Deep Dive: DST File Gripes

Us Nerds lurk inside a ton of Facebook groups and other web based forums that contain people with a range of experience in embroidery. Often times we see newer people ask this question– Why don’t my expensive machine and software communicate properly and send the correct colors via a DST file? It’s a very common gripe and we’d like to solve a few of the others we see.

We get it too. You may have paid over $10K for an embroidery machine, or even just a few hundred for a home level, it’s frustrating that even in 2020 you have to press 1-4-3-5-2-1-6-7-4-2-4 to enter your color changes. It’s even more annoying when you are trying to do multiple revisions for a design that has over 50 changes, and you’re on version four. All it takes is a single fat-finger and your sew-out could be ruined, let alone an expensive customer garment.

Well, the short answer is that the file structure that a DST format provides can not support color change codes–in most cases. That’s right, there are situations where you can have DST files send colors to the machine. But, honestly, you would be very lucky to have that perfect pairing to experience that.

The problem with DST, PES, EXP, JEF, and other machine language files is just that–they take software derived code and turn it into hardware level code. There are quite a few different types of files that each machine takes, but we will discuss the most popular DST file. DST files are also unable to store images or vectors for things like your artwork.


You may have wondered at sometime why we can’t just transfer a Wilcom .emb file or a .be file from Embrilliance into your machine. The very simple answer is that an emb/be file is a Native Working File for that particular software. What this means is it stores extra data that a DST is unable to. We know that DSTs can’t store images but the native files can. Software like Wilcom, Embrilliance, Chroma, and others often contain extra tools that allow you to do fancy patterns like curved fills, satin shapes, and lettering. Machines don’t know how to process native files because the software uses it’s own format.

There are also other limitations which are asked about frequently as well. Another limitation is resizing the design. If you ever tried to enlarge a DST from a two inch patch to ten inches for a jacket you may know that it turns out poorly. This has to do with the way that DST files register the points verses how a native file does.

In a native file when you enlarge something five times the original size the software will calculate the new needle points and add them. For an example if you have a straight run stitch that is 6cm and your stitch length is 2mm, that’s a total of 60mm and that equates to 30 needle points. Now if we make it 8cm long at 2mm you now have 40 needle points.

Why the Different Native Working File Types?

One reason why is due to US Law. No, there is not a law that regulates that we must have a DST and an EMB file and that they can’t be cross compatible. The law actually regulates the ability to Copywrite a file format. Software engineers like Wilcom and Embrilliance spend a ton of money and time on writing their software and updating it with new features. Because of this they need to maintain competition and need to secure their work. They want to protect their files so that the other leading companies can’t just take it and implement this feature and steal the client.

That said, US Law prevent filing for Copyright of a file format. This prevents a company from quickly filing for every single top level file format and forcing new companies to use nonsensical file names. Imagine if you made a digitizing software called Tin Can Digitizing Software and you wanted to use .tin. However everything is reserved and now you are naming your files sunflowerpatch.tin392. Yup, that’s pretty crazy.

What companies can do is encrypt the files with a proprietary encryption method, of which that can be patented. This is what they do to prevent the other software from opening other files. Wilcom is the leading user of .emb files, but I can write my own software that uses .emb and it’s perfectly legal. That’s why almost every digitizing software can export to DST because it’s not protected.

The DNA for the Data Stitch Tajima (DST) File

If you ever opened a DST file with software like notepad or a basic text editor you will be greeted with some plain text followed by a ton of gibberish that makes no sense. This is what makes up the machine logic.

DST files can only contain stitch commands and basic metadata for the design file. If you pop a disk in or send a design on your machine you’ll probably see some basic data displayed: Design name, Stitch Count, and maybe Color Changes. There’s also the possibility to see author, copyright data, and even thread colors listed, although those are uncommon.

If you look at the screenshot to the right you’ll see that there are numbers on the left 1-13, that’s part of my software that tells me the line of the file the text is on. Judging by that we can infer that this is the beginning of the file, also known by programmers as the header.

The header will contain the design specifics that appear on your machine when you load the file. For instance you may have noticed that on line 1 it’s LA:Design42. That just so happens to be the name of the design, and the ST line is the total number of stitches for this design. CO is the number of color changes, and the rest are for positioning and calculating the size of the design to test the hoop size.

So you may notice that there is no line for the software to place in the color sequence. This is the reason that you can’t tell the machine what colors to use from your software.

So why Use DST?

The main reason for still using DST is that it’s so universal with almost all commercial embroidery machines. You can almost be 100% certain that any file you get from your digitizer will work on your machine.

Did you learn anything new about DST files? If you did be sure to share this article with your groups.

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