Converting photos into embroidery

I recently discovered that VistaPrint have started selling embroidered polo shirts.

However, their embroidery program is rather fussy with regards to the images it can deal with, so you can’t just upload a normal photo. As they write, there must be “no small lettering or tiny detail” and “no photographic imagery or gradients”.

So what do you do if you want to get a photo embroidered? Here’s what I did to the photo below:

Marcel before and after embroidery.
Marcel before and after embroidery.

I first opened up a photo in the Gimp, cut out Marcel’s head and placed it on a white background. The result is the photo on the left.

I then opened up this photo in Inkscape and selected Path->Trace Bitmap. I then selected Colours and specified a low number of colours. Some of the resulting colours were rather similar, so I changed them to something very different. Finally I exported it as a bitmap.

This bitmap was now acceptable to VistaPrint, so I could change the colours back to something more reasonable, and their embroidery preview is shown on the right. In many cases, their program will still complain, so you might need to simplify the paths in Inkscape, reduce or number of colours, or use a simpler photo to start with.

So long as you start with a reasonable photo, you should be able to create a beautiful embroidered polo shirt in this way. Have fun!

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