When you hear the terms pathing, mapping or sequencing when related to digitizing, they all essentially mean the same thing. Simply stated, it means that you need a game plan for whatever design you’re about to digitize. Even though digitizing software today is developed to help assist us with making the whole process easier, we need to remember that what really makes a design work well on our machines is the human element that’s needed to plan it properly. The bonus of being able to edit our designs on the fly has, in my opinion, produced a lot of lazy digitizers - they don’t problem-solve their designs at the start, and end up doing a lot of unnecessary editing. Just a few minutes spent strategizing at the outset can save a lot of rework later.
Developing a strategy for your designs is the single most important step in the digitizing process. Looking at the dimensional layering of the design, what elements need to be placed underneath and what needs to be on top; what is the application - is it going on garments or on finished caps? Cap application means you have to implement all those cap rules - inside-out / bottom-up, etc. What type of fabric is it to be sewn on? What size is the design? Is it left chest or jacket back? All these factors will impact your game plan.
Developing all the rules that go along with pathing comes with time and the practice of digitizing day in and day out. After many years of being in this industry and digitizing for customers at every level of the industry, I came to this conclusion: I needed to digitize all our designs for the worst-case scenario. That means that whether my customer states so or not, I digitize all our designs so they will run well on golf shirts as well as finished hats. Why? I found that my customers would tell me that the design was going on nylon jackets. Two weeks later I would receive a phone call asking why they were having problems running the same design on finished caps. My reply was “because, you asked for it to be digitized for nylon jackets!” Apparently that wasn’t the right answer, and I’d end up doing an extensive edit job for free!
Rule number one: don’t trust you customers! Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all my customers. I just want to be thinking ahead of them to make my life easier. Just remember that if you do a great job on that jacket order, odds are they will be back two weeks later to get that same design applied to finished hats!
When I think back to my early days of digitizing, the first year was the most stressful of my career. I remember many nights when I couldn’t sleep because I had a difficult block of designs to do the next day. I’d actually have nightmares. You have to remember that at that time we didn’t have editing software and all our designs were being output on paper tape that was then being read directly into the machines. Moral of the story was that you had to get it right the first time; you had to have your entire design perfectly mapped before you even started or you had to cut and splice portions that needed to be redone. Even worse, you would have to redo the entire design. We were all board-based punchers at that time, and the huge 6/1 paper draft we worked from was littered with notes and scribbles on how to get through the artwork: color sequences, start and stop points, jump and trims were all marked beforehand. When teaching these days I tell my students to have their artwork printed out beside them and make the same type of notes. The goal should be that you have your entire design digitized mentally before you start; digitizing is not something you should just jump into blindly.
There are three main things to remember:
- Limit unnecessary color changes as much as possible, but remember that sometimes you need more color changes to ensure your design will run well on finished caps and that your registration of colors will line up.
- Plan to have as few jumps and trims as possible within your design - your designs should flow from one object to the next.
- Don’t get trapped! An experienced machine operator can always tell when a digitizer got trapped into a corner and had to jump to another object to get out!