How DST files work and the Limitations

Embroidery enthusiasts in various Facebook groups and online forums where individuals of all skill levels often have a few questions about the use of DST files. One question that frequently arises from newcomers is, “Why doesn’t my expensive embroidery machine and software communicate effectively and send the correct colors using a DST file?” Another question is “Why does my design come out bad when I resize it?” Frustrations like those are just two of many that we aim to address.

We understand your frustration. Whether you’ve invested over $10,000 in a professional embroidery machine or a few hundred dollars in a home-level setup, it’s perplexing that, in 2023, you still have to input color changes manually, often using lengthy numerical sequences. This becomes even more exasperating when working on designs that require numerous revisions, each involving over 50 color changes. A single typo can lead to a ruined embroidery project, not to mention the potential damage to expensive customer garments.

The simple explanation for this issue lies in the limitations of the DST (Data Stitch Tajima) file format, which, in most cases, cannot support color change codes. Yes, there are rare situations where DST files can convey color information to the embroidery machine, but experiencing such a perfect compatibility is indeed a stroke of luck.

The problem with file formats like DST (PES, EXP, JEF, and others) used by embroidery machines is their role in converting software-generated code into hardware-level instructions. While various machines accept different file types, we will focus on the most popular format, DST. Unfortunately, DST files are incapable of storing images or vectors required for artwork and complex patterns.


You may have wondered why you can’t simply transfer a Wilcom .emb file or a .be file from Embrilliance directly to your embroidery machine. The straightforward answer is that .emb and .be files are Native Working Files specific to particular embroidery software. These files store additional data that DST files cannot accommodate. Software like Wilcom, Pulse DGML, Floriani, Embrilliance, Chroma, and others provide advanced tools for creating intricate patterns, curved fills, satin shapes, and text. However, embroidery machines do not understand native file formats because the machines use Machine Formatted Files to understand in a universal language what actions or movements to make.

There are also other limitations that users frequently inquire about, such as resizing a design. If you’ve ever attempted to enlarge a DST design from a small patch to a large jacket-sized embroidery, you may have noticed a significant loss of quality. This discrepancy is related to how DST files register points compared to native files.

In native files, when you enlarge an object, the software calculates new needle points and adds them accordingly. For instance, if you have a straight run stitch that’s originally 6cm long with a 2mm stitch length, the software computes 30 needle points. If you enlarge it to 8cm with a 2mm stitch length, you now have 40 needle points, maintaining quality and accuracy.

Why the Different Native Working File Types?

One reason for the existence of various native working file types is rooted in U.S. copyright law. However, there isn’t a law mandating that DST and EMB files must be incompatible. Instead, the law governs the ability to copyright a file format. Software developers like Wilcom and Tajima invest significant resources in creating and updating their software with new features. To remain competitive and protect their work, they want to secure their files, preventing other companies from simply copying their innovations and stealing their customers. Trust me, this is a good thing.

Under U.S. law, filing for copyright protection of a file format is not allowed. This prevents a company from monopolizing all top-level file formats and forcing new entrants to use convoluted file names. Imagine creating digitizing software named “Tin Can Digitizing Software” and having to use filenames like “sunflowerpatch.tin392” because all sensible options are taken. That would be chaotic. At the same time, this prevents Wilcom from registering every possible three letter file extension (.xxx) and forcing someone to use long file names. In fact, most machines have a limit on the length of the file name!

What companies can do, however, is encrypt their files using proprietary methods that can be patented. This encryption prevents other software from opening these files. While Wilcom is a prominent user of .emb files, anyone can develop software that uses .emb files legally, which is why almost all digitizing software can export to the open and unprotected DST format. It would be illegal to write software that can take a Wilcom .emb file and manipulate it by hacking the file.

The DNA for the Data Stitch Tajima (DST) File

If you’ve ever opened a DST file with a basic text editor like Notepad, you’ll find plain text followed by seemingly incomprehensible gibberish. This gibberish forms the machine logic that instructs the embroidery machine.

DST files can only contain stitch commands and basic metadata for the design file. When you load a DST file onto your machine or view it on your machine’s screen, you’ll typically see basic information such as the design name, stitch count, and perhaps color change notifications. Occasionally, you may also see author details, copyright information, and listed thread colors, although these are not common.

In the screenshot on the right, you’ll notice line numbers on the left, ranging from 1 to 13. These numbers indicate the line of the file, known to programmers as the “header.” Based on this, we can infer that this section is the beginning of the file.

The header contains specific design information that appears on your machine when you load the file. For example, on line 1, you’ll see “LA:Design42,” which represents the design’s name. The “ST” line provides the total stitch count for this design, “CO” denotes the number of color changes, and the other values pertain to positioning and determining the design’s size for hoop compatibility.

However, you’ll notice that there is no line in the header for specifying the color sequence. This is why you can’t directly instruct the machine about color changes from your embroidery software using a DST file.

So why Use DST?

The primary reason for continuing to use DST files is their universal compatibility with almost all commercial embroidery machines. You can be confident that almost any file you receive from your digitizer (See who we recommend) will work seamlessly on your machine, ensuring consistent results.

Did you find this information about DST files enlightening? If so, please consider sharing this article with your fellow embroidery enthusiasts in your respective groups.

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The Essential Guide to Changing Your Embroidery Machine Needles

Embroidery enthusiasts understand the importance of precision and detail when it comes to their craft. Achieving impeccable results hinges on various factors, with one often overlooked element being the condition of your embroidery machine needles. In this article, we’ll explore the key reasons why you need to change your embroidery machine needles, highlighting the differences between a new and worn needle and providing insights into when and how often you should replace them.

1. Needle Wear and Tear: The Silent Culprit Embroidery needles, like any other tool, undergo wear and tear over time. The images provided show a Groz-Beckert DBxK5 RG needle, with a clear distinction between a brand new, titanium-plated needle and a worn, silver-colored one. The worn needle exhibits a 1/32″ (~0.8 mm) reduction in length and a dulled sharp point. This wear can result in inconsistent stitching and a decrease in overall embroidery quality.

2. Maintain Stitch Consistency As needles wear down, they become less efficient at piercing fabrics. This can lead to skipped stitches, thread breaks, and uneven tension. Maintaining stitch consistency is vital for achieving professional-quality embroidery. By changing your needles regularly, you ensure that every stitch is as precise as the first, delivering flawless results.

3. Prevent Material Damage Worn needles can cause more than just embroidery imperfections. They can also damage your expensive fabrics and garments. Needles with dulled points can snag or tear delicate materials, leading to costly mishaps that could have been easily avoided by replacing the needle.

4. Avoid Common Troubleshooting Issues Many common embroidery machine troubleshooting issues can be traced back to worn needles. If you’ve been experiencing thread breakage, bird’s nests of thread on the underside of your fabric, or uneven stitches, it’s time to inspect your needle. Regularly changing your needles can eliminate these problems, saving you time and frustration.

How Often Should You Replace Your Needles? The frequency of needle replacement depends on several factors, including the number of stitches, run time on the needle, and the type of materials you work with. As a general guideline:

  • For heavy usage (high stitch counts and continuous operation), consider changing your needle every 8-16 hours of stitching.
  • For moderate usage, such as occasional embroidery projects, replace your needle every 350,000 to 450,000 stitches (8 hrs x 48,000 SPH = 384,000 stitches).
  • Always replace the needle when switching to a new or different fabric type.
  • Be aware, there are many different types of needles and each has a particular type of material it should be used on.

In conclusion, your embroidery machine needles play a crucial role in achieving impeccable results. Regularly changing your needles not only ensures consistent stitching but also prevents potential damage to your materials and reduces troubleshooting headaches. By paying attention to the wear and tear on your needles and following the recommended replacement guidelines, you can maintain the high-quality standards that every embroidery enthusiast strives for.

Stay tuned to The Embroidery Nerd for more tips, tricks, and insights to elevate your embroidery game!

Rasters vs. Vectors

When you are starting to bring digitizing back home you may be wondering what image formats you should request. Rasters and Vectors as a comparison can seem confusing to tell the difference. The main thing is that Vectors will allow you to change the size with no loss of quality.


While it’s completely possible to digitize off a hand drawing most digitizers prefer vector (.ai, .eps, .svg) over raster (.jpg, .png, .tiff) files. I personally ask my clients to get me the highest-resolution image they can. Usually this is an image that has been enlarged, then shrunken, then resized again and now very grainy and has little detail. This is because of the way raster shows the image verses the vector formats. Look at the following example image. You will see that it’s two letters that are enlarged by 500 percent.


You will see that the “r” is very blury. This is because of the way that a raster shows data. If you think of an image as a grid, or as pixels as it is really called. The raster can only store the color and location of that pixel. So when you double the size you need to make that one pixel now be four pixels.


Vectors on the other hand use mathematical formulas to draw the image. Since it uses a math formula (like y=x) we can resize the image 5000 times the original size and it will still be the same formula. An example could be like the “V” in the picture above. We could guess that an equation could be something like y=2x as it would create the far right edge. If we change the size smaller or larger it’s still going to be y=2x.

The beauty is that you don’t even need to know that there are letters in math. So you don’t need to phone up your algebra teacher and tell them they were right that you would use algebra outside of school. All vector software (Adobe Illustrator, GIMP, CorelDraw, or InkScape) does this for you. As long as you save the design as a vector format it will retain the benefits to a vector.

One last thing is that you can embed a raster image inside a vector, but you can’t save a vector in a raster since it will be converted to a raster.

Converting to each other

Conversion is one way. You can always convert vectors into a raster by the click of a button. The software will simply render it as a raster and save it as a JPG/PNG or the format you want.

Going from a raster to a vector (R2V) isn’t just give a cookie, get a cookie. When you get a design and you are asked to provide the vector there are a couple ways to do R2V conversions.

Online tools:

You can use some online tools that are free. There are going to be issues because they don’t allow customizing the settings. Some are better than others, and some designs are easier for the algorithms they use.

Auto R2V tools:

Some of the downloadable software like the ones I listed in the Vectors paragraph include tools that allow you to quickly convert objects to a vector. These work pretty well for simple things like logos and text, but fail at high color images and small details. This is noticeable when you take a picture that has small clusters of colors and you enlarge it. You mat notice that there are now gaps with white. This means you will have to correct the shapes and that takes a lot of time.

Manual tools:

Using the software manually and drawing each shape out tends to yield significantly better quality. This take a lot of time, but I find it rewarding to me. This involves you placing each node for each shape manually, exactly like you do digitizing.

Pro-Embroidery Level Software

The highest tiers of digitizing software typically come with the feature to convert an embroidery design file, back into a vector. I find this useful for when I make the design based off a raster but I want to give my client the vector since I recolored the patch to the new company colors.

So which should I ask for?

The type of file you want really depends up to you. Ideally I’d want a vector. Some embroidery software have tools built in that can also detect those vector shapes and convert it to an actual embroidery shape with a button. That sounds nice, but I’ve never actually done it myself. I like to do things manually, then I’m the one to blame and not a robot or computer.

If you catalog or showcase your jobs somewhere you may want to request vectors, since now you can manipulate the size more. That means you can show it on a banner or shrink that jacket back down to a business card and retain the details.

If they can only provide you a raster it’s nothing to worry about. I’ve personally done a few patches based on a raster design and it’s not any different process-wise. You will just need to take your time and make sure that curves are correctly placed if things get blurry. The patch below was a patch I digitized and sewed out from a picture of a dry-erase board for a customer. I we both think it turned out great. If you are wondering about the fuzzies on the patch, that’s the hook&look material.

G.L.A.N.C Patch Digitized by Matthew Enderle at

Feel free to comment on here or reach-out on out Facebook Group for any answers to questions or concerns you may have regarding any topic with embroidery or digitizing. We have plenty of experts that are willing to help you learn and add another tool to your belt.