Monday, June 8, 2009

What Came in the Box

In case you're interested in knowing what is in the current promotion, this is it (in their words):

Stitch Era Liberty Plus
Bonus Pack:
True Type font compatible
Predigitized Monogram templates
Autocomplete Objects (on autotrace)
Embroidery designs organization
Photo Stitching, Interactive
Create Custom Programmable Stitches
Autocomplete Objects (fill vectors)
Advanced Print Formats
Predigitized Motifs
Resizing with stitch compensation
Convert raster images to vector
Create vector shapes
Stitch Pattern builder
Autocomplete objects (on manual digitizing)

Items that were not included were (again in their words):

Publishing Tools, CD, Web, etc. $150
Folders on the Web $100
Advanced Stitch Styles for TTF $100
Effects on TTF: Shadow and Trap $100
Team Names $100
Cross-Stitching, Interactive $100
Production Time Estimation $50
Production Quotes Making $100
Chenille on Paths and Areas $300
Create Custom Fonts 1 (standard digitizing $200
Create Custom Motif $150
Advanced Stitch Pattern builder $150
Macro Fill Stitches on Areas $200
Fur Fill Stitches on Areas $200
Sequin Style on Area and Path $300
Create Custom Fonts 2 (TTF conversion) $500
Connection to Machines (Serial) $100

You can see a short description of each item (and sometimes a demo video) on the Stitch Era website without having to be a software owner, although the prices are not shown there.

You can also purchase additional fonts and monograms for $12 to $25 each. You're supposed to be able to purchase additional fill patterns on the owners' web site, but I couldn't find them.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What I've Learned So Far

So here it is, Friday, and I've managed to get through Chapters 1 and 2 of the User Guide over the past two days, running the software at the same time. I've got the software running on one older laptop (Windows XP) and one newer desktop (Vista). And here are some things I've learned so far.

Video acceleration is a must If you use the Design Navigator (or what is sometimes called Stitch Simulator in other programs), you must turn on Video Hardware Acceleration (see Video Card Settings in the Options and Preferences window) in order for the "flashing" to stop. Without video acceleration, the software completely erases the current "section" being drawn between each additional stitch. I had to set the acceleration level to 2 before the flashing would stop. My laptop does not have level 2 so I may not be able to remedy this little annoyance on the laptop - we'll see!

I cannot view a hoop on my laptop I'm not sure why this doesn't work, but if I attempt to select or view a hoop, the program "seizes" after I make the selection. The CPU usage goes up to 100% and I have to restart the machine in order to do anything further. As this machine is really not up to snuff according to the software requirements, I'll just have to not use this option. On my desktop machine, hoop viewing and selection work just fine.

I need to keep a running mental translation of various terms There are a lot of terms that are used in the User Guide that I've had to figure out. For example, a "mark" is what I call a stitch point (where the needle penetrates). An "embroidery code" is what I would call an "embroidery format" - i.e. the format a design needs to be saved in for a specific machine, like PES or DST. A "section" is a collection of stitches in the same color. A "satellite view" is more like a "navigation window" in other programs - it shows you your full design in a small window and draws a rectangle around the area that you're currently examining the main design window. "Edition" really means "editing". For example, the manual uses the term "edition" when trying to state that the design is being edited - it is in a state of edition! I suppose I could get used to this. An "embroidery sign" could perhaps be better called an "embroidery symbol". You can turn on/off the viewing of various "embroidery signs" such as needle "marks", connecting stitches, commands, etc.

There are some concepts I've yet to understand For example, there are "sections", "objects" and "blocks" and I've yet to understand what the difference is between them. The software has some nice snap-to-XX features, some of which I understand and some of which I don't. For example, you can turn on a snap-to-border or snap-to-node option, but what is snap-to-tangent point? I turned on the mystery options and didn't see any difference as I created new paths and shapes.

There are some reproducible bugs There are a few, seemingly minor bugs that I can consistently reproduce in the software. I'll report them in the User Community Forum to see what happens.

Overall, the software is fun to learn! I'm really enjoying this process of teaching myself how to use the software. But for those of us who don't really like reading manuals, wouldn't it be nice to have some little videos to watch that basically go through the manual for you?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Stitch Era Forums

Just a quick note here about Stitch Era forums. I've discovered one Stitch Era forum in Yahoo Groups called stitcherasoftware but it appears to be abandoned - I asked to be added as a member and got no response. Sierra Technology has created what they call a Stitch ERA User's Community Forum which can be accessed through the software itself. I'm not sure if you can access the forum in any other manner (i.e. via a web browser), but I've emailed Technical Support to ask this very question.

When I did look at the User's Community Forum, it seemed very sparse - not too many questions. Most, if not all, questions I found to be answered. Nonetheless, it was somewhat disappointing to see so little discourse. So it seems, at the moment, there's virtually no public forums available to talk about Stitch Era and the one forum that does exist is for customers only. If this product is as good as it looks, I think it's in our best interest as customers and in Sierra Technology's best interest to encourage public discourse about the product.

Purchase and Installation

In order to purchase Stitch Era, I needed to find a dealer that sold it! A quick search online produced only two sources that I could find: allbrands and Digitizer's Friend. Both offer the software at the same price so I went with Digitizer's Friend (it's always nice to support a small business). The current promotion is described on the Stitch Era web page.

Once I made the purchase, the software arrived via Priority Mail within a few days and I received an email from Sierra Technology. Like most digitizing software, the product requires the use of a security dongle. The dongle has a serial number on it. Once you purchase Stitch Era, you email the serial number back to Sierra Technology. They send you back a PDF with your "W" code on it. You log on to their website with your dongle serial number and your W code to download your password file. Once you have the password file, you can install the software! And then if you don't think that's enough, you still have to activate the software which is done over the internet while the application is running.

But though this may seem like a lot of work just to get the software installed and running, it did go smoothly and the software is up and running on my Windows XP IBM Thinkpad T40(?).

And before I go on, I'll mention a couple of things: (1) you can install the software on up to 3 machines, but you need the dongle to run it - so you can only run the software on one machine at a time and (2) if you end up wanting to install/run the software on an additional machine, you'll need to deactivate the software on one of your prior 3 machines. I'm trying the software on my older IBM Thinkpad. This machine does not quite meet the suggested minimum requirements for the software - it's too slow and the display is too small, but so far it's working just fine.

What's in the Box

The Stitch Era box contained one CD containing the software, one CD containing training videos, one dongle, and a printed manual. The software version on the CD is v9.10. The latest version is 9.20. When you actually run Stitch Era, the program will let you know that a newer version is available and you can initiate the upgrade process through the software itself. I went ahead and did this.

Thankfully, you get a printed manual! When I purchased PE Design v7, all I received was a PDF of the manual which I then paid to have printed. So thank you Sierra Technology for giving us a printed manual - there's nothing like having the documentation sitting in front of you on your desk. However, I already have two complaints about the manual: (1) it doesn't have an index and (2) the English translation is not quite perfect. As I start learning how to use this product, I'll no doubt have some other comments to make about the documentation.

Oddly, the video training CD also requires a password file to install! This is not the same password file as the one you downloaded to install the software. I emailed product support about this missing password file and they emailed the file to me. It would've been nice if the need for a 2nd password file had been mentioned somewhere!

Lastly, for now, if you read the description of the current promotion on the Stitch Era website, you'll see that you are to receive "Bonus Packs 1, 2, and 3". But nowhere is it described exactly what's in these Bonus Packs! I assume that I now have these, but have no idea what they really are! Sure would be nice to know.

So that's it for now. I did not fair so well yesterday trying to figure out the software on my own without really reading the manual so I'm going to begin watching the training videos which are, by the way, without sound!

How I got to Stitch Era Liberty

For my own Christmas present this past year, I purchased a used Brother PE 700 embroidery-only machine from eBay. This is a fairly inexpensive machine that will embroider designs up to 5"x7". Brother makes and has made a fair number of embroidery-only machines for a 4"x4" maximum embroidery area and I've always been impressed with their affordability. What a great way to see if you even like doing these sorts of things without spending a lot of money up front.

Well, my husband was possibly more excited about this whole embroidery thing than I was initially! He wanted his name and various automotive themed images embroidered on his shirts. Well the machine does not come with automotive designs built in! (It does have quite a large selection of other, more feminine designs built in.) You have to either purchase designs or digitize them yourself.

I am a software engineer by trade and thus jump at any chance to learn how to do something new on the computer. So here was my opportunity to learn how to digitize embroidery designs myself.

A good place to start is by reading John Deer's book "Digitizing Made Easy". This is the only book I'm aware of that addresses machine embroidery digitizing. If you read this book, you'll learn about things like underlay and pull compensation. You'll also learn about the history of machine embroidery and you may become quite thankful for computers and computerized sewing / embroidery machines! Technology really can be our friend!

John Deer is careful not to endorse any particular embroidery digitizing product so he leaves it up to the reader to figure it out on their own.

Having a Brother machine naturally lends itself to looking at the Brother digitizing product called PE Design. From their website here you can download a free trial of PE Design v8. You can also download their documentation as a PDF. Without giving you the long story, I ended up purchasing PE Design v7 and can say unequivocally that this software, for manual digitizing, is extremely easy to learn and easy to use.

However, I would also say that there are things about PE Design that drive me absolutely crazy and came to the conclusion that I needed something in addition to PE Design. I test drove (or was given a demo of) several other brands of digitizing software. By far the best for me was Designer's Gallery MasterWorks II. You can learn about it here. It was just as easy to learn and use as PE Design but had a much nicer interface for entering and editing shape outlines. You could control the zoom level. It has on-screen rulers and a nice grid in the background. But it also has quite a hefty price tag!

My wise husband suggested I wait until my trial version of MasterWorks II expired before making a purchase. And while I was waiting I stumbled upon a product from Argentina called "Stitch Era". You can see it here. Now if you want to get yourself all excited, watch all of the demo videos on their website. Some of the features I saw in their demos I have never seen in any other consumer product - things like "elastic fills".

Now being a software engineer, I understand how challenging it is to design software interfaces that are easy to use and make sense and how challenging it is to develop software that is robust, especially for the Windows market! I also know how exciting the process can be and how much pride there is in creating a well-made product. So after I read the Note from the authors, I decided to take my chances with these seemingly passionate software engineers in Argentina and purchase the software without ever having seen the software in action for myself. And here begins my adventures with Stitch Era.