So, you’re tired of map pencils and graph paper. Your sewing space is overrun with swatches. You’re sick of wondering what particular fabrics will look like in your design and being (unpleasantly) surprised when you finish.
And you’ve decided you want to give quilting software a shot.
I’ve been using software to design quilts almost since I began quilting. Digital quilting is a great alternative to hand drawing--or not drawing at all--your designs. Like everything, computers make this process a lot easier and faster.
They certainly aren’t perfect, though. Not all quilters are computer savvy, and sometimes programmers assume an amount of knowledge that just isn’t there. However, if you can spend the time learning how to use these programs, you can really take your quilting to the next level.
If you’re looking to go digital, read on!
Going Digital: Comparing the Most Popular Quilt Design Software
I’ve picked two of the most popular quilting design programs to evaluate: Quilt Pro 6 and Electric Quilt 8. To evaluate them, I’ve developed the following criteria:
The most important part! Each program will offer different options for designing both a quilt and the blocks that make up that quilt. This criteria measures the power and ease of using the programs to design your quilt.
Each of these programs will require a bit of time to learn how to use. This section will measure the difficulty of learning how to use these programs. This is a relatively subjective measure, so mileage may vary.
This will also measure how easy the program is to use after learning how to use it. This includes design features that help (or hinder) use, the layout of major tools, labeling and more.
Each of these programs will offer the option to print user designs, and each will provide different information on those printouts. This section will discuss the options that are available when you print the designs to take to a local quilt shop!
This section will measure the support features available for each program. I included the onboard help features, the company’s support system, and online tutorials and help videos.
Each program will come with a number of pre-generated blocks and pre-loaded fabrics. This section will also cover the process for uploading new fabrics and the options for doing so.
Price and Value
Neither of these programs are cheap. This section will compare the price of the program with its value, as ranked by these criteria.
Quilt Pro 6
Quilt Pro 6 is the older of the two programs we’ll discuss today. It was released in 2013, though it received regular bug fixes and updates until 2018. Quilt Pro 6 isn’t the sleekest looking program in the world, but don’t let that get in the way! It’s a great program with a lot of fun features.
Design Features (7/10)
Quilt Pro calls it’s quilt design segment “The Quilt Wizard.” The Quilt Wizard is a great tool. Users can use preloaded blocks to create a full quilt design. There are options to choose quilt layouts, and everything from medallion to freeform quilts are represented. It’s possible to add borders, sashing and binding to the design as well.
Users can pick from the Quilt Pro 6’s preloaded fabrics or import images of other fabrics to “fill in” the design. If users don’t have any fabrics in mind, it’s possible to simply color each block section to see how the color scheme works.
Like the Quilt Wizard, the block design segment is called “The Block Wizard.” Here, users design individual blocks. The Block Wizard is just as powerful as The Quilt Wizard and allows users to build the blocks that will comprise the quilt. It's possible to create both pieced and appliqued blocks in the Block Wizard, though the applique options are somewhat limited.
I like the way Quilt Pro 6 has designed the heart of their program. Everything is easy to find and understand. Quilt Pro 6 also offers some incredibly helpful features. It will calculate the binding needed for the quilt, for instance.
The overall use of these tools--especially the Quilt and Block Wizards--is a little clunky, though. To draw a half square triangle, for instance, users must click and pull a certain way to get the pieces of that block to align. If the user create an incorrect block item, there isn't really a way to correct the mistake outside deleting the offending item and making an entirely new one.
Usability/Learning Curve (7/10)
Quilt Pro 6 is relatively easy to learn. It also features an onboard help section on the main screen. The onboard help identifies tools you’re using and provides information about how to use them.
In my testing, this made the program easy to learn. However, once I knew my way around I found that the help section frequently took up a lot of screen real estate and it wasn’t abundantly clear how to get rid of it.
While the Quilt Wizard is simple to learn how to use, the Block Wizard offers up a bit more of a challenge. Some of the tools may be unfamiliar to users who have never used design software. There’s also some rules about the Block Wizard that aren’t abundantly clear--like what “layers” mean when designing a block or quilt.
Printing Options (9/10)
Here’s where Quilt Pro 6 really shines. It offers so many options for printing out quilt designs. Users can print the whole design, of course, but it’s also possible to print individual blocks with cutting instructions.
One of the best parts of Quilt Pro 6’s print options is that it will calculate the yardage needed for the quilt. It even allows users to add in a “fudge factor,” which adds a little extra fabric.
There’s even more, though: Quilt Pro 6 will print out a cutting map for each fabric in the quilt. This will allow users to get the maximum value from each piece of fabric they buy. They even have an option to print foundation piecing templates!
While the printing isn’t the best--and the layouts sometimes need fussing with--this is definitely the high point of Quilt Pro 6.
One of the biggest drawbacks of Quilt Pro 6 is its support. While the onboard help guide is really handy, there isn’t much out there outside of that help guide. The Quilt Pro website doesn’t provide a wealth of help articles, and their YouTube page only has a handful of tutorial videos.
Quilt Pro 6 also hasn't been updated since 2018, which would concern me if I wanted to buy it for long term use.
There also just aren’t a lot of third party tutorials out there, either. While Quilt Pro 6 is great software, it just doesn’t see as much use as Electric Quilt 8, and this means information about it is scarce.
Onboard Options (6/10)
Quilt Pro 6 comes onboarded with 1500 pieced blocks. The native program also features a library of over 3000 popular fabrics, and users can add more if they’d like. However, the process for scanning in those fabrics can be a bit tedious and difficult. There also isn’t any onboard photo editing software that will allow users to make adjustments to fabrics they have scanned.
Importing images from fabric manufacturers (or favorite online quilt shop!) is much easier, though.
Price and Value
Quilt Pro 6 is available for digital download only and costs $150. The company also offers free blocks and updated fabric libraries relatively frequently. This is a pretty high price point for entry into digital quilting, but I do think the program is worth it.
Quilt Pro 6 is definitely a great value, and in many ways appears to be the stronger software. It’s real problem is with a lack of aftermarket support of the product. It’s also relatively old, as far as software goes, and it certainly looks it.
If a potential buyer doesn't mind a less attractive looking program and is reasonably comfortable teaching themselves how to use it, it’s a great choice, though.
Electric Quilt 8 (EQ8)
Electric Quilt 8 shares quite a few features with Quilt Pro 6, but EQ8 presents all of those features in a more appealing package. EQ8 also has a lot of features that make the whole process of designing and quilt and blocks simpler and more intuitive.
Design Features (9/10)
EQ8 is divided into three sections. The Quilt Worktable is where users design quilts. The Block Worktable is where users design blocks, and the Image Worktable is where users import pictures (like fabric) for use in the program.
EQ8’s worktables have just around the same features as Quilt Pro 6. EQ8, however, is designed in a more logical way that’s a lot easier to understand. The icons are clearer and represent what those icons do. The onboard help menu will tell users what the tool is and provide instructions about how to use it.
One of my favorite features is that you’re able to save multiple colorways of a project in the same folder and pull them up instantly. There’s also a fun feature to randomize colors to explore new colorways!
Features like EQ8’s snap-to grid, while far from perfect, also make the process of designing blocks and quilts a lot easier--if only because it just works a little better than Quilt Pro 6’s same feature.
Usability/Learning Curve (7/10)
EQ8 is a well-designed program. It has redundancies built in so that there’s always multiple ways to do anything. The icons are large, clear and easy to find. All of the Worktables are simple to understand and use. Everything is organized into tabs, so users can navigate from Worktables with a single click.
I loved EQ8's "sketchbook" feature. The sketchbook gathers all of the fabrics and blocks used in a single project in one place. When users load their design, the program also loads the fabrics and blocks used in it. This makes changing designs so much simpler.
They are difficult to master, though. There are some confusing features, like the difference between PolyDraw and EasyDraw or how to change the grid size. The Block Worktable is especially prone to clunky design, and stumped me more than once.
Working in EQ8 is a pleasant experience, both visually and otherwise, on the whole.
Printing Options (7/10)
The printing options in EQ8 just aren’t as good as those in Quilt Pro 6. There’s no option to print a cutting map, and while EQ8 will mark common cutting angles, the information it provides on cutting sheets isn’t as thorough as in Quilt Pro 6.
EQ8 also lacks the really nice feature in Quilt Pro 6 for the program to measure the amount of binding needed for the quilt. It also lacks the really convenient cutting map printout.
That being said, EQ8’s printouts are, generally, nicer. The lines are crisper, the colors better. This will matter when using those printouts to select your fabrics.
EQ8 has the same great onboard help section that Quilt Pro 6 has, though it’s a little smaller and doesn’t quite get in the way as much.
The Electric Quilt Company also supports EQ8 very, very well. They release regular video tutorials on how to create blocks or design quilts. They also spent the time creating tutorials that teach users how to use the software. This makes a world of difference.
Because EQ8 is more popular, there are also a lot more third-party video tutorials also. Finding a tutorial online is a much simpler process when using EQ8. So, even though I got stumped a little more when using EQ8, I was able to figure out how to do everything I wanted to do.
Onboard Options (8/10)
EQ8 comes with their block library, which features 6,700 blocks--a huge number that could keep users in quilts for years before designing their own. The program also ships preloaded with over 6000 popular fabrics. EQ8 also has really nice search features that allow users to skim through, and search, their massive libraries.
When importing images for fabrics or blocks, EQ8 also has reasonably robust editing software that allows users to crop, straighten and otherwise adjust fabric so that it looks better in the printed design and gives users a better idea what the final quilt will look like.
Price and Value
Take a deep breath. The full version of EQ8 costs $239.95. It’s a big price tag, but the program is worth it--especially for users looking to take their designs to the next level. The print features will allow users, almost without doing anything more, to distribute designs in a reasonably professional format.
Users don’t need to immediately buy the whole program, though. The Electric Quilt Company also sells EQ Mini, a smaller program with fewer options, like the Block Worktable. EQ Mini may have less, but a quilter could spend quite a long time using it to design their quilts without every doing the same thing twice!
Either of these programs could easily suit a user's digital quilting needs, but I think EQ8, despite being a bit pricier, will be the better long-term investment. The Electric Quilt Company still actively updates the software. They also still regularly release more blocks and fabrics into their library.
For those who aren’t sure they want to take the plunge, EQ Mini is another great option. If users decide they can’t live without digital quilting, then it’s possible to purchase an upgrade to EQ8 at a reduced price!