V is for Vector

V is for VectorWhat is a vector and what do they have to do with machine embroidery?

When I was in high school, we studied vectors in Math class. The simplest representation of a vector is an arrow going from one point to another point. It has a size or length (called the magnitude) and a direction.

These days, we see pictures on a computer and they can be either vector graphics or bitmaps.

A digital photograph is an example of a bitmap. It’s essentially a collection of dots, each dot having a color. Bitmaps are specified with a resolution – so many dots per inch or dpi. Most printers print with 300dpi. If you have a picture that is, say, 5″ x 3″ and it has 300dpi, if you were to try and print it at 10″ x 6″ it’s going to start looking “grainy”. Each dot has essentially grown to the size of 4 dots (2×2) and instead of having 300dpi, you only have 150dpi. (Having said that, printer technology has improved so much in recent years that it takes more than doubling the size of a photo for it to start looking grainy!) Bitmaps on the computer have file extensions such as .BMP and .JPG. You would use a program such as Adobe Photoshop, or the Paint program that comes with Windows, to make changes to a bitmap.

The dot (as a bitmap) on the left has been made 10 times bigger on the right.

A computer generated line drawing in an example of a vector graphic. If you want to draw a line, you specify the start point and the end point. The computer program knows how to draw the line between these two points. It’s easy to move the start point or the end point, and the computer program just redraws the line. (If you want to draw a line in a bitmap editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, you still specify the start point and the end point, and Photoshop draws a bunch of dots between the points to create the line. But… if you want to move the start or end point, you need to erase the line and start again.)

A vector graphic file is usually a lot smaller than a bitmap file. Whereas a bitmap file contains information about every dot (what color it is and where it is), a vector file contains a bunch of coordinates and other information that the computer program uses to recreate the picture each time. Vector graphics can be created using programs like CorelDraw (which is included with the BERNINA Embroidery Software) and Adobe Illustrator (which is usually teamed up with Adobe Photoshop). The SVG files that are used with electronic cutting machines like the Silhouette Cameo and Brother Scan N Cut are vector graphic files. In fact, SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphic.

So how does all this fit into the world of machine embroidery and why do you need to know about it?

In the world of machine embroidery, we talk about the “format” of a design. Each brand of embroidery machine works with a specific design format. It’s good to know that some of these formats are based on vectors – like vector graphics – and some are like bitmaps, but instead of dealing with dots to make up a picture, they deal with the stitches an embroidery machine needs to stitch to create a design.

As an example: the BERNINA Embroidery Software generates ART** files, which are vector files. (** specifies the version number of the software that was used to create the file.)

In order to use an ART** file in your BERNINA embroidery machine, it needs to be converted into an EXP file.

What’s the difference?

If I create an ART** file that contains a straight line of candlewicking stitches, I use the embroidery software to specify the start point and the end point of the line, and that I want it to be candlewicking. I can also specify the style of the candlewicking, the size of each stitch and the distance between each stitch.

To use the design in my embroidery machine, I convert it into an EXP file.

The ART80 file is on top.
The EXP file is below.
They look the same until you “Select All”

If I want to make the line longer, and keep the size and spacing of the candlewicking stitches the same, I can open up the ART** version of the design and easily make the changes. Moving either the start point or the end point will do the trick. I can also decided that instead of it being a line of candlewicking, I want it to be a line of satin stitch instead.

I can open up the EXP file in the BERNINA Embroidery Software. However, there’s a limited number of things I can do to the design because the EXP file contains stitches. It no longer knows about a line of candlewicking that is a certain size.

In the diagram below, I edited the line of candlewicking in the ART** file to tell it that I wanted the candlewicking stitches to have size = 0.25″ and spacing = 0.25″ instead of size = 0.5″ and spacing = 0.5″. I ended up with 16 smaller candlewicking stitches – rather than 8 larger stitches – which is exactly what I wanted.

The new line of candlewicking edit from the ART80 file
The new line of candlewicking after editing the EXP file

When I opened the EXP file, the only thing I could do was select the stitches and specify a height of 0.25″ instead of 0.5″. The width adjusted proportionally. As you can see, the results are not very impressive!

The moral of this tale?

If you want to modify an embroidery design in your embroidery software, you want to make sure you’re editing a vector file and NOT a stitch file.

FormatVector or Stitch fileMachine Brand
HUSStitchHusqvarna Viking
PESStitchBrother, Babylock
VP3VectorPfaff, Husqvarna Viking

If you don’t have any software and want to resize an embroidery design, you can do that on most machines. However, stick to increasing or decreasing the size by no more than 10% so as to keep the design intact. Some machines are more intelligent than others when it comes to resizing designs so learn what your machine will do for you.

Daily Deal

From 12:01am on July 14, 2017 until 11:59pm on July 16, 2017 enjoy 20% off the Vesica Pisces Collection aka Aliens Wearing Shades

Enter the promo code “A2Z-V” at the checkout.

Add to CartVesica Pisces Collection, $40.00
(Delivered as a digital download. Optional CD available at the checkout)


What I love about this collection… I had a friend helping me to stitch the original table runner and placemats for the Vesica Pisces Collection. She was taking one of the panels out of the hoop and she started laughing. I asked what she was laughing at. She said, “Come over here and take a look at this. It looks like an alien wearing sun glasses!”  Can you see it?

Vesica Pisces Collection

Stitched on a BERNINA 830
featuring AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 weight thread
and fabric from the Transformation Collection by Sarah Vedeler for Benartex

Hence the nickname for the collection:

Aliens Wearing Shades!

BTW – I love the AURIfil variegated thread used for the candlewicking circles. Color #4653.

Another nickname might be “Looking through the letterbox”:

Vesica Pisces Collection

Stitched on a BERNINA 830
featuring AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 weight thread
and fabric from the Transformation Collection by Sarah Vedeler for Benartex

I’m talking about the kind of letterbox you find in England – basically a slot mounted in the front door, so that the mailman can post your mail right into your house.

Nicknames aside, The Vesica Pisces Collection has so much potential for spring and summer fun in the sun picnics. It’s entirely quilted in the hoop and the panels can be joined with or without sashing.

This quilt would look stunning with solid colored fabric for the background – to show up the gorgeous quilting that is more or less hidden on the patterned background fabric that I used. You could also use one of the wider panels without an appliqué shape and add a name using the alphabets built into your embroidery machine.

Did you know that the American football shape comes from a 3d vesica pisces? In honor of the Super Bowl a couple of years ago I created a football shape to use with the Vesica Pisces Collection. Stitch it up in your favorite team’s colors and you’ll be ready for the next Super Bowl!

Vesica Pisces Collection


  1. Wow – great explanation, in fact this whole series has been terrific. You brought things down to my level!!! thanks for all the explainations!

  2. Sarah, that was the most intelligent explanation I have ever read regarding vectors and stitch files and formats. High school math is a loooooong time ago for me, don’t remember much! So much of technology instruction assumes a baseline that isn’t always there! Thank you, and I look forward to my email for your what you will do with each letter. Waiting for X……

  3. Thanks for all your great information, Sarah. I am enjoying your series of lessons, especially about the vector/bitmap files. I sort of understood it before, but you defined it much better for me. Stay well. Maria.

  4. I’m thankful for all the valuable information you’ve given us daily. As we near the end of the alphabet, I realize this is coming to an end. I hope that you will continue sharing your knowledge with us tho. I LOVE your designs and am currently planning a quilt which will use one in a quilt border Thank you again.

  5. I am really enjoying these A-Z Machine Embroidery & Quilting emails. I have gone back to previous days for a refresher on some of the information. I didn’t save all of them and I wish I would have. Would love to have them all for reference. Would this be too much trouble? Thanks so much for providing these each day. ;o)

    • Hi Jeanne,
      You will always be able to access the A2Z from my blog – click on “A to Z Machine Embroidery & Quilting” under Category on the top right of any page 🙂

  6. Monica Hendewerk

    So can I create vector files for a long arm machine in Corel?

    • Ho Monica,
      You can create the line drawing in CorelDraw – and then you will need to export it into a format that you can import into ArtNStitch (or whichever program you use) to generate the format that is required by your long arm machine.

  7. Bonny Hanne Kjerslev nielsen

    Love this. Interesting to raad. Look forward every dat to look at your mail. What can I use the point for? What are they worth?

  8. Great info!!

  9. Thanks for the daily emails. I am really going to miss them once we reach Z!

  10. Sarah this was an awesome article! I now understand vector files.
    This series needs to be published and used as a reference everyday.
    Thanks for all the work you’ve done on this series.

  11. Great info. I think I have this collection. How do I get the football?

  12. Very interesting article. Thank you.

  13. Sarah, I had no idea that I should use vector files I.e. EXP with my embroidery software if I want to modify the design. I have learned so much from your daily articles.

  14. You broke this tech info down into something understandable. Lesson learned! Thank you!

  15. Very informative. Even though I use another brand of software, it is still very relevant.

  16. That was a great lesson. One question though. When you have software like floriani to create a design. Does it do it in vector or bitmap. Or when i save it . I too have a bernina 830 but i use floriani and it saves it as a exp file i thought. It used to be art? What am I missing? Thanks

    • Hi Nancy,
      ART is the proprietary BERNINA format, so I’m not sure if you can edit ART files in any other software. Your B830 needs designs in EXP format. I’m not familiar with the Floriani Software, but it looks like the format is WAF – which is more than likely a vector format (sometimes called an object format)

  17. most Berninas use art files except the 830 and 870 which use exp.

  18. Easily the best explanation of file extensions I have ever read. Thank you

  19. Thanks I wondered why some files will resize and some won’t

  20. Thank you for clarifying this for me. Excellent info.

  21. I wish I had saved all of the A – Z Machine Embroidery and Quilting emails also. My computer went down and I lost all of them. I would like to print each day and make a reference book to share with my daughter. Is it possible for you to resend all when we reach Z ?

    • Hi Alice,
      You can access them all by clicking on the “A to Z” link under categories on the top right corner of any page 🙂

  22. Sarah…
    The information you have shared with us is fantastic. Some I understand, some is above my level still. But I have saved every one of the dailies to refer back to as I get more experience.

    Thank you for a wonderful a to Z session!

  23. This was fantastic!! I have learned so much from you. You are the computer ANGEL!

  24. This is a superb lesson on vectors and bit maps.. it sure helps to understand this better. Thank you Sarah!

  25. I also would like to see this information in book form. It is a very good reference to have available whenever the mood strikes to try and remember something important!

  26. This was so interesting today. So much to learn and thank you

  27. This has been so informative and fun!

  28. Wow, that is great information!

  29. Oh my gosh. Have not thought of the word “vector” since algebra/plain geometry classes over 50 years ago. I am like most of your followers…what will we do after the “Z”? You lessons are invaluable, your information has taught me about things I never thought of but now know why some design will give you problems. Your designs are so beautiful, your dedication to perfection shows in every one of them. Thank you for your classes.

  30. Very informative. You have shared a lot of information that will help me do a better job with my embroidery projects.

  31. I am really enjoying this series. Thank you so much – it must have been a lot of work. I really appreciate all the help you’re giving me.

  32. Thank you,thank you. This was absolutely the clearest explanation of the difference between vector and bitmap I have ever read. The display of the candelwicking stitches really was the aha! Moment.

  33. Have enjoyed all of this series, thank you so much for all this useful information.

  34. I agree with other comments. You should make this series into an e-book, one that we could save and print for our reference. I would also like to see your information on using svg files for cutting appliques as a printable reference. I keep referring to the information like it is gospel. Keep up the good work.

  35. Fantastic series!!

  36. Today’s technology just blows me away!!! It is so amazing how far we have come in such a short time. Great explanation of the Vector files Sarah.

  37. WOW! This is a great invaluable lesson. Thank you very much Sarah! You are the best!

  38. Your website is a real joy, such beautiful masterful designs and embroidery. Your teaching is so detailed while being understandable. You have a gift. The series is such a wealth of information, plus tips, does and donts and common sense terms helps. The V lesson is my panic button, but I will review again. I thank you for this series.

  39. For some reason I did not get the email about V. Looked for it all day. Sure glad I found it on your site because this helped me understand vector files better than any I have heard or red. THANK YOU.

  40. So good just learning how to use version 8 and the vectors

  41. As always, Sarah, we can count on you to explain things in an understandable – and relevant – way. You delve into something so that the explanation ‘sticks’ rather than just throwing out an over-simplified explanation AT us. Sure we probably all knew what a bit-mapped graphic looks like, but we all can benefit from understanding why vector -based images work better in design modification. This little lesson has great potential for helping us understand how to accomplish what we might like to accomplish…and at the very least we may understand why we can’t simply increase the size of the design and expect great results when we do it on the machine. It is clear WHY we would benefit from owning software and learning how to use it!

  42. You made this completely understandable and I finally comprehend this now. Thanks!

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