step-By-Step Guide to Embroidery Designs

Step-By-Step Guide to Embroidery Designs
Elizabete Fleismane

By Elizabete Fleismane

8 min read

Want to create your own custom embroidery pattern? You’ll be surprised by how easy it can be.

Embroidery is both an art form and a great way to personalize items like clothes or gifts. By creating your own embroidery patterns, you can make any piece your own—and make it last. Embroidery is more durable and feels more luxurious than prints, making for better custom pieces.

These days you also don’t need to be able to embroider pieces yourself. You can get a completely custom embroidered product sent straight to your door.

Keep reading to learn more about the process!

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How to make custom embroidery designs

Select a graphic design tool

There are countless tools you could use to create your designs, depending on your experience level, time, and budget. There’s no need for fancy embroidery software to create your own embroidery patterns. We’ll cover a few different options to give you a good range to choose from.


One of the most popular and beginner-friendly tools is Canva. It has both a free and paid version, and you might be able to create the designs you want without having to upgrade.

The main benefits of Canva are its large library of pre-made visual assets, as well as how intuitive it is. It’s entirely available online, meaning you don’t need to install any software on your computer. 

The main downside of using Canva is having to upgrade if you want to save a design without a background. This might not be an issue for many situations, but if you want an embroidery pattern with an interesting shape, you’ll need to upgrade to Canva Pro. A lot of the pre-made visual assets are also only available with the paid plan.


If you have some design experience, you’ve likely used Photoshop or other software with a similar user interface. It has everything you need if you know your way around the program.

The main benefit of using Photoshop is the freedom it gives. You can create just about anything for your embroidery pattern, from beautiful lettering to abstract artistic forms.

The main downsides are the learning curve and the price. If you only want to create a few designs, you can get around the cost by getting a free trial for a week. Unfortunately, if you’ve never used Photoshop before, that might not give you enough time to figure out its tools and perfect your custom patterns.

Printful Design Maker

If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly tool that lets you design your own custom embroidered piece and order or sell it online. You can use Printful to create your design directly on the garment or accessory to get the placement and thread color just right.

Printful’s Design Maker is your best bet if you’re not ready to learn all about stitch types and fill stitches or don’t want to bother with tracing paper.

The main benefit of using Printful’s Design Maker is that it’s completely free and you get to immediately see what the embroidery design will look like on the final product. You also get full access to a huge library of clipart graphics, fonts, and premium images.

The main downside is that this tool is less helpful if you’re looking to make your own pieces by hand. 

Learn More: 16 Free Photoshop Alternatives to Discover This Year

Pick your colors

Next you want to figure out what embroidery thread colors you’ll be working with. If you want a minimalist look or you’re creating your embroidery by hand, go for just a handful of colors. If you want to create gradients or colorful designs using machine embroidery, create your pieces using Printful’s unlimited color embroidery technique.

Set thread colors

When working with a specific set of colors, keep in mind how the number of embroidery thread colors you use will impact the look of your design. If you want your embroidery to be legible from a distance, make sure it consists of larger shapes and isn’t overly intricate.

Here’s what your design could look like by using a specific set of thread colors.

Note that hand-made designs will need to be a lot simpler. Hand embroidery has its limitations and some designs can only be done well using machine embroidery. 

Unlimited color embroidery

If you don’t want to be limited to a narrow color palette, you can take advantage of Printful’s new technology—unlimited color embroidery. This approach is perfect if you want to include gradients or various colors in your embroidery designs. It works by dyeing the thread right as the design is being embroidered, meaning you get smooth transitions and virtually no color limits.

Here’s what unlimited color embroidery can look like.

Keep in mind that, even with unlimited colors, you’re still working with thread, so your design needs to be optimized for embroidery. When we print on paper, all of the detail from the original design is clearly visible. Trying to embroider a photo or an incredibly intricate drawing can end up looking messy, so do your best to keep the design legible.

Valuable read: How to Design a Logo for Embroidery: 7 Essential Things to Note

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Follow embroidery guidelines

If you’re going to use Printful for your embroidered pieces, you can use our embroidery guidelines to make sure that your design turns out how you want them to.

Be sure to review these guidelines before you start designing!

Pro tip: You can find detailed guidelines for each embroidery product on its product catalog page under the File guidelines tab.

Avoid small text and thin lines

If you use small letters, the embroidered text might not be legible. Keep the text at least 0.25'' in height and at least 0.05'' thick. Your design will still look light and minimal, but it’ll also look great from a distance.

The same idea goes for small details and thin lines. The minimum recommended line thickness for the regular satin stitch is 0.05'', and we’ll only be able to use a single line of stitches for even thinner lines, making them less visible. 

Remember that the finished stitching needs to stand out from a distance!

Don’t use negative space elements

Your design can definitely have a transparent background, but avoid including empty spaces in the middle where the fabric may peek through. The lines around the gaps might not turn out as clean as you expect, so fill them in with a solid color instead.

Steer clear of distressed or textured graphics

While distressed elements look great when printed, this texture is harder to achieve with embroidery. A lot of the detail might be lost during embroidery depending on the texture size.

Stay away from photographic images

It’s impossible to embroider photographic images as they are, considering the fact that every tiny part is a slightly different color. Photos have to be recreated using design programs to include more solid shapes and fewer fine details.

Don’t expect neon and metallic colors

Colors like these are impossible to achieve even with unlimited color embroidery. The white recycled polyester thread used in the process is dyed using CMYK inks. This means we can’t achieve bright colors like neons and metallics.

If your graphic contains non-CMYK colors, standard embroidery might give you better results (if your desired thread color is in Printful’s standard embroidery thread catalog).

Think about garment weight

Avoid choosing lightweight fabric if your design has small details, as they might cause the material around the embroidery to pucker. If you want a very detailed design, go for thicker materials.

Check out our examples

To get a better understanding of these guidelines and see the differences between standard and unlimited color embroidery, go to our embroidery file guide.

You’ll also get interactive visual examples, helping you to avoid potential issues at the design stage. 

Create your designs

It’s finally time to start making your custom embroidery patterns! Get creative and remember that embroidery is different from printing, so your design needs to reflect that.

For some design examples and inspiration, check out our blog post⁠ detailing different embroidery design ideas.

We’ll handle digitization

Once your design is created, it has to be converted into a format that an embroidery machine can understand. This process is called digitization, and we do it for any embroidery pattern you’ll order. 

If you’re creating your own patterns in Printful’s Design Maker, we’ll digitize your design as soon as you place the order or add a product to your store.

If you’re creating your embroidery files using a separate tool, you need to submit them to Printful as vector files (preferably in AI or PDF formats, though a high-resolution PNG also works), and we’ll digitize them for a one-time fee.

Please note that we don’t accept embroidery pattern files that have been digitized elsewhere because they need to be adjusted to work with our embroidery machine.

Order samples

You can check that the embroidery design turned out perfectly by ordering a sample before selling your products or ordering an entire batch.

We give our customers a sample order discount, which you’ll find when placing your order. Just select the sample order option and get the product for less!

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Create and sell embroidered products online
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The best products for embroidery

Not sure which product to pick for your artwork? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Men’s Garment-Dyed Heavyweight T-Shirt

This shirt is the right choice for those who appreciate a structured fit and thick-yet-breathable material. With either small or large chest embroidery placements, you can make it a statement piece with larger designs.

Unisex Premium Hoodie

For more variety in embroidery placements, try this soft cotton hoodie. It supports small and large chest embroidery, as well as wrist embroidery for a special subtle touch. The chest placements are also available with unlimited color embroidery!

Cuffed Beanie

This beanie is a great choice for an embroidered hat, letting you place the design right at the front. It’s snug, comfy, and warm, making it perfect for the colder months.

Classic Snapback

If you’re looking for a less cozy, more streetwear option, try this structured snapback. You can embroider it on all four sides, making it that much more stylish and unique.

Eco Tote Bag

For a non-apparel option, you can go for this tote bag. It’s thick and durable, making it a great everyday accessory. Jazz it up and make it more personal with your own original embroidery pattern.

Want more options? Take a look at our product catalog and use the filters at the top to see which products can be embroidered.

You’re all set!

Creating custom embroidery designs is much easier than you might think, and you don’t even need embroidery or design skills to create a great piece. 

Look for inspiration, try different design elements, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Read next: Best Embroidery Products To Sell


By Elizabete Fleismane on Mar 7, 2023

Elizabete Fleismane

Blog author

Elizabete is a Content Writer with an affinity for brand building and strategic communication. She's an eager communicator with a mindful approach to adapting content for a diverse range of audiences and platforms.

Elizabete is a Content Writer with an affinity for brand building and strategic communication. She's an eager communicator with a mindful approach to adapting content for a diverse range of audiences and platforms.