The Art of Blending Colors in Commercial Embroidery

Blending colors and shading are some of the biggest creative challenges in all commercial embroidery.

To add a touch of realism to your designs, here are a few creative and practical tips.

One of the biggest challenges in the art of commercial embroidery is blending colors for subtle shading. Generations of embroiderers believed the only digitized designs for sewouts were “cartoons,” named after the rough, choppy appearance of the finished product.

With innovations in digitizing like the Sierra Stitch ERA Liberty, blended colors can become less cartoonish, even approaching the appearance of an exquisite piece of art. No matter what your skill level, blending colors in commercial embroidery begins with a firm grasp of the principles of mixing colors.

The Color Wheel Commercial Embroidery

The Color Wheel

Mixing colors well for commercial embroidery starts with a color wheel. The three principal colors—red, yellow and blue—do not come from mixing two or more colors. Everything in between, green, orange purple and others, come from different combinations of the primary colors; a little  redder than yellow gives you orange, less blue than yellow, and you have a shade of green.

Mixing all three primary colors will give you brown, as well as combining two secondary colors, like orange and violet, green and orange, and so on. When mixing embroidery thread colors for shading and blending, make sure you work with pure colors. Any color with a hint of a secondary color will have a bronze cast to it. For example, if there is a hint of orange in a yellow, the green/yellow mixture will cast a little browner.

Royal Commercial Embroidery Thread Color Chart

Two colors that are identical to the eye can have different color numbers, with different places on the color chart.  When looking at embroidery thread charts, consider these subtle shifts in color. Choose different shades of commercial embroidery thread colors close to the tone you are using. It will make your design a subtle blend of that color, as well as the colors that immediately follow it in the chart.

For true color shift, with a gradual blend from red to yellow, it is best to use a cone or spool of orange. You will see this on the color wheel when mixing orange with yellow and red with orange. Red is a bold color, more so than yellow, making red more difficult to mix into the orange gradually.

Density Values

The purpose of gently blending colors in commercial embroidery is to create a sense of realism. Color and stitch density work together to create this effect. The best practice for progressive blends is using three distinct shades of thread, as “layers,” at one-third the default density in your fill stitch.

The calculation for the right stitch density for blending or shading is easy; simply divide your stitch count by three. A stitch density of 1800 for the full fill will result in 600 stitches for each of the three layers.

Starting with a true red embroidery thread, one side will have maximum strength, with progressive layers of lighter density. As the pattern “fades” into the orange, the design will turn “lighter.” The same happens in the third layer, overlapping the first two as one color fades into another.

Your workflow should be like this: Add the following layer of orange, beginning at the edge of the layer of red, cover the first layer of orange, and finish at the edge of the layer of yellow.  Finally, add a third layer of orange to complete the faded design with full coverage between the most intense area of the red and the most intense area of the yellow.

Two Physical Rules for Blending Commercial Embroidery

The color wheel provides you with style guidelines for commercial embroidery. There are two solid material rules that guide color shading:

  • Stitches cannot go on top of other stitches.
  • Each stitch layer must be in the same way (or the same angle) as its neighboring layers; any change in stitch angle or direction will focus attention on the change. This defeats the purpose of a subtle color combination.

When duplicating an object, with the purpose of shading, stitches cannot be on top of each other. In “overlapping” areas, the needle must land on the next closest space since the stitches of the other layers will already be there. To the eye, it will seem as if the colors have blended.

In commercial embroidery, color blending is one of the most inspiring talents; once mastered, it will make your designs pop with an extra touch of creativity.

For more information about blending colors in commercial embroidery, visit, or call 800-981-1094 today!



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