Item Description
With the release of PE-Design 7, Brother Industries, Ltd. personal embroidery digitizing software offers the manual digitizer much more creative control.If you are considering upgrading your present installation of PE-Design or you are researching machine embroidery digitizing software, this review of PE-Design 7 manual digitizing features may be helpful to you.This review will not offer any information on PE-Designs auto punch, cross-stitch or photo stitch capabilities.

Heres why:

1. Auto Punching: I do not auto punch my designs. I learned very early that auto punching with PE-Design did not produce the quality I wanted in my art. I admit that I tried but my results were dismal. Here is a pictorial comparing PE-Designs auto punch feature to a manually punched design.
After seeing it you may say, "Well, Deb, you certainly dont know how to use the auto punch feature!" and you would get no argument from me.
2. Cross Stitch: I dallied with cross stitch in PE-Design 6 and was not pleased with the designs I produced. Whether that was due to software limitations, my inexperience or a combination of both, Im not sure.
3. Photo Stitch: I experimented with PE-Designs photo stitch feature too. It may produce fine designs but my results were not impressive, again probably due in large part to my lack of experience.

Please note that I am not affiliated with Brother Industries, Ltd. and this review is my personal opinion based solely upon my personal experience.

Lets Get on the Same Page

Just to make sure we are all on the same page lets go over a few things. PE-Design is an embroidery digitizing software. With PE-Design a digitizer can create and convert an image to stitches in a number of sewing formats that various brands of embroidery machine can read. In effect it writes a software program and that program or file can be transferred to an embroidery machine via USB, floppy or CD, depending upon your machines options.
You can purchase PE-Design as a full or new installation or as an upgrade. It is a stand alone software, all features are included and no add-on modules are required. The PE-Design 7 upgrade will install over the 5 and 6 versions.
A new installation will cost you in the $1,200.00 range while the 7 upgrade retails for around $400.00.
I know from experience there is room for negotiation on the price of either package. It never hurts to bargain with your dealer. You may save a substantial amount of money.
If, as you read the review, you are unfamiliar with any of the terms, it may be helpful to read our PE-Design tutorial, Digitizing a Basic Redwork Design. Even if you do not have the software it may give you an idea of the manual digitizing process.

Important Information for First Time Buyers

PE-Design requires a proprietary USB card writer module to be connected to a USB port on your machine. When you start the program it searches for the card writer (it used to be called a dongle). If it finds it, all is well. If it doesnt none of the five PE-Design applications will open. A reader/writer from your local office or computer supply store will not work.
If you are purchasing a new installation you must be absolutely certain that you will receive a new, unopened box containing these components: the original CD-ROM, the card writer module, an original card, the Quick Reference Guide and templates.
If you are purchasing the upgrade you must already have the proper writer module. A new upgrade package contains the CD-ROM, the Quick Reference Guide and templates. The upgrade package does not include the USB card writer module.
Im continually amazed at the number of emails I receive from folks who simply couldnt pass on a deal that was too good to be true only to find out much too late that it was exactly that.
Please, do your research. Buy from reputable dealers.

The Set Up

I installed the PE-Design 7 upgrade over upgrade version 6 which was installed over a new installation of Palette 5, the Babylock version of PE-Design. As mentioned earlier PE-Design 7 will install over previous versions 5 and 6. Within four weeks of installation an update to version 7.0.1 was released. I very strongly suggest you check for updates immediately after successfully installing the software.
My program is running on a Windows XP Pro, Service Pack 2 platform on a dedicated-to-digitizing machine with 512 mb of RAM and an Intel Celeron 2.40 ghz CPU.
I use a 17" flat screen monitor with a 1024 x 768 resolution and 32-bit color. My mouse is a $10.00 mouse. For a time I was using a wireless optical mouse but I ran through batteries faster than I do peanut M&Ms.
I mention all this so that you know exactly what my system is. As they say, "Your results may vary."
On to the Review

The Good

1. Interface: The stamp tool has been modified to be friendlier by making it easier to see the stamp for editing.
Other than that the GUI (Graphical User Interface, techno-speak for "What You See On The Screen") is the same: large, easy to find and reasonably intuitive buttons.
2. General: The User Manual is now online and opens in your browser. (More about this in The Bad section of the review.)
3. General: Automatic updates are available with the click of a button. Updates are bug fixes and are free. (More about this in The Bad section of the review.)
4. Font Creator: This is a new program in the software for the creation of custom fonts that can then be used in Layout & Editing. The Font Creator attempts to teach the non-professional how to manually path individual letters. You cannot digitize words with it.
You work on a lined grid for sizing your characters to upper and lower case proportions using a standard built-in pattern for block letters or imported letter images. Once you have a letter digitized it is available for adding to your designs. If you already know how to digitize a font character and words you will probably rarely use this feature.
5. Stitch Generation: Variations of underlay have been added to the Sewing Attributes of Line Sewing, Manual Punch and Text. There is one type available for zigzag stitches, two for Region Sew (the same as version 6) and three for the Manual Punch tool and Text, all new in version 7.
6. Stitch Generation: The Manual Punch tool now has the motif stitch option. This means you can now give your stitches a custom, 3-dimensional look, space your motifs vertically and horizontally and size them up to 3.94" by 3.94".
7. Stitch Generation: In the Line Sewing Attributes setting box you now have the option of setting zigzag stitches to sharp corners or rounded corners for much neater, cleaner zigs and zags.
8. Stitch Generation: The piping stitch is available when using the Region Outline tool. Now some of the more difficult shapes that cant be done with the manual punch tool can be completed with the outline tool with the piping stitch option selected.
9. Stitch Generation: A triple stitch option has been added to Line Sewing Type. This is a stitch that is smaller than a 1mm zigzag stitch but bolder than a single stitch outline. The stitch goes forward, back, then forward. Ill probably use it mainly for redwork to give the design a bolder, more textured look.
10. Stitch Generation: A new option for the Region Outline tool is the random walking stitch or stippling-style stitch. This is wonderful to use for a quilted or stipple effect. It has the option to set the stitch from 10mm to 2mm with additional options for step pitch too.
11. Layout & Editing: There is now the ability to do small, legible text! The stitches are a type of zigzag or straight stitch pathed together nicely when doing wording. The words are quite legible but at this time there are only three types of fonts available for the 5-6mm size and only two for the 4-5mm size.
12. Layout & Editing: The portrait area has been enhanced to include such things as eyeglasses, tattoos, wrinkles, mustaches and beards. Will you use them? Probably not often.
13. Layout & Editing: There is a new shape tool with 24 pre-made shapes such as caption boxes, stars, hearts, leaves, raindrops, moons and playing card suit shapes.
14. Layout & Editing: There are additional decorative patterns and frames added to the monogram area. All of your system fonts, True Type fonts and your custom fonts from the Font Creator can be used for monograms.
15. Layout & Editing: There are more options in the transformation area for text. The ability to size, rotate, kern and transform the letters is much easier because you can do it simply by dragging individual letters.
16. Design Center: You can now connect or split a line in Figure Handle Stage. To split a line, click an Edit Point box, right click and select Split To connect a line, click a box, hold down ALT and left click.
17. Design Center: You now have 20 Undo/Redo levels in Design Center. There was only one previously.
18. Design Center: While in Figure Handle Stage the Reference Window displays the template image; in Sew Setting Stage the original image is displayed. While the Reference Window is open you can maneuver around and zoom the image.
19. Design Center: A new button allows for export of a design from Sew Setting Stage to Layout & Editing. In earlier versions you had to manually open Layout & Editing to import the design.

The Bad

1. General: Yes, the User Manual is now online but it is incomplete. For instance the Quick Reference Guide has this line under the Editing Functions and user interface heading: "Can save Personal Sewing Attribute settings." I have no idea how to do that. Im not even sure what it means. Using the online manual I typed in "personal sewing", "personal sewing attribute", even "settings" and "save" to no avail.
2. General: Updates are not exactly automatic. You need to click Help from Layout & Editing, then Check for Updates. If an update is available you have the option of downloading it or not. I feel we should be prompted that an update is available without needing to manually check for one.
3. Layout & Editing: The monogramming function still only allows three letters for monograms.
4. Layout & Editing: Ill try to explain this bug for you because it is a very frustrating and, in my opinion, needless, annoyance.
Lets say you have a blank pallet and, using any of the tools, create a region. That region is filled with whatever thread color you selected. Lets say it is pink. Now you build another region using another thread color, blue, for instance.
Are you with me so far? Ok, now you want to draw another region. If you draw it without changing anything it will fill with blue, the last thread color selected. But what if you want your next area to be your pink color instead?
In version 6 you would simply click on the pink region to select it and the thread icon would change to pink. Then you would click the thread icon to open your thread pallet box and that pink would be highlighted. You clicked OK and whatever tool you were using would default to that pink thread color.
Well, in version 7 its not that easy, not by a long shot. Following the same steps in version 7 results in Screenshot 1 below with the OK button inactive. That means you have to scroll through your thread chart and hope you remember which shade of pink you used. If you are working on a complex design with a lot of shading and similar hues and your thread color chart contains 100s of colors, good luck!

5. Design Center: After having cleaned up an image outline, refining it in Figure Handle, setting the stitch type and other attributes, you should be confident the designs outline will be great when imported to Layout & Editing. But two things have changed in version 7.
In version 6 the software detected the hoop size you were using and imported the design for that hoop. In version 7 you have to increase or decrease the percentage size of the picture in order to import it to your designated hoop size.
Since Design Center resizes the image and does not tell you the actual size of it, you have no way of knowing by what percent it should be adjusted in order to import it. Therefore you are left with arbitrarily entering values until it finally imports the design.
6. Design Center: Double run outlines are always off after importing. In version 6 they were exactly on top of one another and adjustments were rarely needed. Version 7 does not import the outlines correctly, skews the two runs and means you have to re-fix ? of the design.
7. Design Center: Ive also noticed that along with the double runs being off, most of the smoothing and straightening is also ditched. Many of the curves youve painstakingly tweaked to get just right are flattened out. Lines you worked to get perfectly straight are now jagged and crooked. So you have to do it again.
8. Design Center: When editing and working in Figure Handle Stage version 6 allowed you to zoom quite close. At least two zoom levels have been inexplicably removed in version 7 making it often difficult to click and grab closely spaced Edit Point boxes.
9. Design Center: Again in Figure Handle Stage many of the edited lines are disconnected. In version 6 they were properly connected. Now they lay quite far apart, requiring even more fixing.

The Ugly

When advancing to Figure Handle in version 6 the outline that showed you what lines were continuous and which were disconnected was a pleasing blue. In version 7 it is a bright eye-popping red.
When you click on the Edit Point tool in version 7 you are hit with an image filled with a web of gray boxes appearing all over your design, making it difficult to get a good idea of where changes need to made (Screenshot 2). In order to get a clearer view of the lines you have to continually switch between the Edit Point tool and the Selection tool.
Even when you zoom in as far as you can the boxes are extremely small and difficult to click and grab. Screenshot 3 is as close as I can get to the handles of the design.
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